Baseball Media Day: Is Cal State Fullerton Ready?

The second annual West Coast baseball media held at the Pyramid on the campus of Long Beach State featured a panel of prominent coaches that fielded questions in a format similar to the one used in Omaha for the College World Series.

Of course, that meant Cal State Fullerton coach George Horton was scheduled to speak third. The Titans finished third at the College World Series after two crushing defeats to the Cardinal.

"They said this was going to be a College World series format," Horton said. "I'm glad that [Stanford head coach] Mark Marcquess isn't here. We have not been able to get over that obstacle."

Stanford was especially tough on the Big West last season as they eliminated all three conference representatives in successive rounds.

"At least George gets to Omaha," said Long Beach State coach Mike Weathers, whose team was eliminated at Stanford in the Super Regional. "We can't get out of the state of California against [Stanford]."

Stanford notwithstanding, if the Titans are going to make it back to Omaha the team has a long way to go according to Horton.

Horton noted that the Titans lost 10 players to the major league baseball draft. Gone are position players such as Shane Costa, Jason Corapci, and reliever Chad Cordero.

As you can imagine, the other coaches were nearly brought to tears by this tale of woe.

"Don't feel bad for George because he had 10 guys sign pro contracts," Weathers said. "That's his average. He can talk all he wants, but [the Titans] are loaded."

Most coaches would love to have Cal State Fullerton's problems. Leadership won't be an issue with the return of catchers P.J. Pilitterre and Kurt Suzuki, who Horton will lean on this season. Both players combine five years of experience in one of the key positions on the defense.

The Titans also return four freshmen All-American's from 2003. Danny Dorn (.348, 7 HR, 54 RBI) leads a talented cast in the outfield that includes Joe Turgeon and Sergio Pedrorza. But the lineup card is far from set.

"Whoever is starting in the outfield will be the three good players at that moment," Horton said.

If there is one glaring weak spot on this team, it's in the infield. Justin Turner recovered from his unintentional beaning at the College World Series, but the ankle injury proved to be a little bit more troublesome and caused some confusion.

"It's a mystery to me," Horton explained. "They took an X-ray of the outside of his ankle and they could not find a break. But it bothered him during the summer. Finally they found out that he had a crack on the inside of his ankle.

"It is a mystery to me. The training staff came to me on January 3 and said they wanted to put a cast on his ankle and immobilize him. And it took them eight months to determine that?"

Don't despair Titan fans. Horton said that Turner has been out at practice and he will be fine. Obviously they found a doctor that didn't need to immobilize the ankle. But with the mystery of Turner's ankle solved, who is going to play second base?

"I might have one of those outfielders start at second base, even if they are left handed," Horton quipped. "Our problem is to match the defense with a quality hitter. It's a challenge to find somebody who is a good hitter, but does not sacrifice against our defense.

"We are not playing good infield right now and I'm the infield coach. This might be a breaking story for you guys because you might have a story where Coach Horton fires himself."

Yeah, don't count on it.

As the old cliché goes, the Titans do not rebuild, they reload. And from listening to the coaches on Tuesday, it's obvious they all believe that the Titans will be back in the title hunt once again.

NOTES

Notes and observations on media day;

• Very little is ever revealed in this type of setting. Some coaches will sand bag (Horton), while others will say they could be the surprise team of the year. Cal State Northridge coach Steve Rousey said he was excited about the upcoming season.

To which UCLA coach Gary Adams replied, "In 41years of baseball, I've always been excited about my team's attitude at this time of year."

Listening to Adams talk, it is easy to see why UCLA gets a lot of big named recruits. It's not just the name of the university.

• University of San Diego coach Rich Hill looks a lot like actor Tate Donovan, from The OC and his guest appearance on Friends . It was almost distracting.

San Diego State coach Tony Gwynn was a surprise appearance. Not so much that he showed up, but because his presentation was the shortest. Of course, Adams noted that this media event didn't exist until Gwynn became the coach at San Diego State.

Gywnn also noted that it's his hitting (or lack of) that is keeping him awake at night.

Still, it is easy to get the impression that Gwynn might not be in it for the long haul. He's seems to have too many off the field commitments and it might not be long before he takes a TV role full time.

And if his hitters don't come around, it might be sooner rather than later. And it might not be his choice.

"It doesn't matter how much the fans love you, you still have to win," Gwynn said.

• With first-year coach Ed Sprauge, the University of Pacific has signed a contract with HOK to build and on-campus stadium. The target date is 2006, but he faces an uphill battle with a team that has not produced in recent year.

Unlike Gwynn, you get the impression that Sprauge is in it for the long haul.

USC will take a trip to Cuba in the upcoming weeks. Coach Mike Gilespie said that he will leave some extra room on the team's charter for some defections.