From The Dawghouse

The place has been cleaned-up nicely since our last working visit to Dudy Noble Field. You know, that modest June event where the Diamond Dogs punched a ticket to Omaha and sent some annoyed felines home with singed whiskers? Quite the good time it was and I'd swear there were a few lingering echoes. Or maybe it was just that scratchy, staticky sound system announcing batters and pitchers.

Either way it was good being back at the ballyard if only briefly, for this fall's edition of the Maroon-White game Friday. The few hundred or so fans, friends, and family members had to be entertained as the veteran Whites out-slugged and out-scored the rookies/redshirts/reserves Maroons 21-12. No, I won't pretend to interpret any of it as meaning either A) the offense is that good or B) the pitching is that bad. I mean, in their respective innings both Chad Crosswhite and Justin Pigott got tagged by the youngsters, and we know they're pretty fair moundsmen. If it's risky judging a football team by one scrimmage, it's ridiculous evaluating a baseball team on that limited exposure.

And I wasn't there to do a game ‘story' anyway, though I'll toss out a few observations and speculations later. No, I reported to the press box to take care of other but related business delayed for weeks by the demands of covering football non-stop. With the game ongoing before me, I finally did it.

I read The Letter.

Yep. Call me heretic, infidel, slacker, whatever. But for most of a month Ron Polk's now-legendary, open epic-length diatribe had sat on the coffee table unread, buried under bills, books, BMW publications, and a 2007 SEC Football Guide keeping the pile in place. Took a few minutes to excavate The Letter, too, so it could be read and then re-read in a more fitting locale. Over the best part of five innings, too, and I'm a fast-scanner. Seriously, this is the guy who in the 11th grade accepted my history teacher's dare and, in one school week, read all 800-plus pages of ‘Das Kapital.' I think it was about economics.

Certainly judging by the text and tone Polk would classify much of the NCAA's officials as socialists at best, possibly even fellow travelers. Can't say I'd disagree with such an assumption either. Still if #1 hopes to inspire another sort of October revolution that will last, that might get the desired task done and save college baseball from atrocities inflicted by the czars (I'll quit soon) of Indianapolis, he might want to stop tossing literary molotovs (promise). Or at least de-personalize the agitprop (OK, OK) just a bit.

Let's be clear, there has been a verifiable cause-and-effect since The Letter, all 18 pages of it, was mailed to, let's see, nine designated groups. Enough NCAA-member school presidents submitted their requests to override the baseball scholarship management (my words) legislation passed back in April, that the NCAA's D-I Board of Directors will by rule have to consider their group request on November 1. The objectors used ‘institutional autonomy' as grounds for this appeal (my word).

Give Polk credit for a piece of history; the NCAA reports this as the first time since the current governance structure was instituted in 1997 that any ‘legislative concept' (their words) has been overridden twice. The first override had the Board change the scholarship mandate from 33% to 25% and to count all allowable aid, not just baseball scholarship aid. Without getting too detailed, three things can happen next month.

The Board can accept this override proposed by a small portion of the entire D-I membership and rescind the whole package; or take no action itself and forward it to the next NCAA convention in January; or revise the package which would require full convention approval again, likely not until the 2009 meeting. Oh, and if it's the first option, the April package goes into effect August '08 for the 2009 season.

All I can do is speculate which way the Board will bounce, and with absolutely no inside info from any committee members. I guess, only that, it will go the second route, for a re-vote by the convention…and most likely a re-approval as it stands. Because, it will take something like 180 or so votes from the D-I membership, if all are present-and-voting that is, to get a true override. Indications are the votes won't be there. If for no other reason than, as Polk pounds in The Letter, that the educators in charge of NCAA schools haven't been educated enough on the subject to care. Though I wonder how education professionals will take to that phrasing, as their egos are as touch as any politico's.

And here's an irony. A significant number of the current overrides have come not from ‘baseball schools.' Just the opposite, they're from presidents of schools that give out half, or less, of the available 11.7 grants. They oppose the package because it would force them to give out the full load, to SPEND more on baseball, and they don't wanna.

So in keeping with our political themes, Polk & Pals have built their campaign on a strange and shaky coalition. It'd be like the Green Party coming out in early support of Fred Thompson, or the N.R.A. raising funds for whatever Clinton-version was currently running for an available office. But hey, as a really old-school pol said, in Latin, centuries ago, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. And Polk will accept override votes even from schools that just as soon wouldn't even play yardball.

But what he and we truly need is for coaches of high-profile programs; or better yet their presidents, to step up, sign on, and go public. For ACC, Big XII, Pac-11 (Oregon is starting back up at last), and most of all his premier SEC counterparts to say on-the-record and in-the-open that the scholarship package is bad for the game, bad for the student-athletes, and bad for college sports, period. We're waiting. Anybody there? Hello?

And that, I have to say, is the flip-side of the issue. Polk tells of his peers calling, urging him on. Names, please? Hmmm. Maybe they're waiting for the revolution (sorry) to start without them, but they'll surely be there when the final barricade in Indy is to be stormed.

Or, not. I can't avoid the impression that, at heart, Ron and the whole college ball community see this as a delaying action. That the goals have been scaled-down to holding off implementation of the scholarship revisions as long as possible, one or with bureaucratic luck two more seasons. Then again, if things are delayed that long, who knows? Perhaps there'll be enough progress on the baseball APR front to change a lot more minds; enough to make some positive progress in fair treatment of this crazy college thing we know and love…at least here and in a few other spots around the land. Isn't the second-most-complete comment—besides "that's baseball" of course—about the grand old game "you never know"?

Oh, and while any guy who's burned through a few oceans of ink in his editorial career has little room to talk, I bet I could have edited the epic down to ten pages, max, without loss of effect. Still we can hope that all those trees died, and Dugout Club funds were spent, in an ultimately good cause. Though I wonder. After all, don't most education professionals prefer to read their New Republic and Pravda (last time, I swear) on-line now? That's a computer, Ron.


As noted I was not at DNF to read The Letter and get a lot of this written; not cover the scrimmage per se. But between pages, often even paragraphs, I made a few notes on the action afield. Such as when, having unavoidably arrived a half-inning late, the very first glace at the field was of Brandon Turner rapping out a clean single through shortstop. Saw a lot of it last spring; expect much more next season as the soph goes for the .400 average he missed by one hit or one less at-bat as a rookie.

Y'all who have been to a few of these fall-fests know the drill: all but a couple of pitchers toss a full inning each. Mike Busby probably wished he'd only had to do a one-frame stint as the new guy gave up a crusher to Jeff Flagg over the centerfield wall. Of course new faces can swing, too, and Johnny Allen homered off Jesse Carver in the second, too.

As mentioned Crosswhite wasn't crisp. Grant Hogue can attest, having been plunked in the third by the pitcher who gave up a first-pitch single to young Forrest Moore. Hate to report but the roller got through Mark Goforth's feet too. At least the centerfielder chased it down and gunned Moore at the plate—good catch and hold-of-place by catcher Ryan Duffy--to prevent a four-base play. Still produced two RBI and had the Maroons in front 4-2. Not for long as Russ Sneed hit a shot over leftfield off Paxton Pace in the bottom of the third, part of a three-run burst.

And so it went in the fourth with three more runs by the Maroons. I wanted to watch Jason Nappi swing; Drew Hollinghead walked him. Walk-on Blake Bugg got a two-run single, Tyler Moore was walked and scored on somebody's triple. But the Whites (hmmm, this is becoming a game story of sorts after all) took control with six runs in the bottom of the fourth, off Forrest Moore. I didn't note who did what, probably on about page 14 of The Letter by then.

How about just some interesting plays from now on? Like the nice running grab by LF Leon Farmer in the seventh. Or touted new lefty Shaun Marquardt having control problems and allowing three runs in the bottom of the eighth. Ahh, Nappi did get a swing and ripped a double off Pigott. Nick Hardy made a great facing snare in centerfield to rob Tyler Moore at least a two-run double, so we might very well have a new full-time centerfielder come February.

Hokey smokes, almost forgot. The veteran Whites manufactured a four-run eighth as with two on and one out they BUNTED. Or Jet Butler did, and for a base-loading single! Turner got an RBI off a fly ball, so small-ball is actually practiced at State in case any wondered.

Cade Hoggard isn't supposed to be 100% quite yet but he made a fine running-to-his-right snare in deep rightfield in the ninth anyway. He should've had a base hit in the bottom too but Allen robbed him. Oh, and Aaron Weatherford can still bring it.

Glad I didn't try to do a gamer as accounting for 33 runs, 37 hits, and ahhh, eight errors would be overkill. And again it's unwise to make firm statements about the state of State having just seen this one scrimmage. Gene and Mary Ann have been to most practices while I've been on the football beat, they have the stats and photos. I did make a few inquiries of folk around the program, though without a lot of absolute answers from them either. Regarding such things as who's gonna end up the starter at first base; Tyler Moore? Conner Powers? Flagg? They all gotta play somewhere, and they're all righthanded hitters.

Or if Ryan Powers is going to earn shortstop outright as hoped last year, easing decisions about where to use C.Powers and 3B Sneed. Yeah, that'd leave Butler the odd-man out, but it's hardly that certain yet. In spring coaches talked of Nappi in leftfield and moving Hardy to right, or more likely center, so he could hit. Again, stay tuned as Flagg began the game in left for the vets with Andy Rice in right. But when Hoggard gets healthy he's bound to contend in right, too. At least Rice hits lefty, one of just THREE veterans on this roster to do so. Ahh, but that Johnny Allen is a south-side swinger, as is Forrest Moore (if not exclusively a pitcher). Heard some good things about Allen's practice work, too.

As to who'll get the open slot in the rotation behind Pigott and Crosswhite, or vice-versa, again too early to call. Yet I'm tending towards Tyler Whitney at this point, just ahead of John Lalor and Rickey Bowen. Gene will have to tell you about the newer arms. And catcher will be a shared job with Duffy and most likely Freeman, though that late signee Logan Moro gets good talk too.

And that's the ‘story' from the ballyard. I won't get to see the Diamond Dogs play too much more until February when it's for-real, but I'll be talking to Ron after the fall semester. That's when all grades are in, player/coach rankings tabulated, and the pre-season practice roster settled allowing for possible winter transfers. Lotttttt of bodies on this fall roster and not enough innings and at-bats to keep everyone happy, y'know. As somebody is supposed to have said once or twice, that's baseball.

Which, by the way, does NOT appear in The Letter. Go figure.

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