NOTES: Stage Set

OMAHA, Neb. – For a time Friday afternoon, TD Ameritrade Park was a glorified Mike Bianco congratulations tour.

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Wherever he went, be it the introductory press conference in the morning or the team's practice later in the afternoon, Bianco shook hands or shared a hug with many of the top faces in college baseball.

It's as if the College World Series had been long waiting on Bianco, whose Rebels (46-19) are in Omaha for the first time since 1972. And after 14 years, the celebration was on.

"When you get (to Omaha), I think all coaches would attest that's it's really for everyone," Bianco said. "It's a tough road. A lot of emotions, but a lot has been said about me and getting there. I'm super proud of this team."

Count Louisville head coach Dan McDonnell among those who are happy to see Bianco on college baseball's biggest stage.

McDonnell was an assistant under Bianco for six seasons before being hired away by Louisville in 2007. He's since led the Cardinals to the College World Series three times, and the Cardinals have qualified for the NCAA tournament seven of his eight seasons.

"I'm just so happy for him because in your own world, I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him," McDonnell, who boasts a 359-157 record at Louisville, said. "I wouldn't be here if it weren't for those six years I was at Ole Miss. I was blessed; I hit the jackpot being able to coach with him. That gave me the preparation to go to Louisville and, as we say, get a program to the level we were wanting to be at."

Bianco defends college game:

A rash of Tommy John surgeries have hit Major League Baseball this year, with at least 31 major league pitchers having undergone the surgery.

The purpose of Tommy John surgery is to reconstruct the elbow's ulnar collateral ligament. Over the past two decades, 600 such surgeries have been performed, with an all-time high of 69 in 2012. The 2014 rate already exceeds the average in any season this century, and if the pace holds, the overall mark of surgical procedures is on course to be set.

And it won't be close.

"It's not the strength training. It's not college coaches pitching them more or high school coaches."

Famed surgeon Dr. James Andrews has labeled the outbreak an "epidemic." Only in four of the 31 cases have non-Americans been involved. Questions abound about what baseball is doing wrong, and how to prevent a season-ending and career-threating surgery that has affected some of the game's best teams and top talent.

"There's certainly a lot of reasons for it, and I don't know if there's one," Bianco said. "But the one that I think is the biggest difference now than anything, it's not about a college coach pitching a guy on short rest. We are more conscious of it and you guys are more conscious of it and have a lot more information as reporters. I don't think that's the case. I think the biggest difference in my mind is when you look at youth league baseball.

"When I played youth league baseball, you could pitch six innings a week, and you pitched once a week, and that was it, and you played for about 10 weeks. You played an All-Star tournament and it was over, and then you went and played football, then you went and played basketball or soccer or something else and then you played baseball again. These kids starting at eight, nine years old play year-round in the tournaments because of the money that people make off the tournaments. And now you're allowed to pitch 12 innings in a week or nine innings, and if you pitch three or less you don't need a day off. If I pitch Lance Lynn three innings every single day for four days, that would be insane, but they do that to these young kids all the time, and they do it all year long.

"I don't know if that's it, but that's the biggest difference I think now. It's not the strength training. It's not college coaches pitching them more or high school coaches. I think these kids from the age of 10 years old pitch so many more innings than I or anybody ever did growing up.

Kirby knows little about Rebels:

Virginia ace Nathan Kirby was "honored" to get the call Sunday afternoon against Ole Miss.

The move was expected. Virginia head coach Brian O'Connor said Kirby has been the Cavaliers' No. 1 all year.

Even if the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Kirby knows little or nothing about the Rebels.

"I don't really know much about them," the sophomore lefty said. "I know they've made it to the College World Series and they're probably going to be pretty good. But like I said to them, we're playing to a pretty big ballpark. Hopefully that'll play to my advantage. I try not to worry too much about the other team."

Kirby, a first team All-American, pitched to a 1.73 ERA this season in 104 innings pitched. He struck out 104 to only 25 walks with one complete game.

"I'd like to think I'm hard to hit," Kirby said, when asked to describe himself. "Good slider and good fastball. It's a huge honor. I think any of us could go out and start the first game. I just want to get out there and put my team in a position to win."

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