Monday, May 25, 2009

Road trip to Irvine anyone?

After a whirlwind Sunday that rekindled those magical 2008 Fresno State baseball feelings, the NCAA regional brackets were announced this morning on ESPN.

Once again, Fresno State drew a fourth seed -- and rightfully so with a record just a smidgen above .500. The Diamond 'Dogs open with host, and No. 1 ranked, UC Irvine. The Anteaters will likely trot out ace Daniel Bibona (11-1, 2.65 ERA, 95 strikeouts in 98.1 innings). But last season, on its way to the national championship, Fresno State essentially knocked off most of the top 10 teams in the country.

The Bulldogs will be far from intimidated. UC Irvine has a plethora of guys hitting more than .300, but its home run leader, Francis Larson, has just 9. Comparatively, Fresno State's home run leader is All-America third baseman Tommy Mendonca, with 27. Bulldogs freshman Dusty Robinson has 14.

As far as comparisons to last season go, UC Irvine might be most similar to Rice. Very good pitching and guys who get hits and can play a bit of small ball. The biggest question for the Bulldogs is how good the pitching staff can be? One thing's for sure, the starters will have to work deep to make sure someone has gas left in the tank in case of a decisive Game 4 on Sunday.

1. UC Irvine
2. Virginia
3. San Diego State
4. Fresno State

Let's hear it Red Wave...what are your predictions for the regional?

These are a few of my favorite things...

If Fresno State started every game down five runs, the team might be undefeated.

Incredible. Granted the WAC overall is a sub-par baseball conference. But Fresno State's Diamond 'Dogs did it again. A fourth straight WAC tournament title (the tourney just started back up in 2006, and Fresno State's won it every time since). The 'Dogs were headed for possibly their worst record in about 30 years, and now have not only clinched a winning record, but also a chance to truly defend their national championship.

And who's the hero this time? If Lord almighty himself told us beforehand Fresno State would sweep two from New Mexico State today and one guy would be the hero in both games, it would take us about 20 guesses to choose who. Jordan Ribera. The sophomore first baseman from Clovis West who didn't play first base all year. He DH'd early in the season, only to sit the past couple months barely batting over .100 and with strikeouts galore.

Then Ribs hits a two-run homer in the eighth inning of Game 1 to put Fresno State up 9-7 after the team battled back from a 7-2 deficit. Later in Game 2, locked in a 3-3 tie, Ribs crushes another two-run shot to give the 'Dogs a 5-3 win. His third and fourth homers of the year. And he's named WAC tournament MVP after collecting more hits in the tourney than he had all season long to that point. And then real gut-buster is Ribera was only playing because preseason All-American Alan Ahmady was suspended earlier in the week and left at home.

This team is relentless. Full of heart. Full of fight. Fun. Inspirational. Anyone get a chance to see Holden Sprague react after a double play sealed the Game 1 win for the Bulldogs? Spraguer walked off the mound yelling and pumping his arms so hard he could have dislocated both shoulders. Then he delivered a breath-stealing chest bump to Ribera and continued fist pumping. That one visual is Fresno State baseball in a nutshell.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Top 10 ways to look at the bright side with Fresno State baseball

10. The annual Mike Batesole-era regular season Diamond 'Dogs disappointment is over, and the postseason has always been kinder.

9. With WAC hitter of the week Isaac Vivas and senior Gavin Hedstrom finally doing a little something at the plate Baseball America might think twice about saying certain guys shouldn't even be on the field for a program of Fresno State's caliber.

8. Dusty Robinson's one of the best power hitting freshman in Fresno State lore.

7. There's a chance Danny Muno will either walk or get a hit in every single postseason at-bat. Don't laugh.

6. With the Bulldogs not playing anymore home games this year, it'll give the university a chance to come up with a better national championship display at Beiden Field than the tiny sign under all the ads on the scoreboard and the not-so-eye-catching flag that should be 10 times bigger.

5. Hey Boise State, how's your baseball season going?

4. The Diamond 'Dogs have a chance to win their fourth straight WAC tournament championship.

3. With star first baseman Alan Ahmady suspended, superfan Sugar Bear can debut his newest hit chant: "When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie...that's Jaaake Johnsooonnn!"

2. Tommy Mendonca just might be the best all-around player in Fresno State history. And as long as he's on the field there's a chance.

1. Fresno State is still the reigning national champions, and controls its own destiny from here on out.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Hardwood "glory days"

There's been lots of chatter on the streets (and airwaves) today about Matt James' column in this morning's Fresno Bee. Most seemed to have loved the column -- which is odd in itself because fans never like newspaper reporters.

Makes sense why people liked the column. It was well-written. It was an interesting topic. 'Dogs hoops news is long overdue. And it argued why the Steve Cleveland regime is a success, despite coming off the Fresno State program's worst record in more than two decades. I liked the column too.

But there were two nuggets in there -- two nuggets -- that nearly ruined it for me. Here's one:

"Selland Arena was a better venue for college basketball. Still is. No doubt about it."
Not true. Selland was a great college basketball atmosphere, but it was also home to the Bulldogs during their glory days (more on this later). If Save Mart Center was filled to capacity with fans practically begging to see super-talented teams and had students entering a lottery just to buy season tickets, it would be significantly louder and tougher for visitors to win in than Selland (think about it, 16,000 people vs. 10,000). Essentially, we're talking about taking most of the same Selland fans who earned a reputation for being the Red Wave and adding 6,000 people to it. Louder. More imposing. When Fresno State has its next serious threat on the hardwood, and fans fill the stands, the Save Mart Center will be an unreal venue.

Now on to this "glory days" issue. The column says there never were any:

"Let's be perfectly clear. There were no glory days. They never happened. Since 1982, the Bulldogs have two conference titles. Since 1984, they've been to one NCAA Tournament. One."
James explained that he didn't count one of Jerry Tarkanian's NCAA appearances because it was given an asterisk in the record books due to NCAA violations. But saying there were no glory days is wild. What do you call Fresno State basketball being a national story all season long during the Tark era? A good column would be comparing how many regional and national TV appearances the 'Dogs had under Tark and how many they have had under Cleveland. Another good column idea would be to research all the ranked and traditionally strong teams Tark scheduled and won against. To me -- when a program is mentioned in all the preseason mags and on TV by prognosticators as a threat to go to the Final Four, when guys are going to the NBA (some as lottery picks), when high school All-Americans are anxious to visit Fresno State, when the Bulldogs have a legit shot to win against ANY team in the nation -- those are glory days. In a way, that's what Fresno State's football program is right now -- one that can beat any other team on a given day and has proven it.

Wow, this blog's getting long enough, so I'll spare the fact that the Boyd Grant era could be defined as another set of "glory days." A NCAA tournament final 16 appearance, and a 1983 NIT championship in Madison Square Garden (when the NCAA tourney was smaller and the NIT was much tougher) that led to a parade rivaled only by last year's national championship in baseball.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Dream Weaver returns to Blue Crew

After a 2008 season with the Mariners that made Fresno State fans (also known as Jeff Weaver fans) cringe, Weaver is back in Dodger blue. He debuted with four scoreless innings of relief last week, and is now being pushed into the starting rotation for the team with the best record in the Majors.

Weaver has taken his share of criticism during his career, putting up inconsistent numbers since a promising start with the Tigers, to see-saw showings with the Yankees, to great success with the Dodgers and a World Series win with the Cardinals, and then the disappointment with the Angels and Mariners. Though his ERA has only been below 4.00 once, Weaver was tops in the National League in quality starts during his time with the Dodgers.

That's why heading back to the Dodgers was the best decision the former Fresno State walk-on turned college All-American could make.

On a side note, when Weaver threw four innings of shutout ball this past Thursday, one couldn't help but notice the oversight of ESPN's SportsCenter crew. They showed the Weaver highlights immediately following their coverage of Matt Garza's near perfect game for the Rays in a shutout of the Red Sox. Yet not one mention that both are former Diamond 'Dogs.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Swimming through some thoughts

If you woke up like me this morning, opened your front door, and walked barefoot across cold, wet (recently sprinklered) cement to get to your newspaper -- which for some reason is always left as far as humanly possible from my front door -- then you may have noticed this story.

Work is set to start later this year on Fresno State's new, $7.5 million aquatics center. We've known for a while this was in the campus master plan, but the fact that it's happening this soon, one year after women's swimming & diving was reinstated at Fresno State, is somewhat of a surprise...albeit a pleasant one. The North Gym pool is greatly outdated, and not wow-factor enough or large enough for a university like Fresno State.

Problem is, this announcement is coming just one year after women's lacrosse was born at the university, and ground also broke on a new women's soccer/lacrosse stadium smack dab in the middle of the greatest tailgate spot in the West -- the Red Lot on Cedar & Barstow. When announcement came that lacrosse was the school's newest sport, many were scratching heads as to why. Some even argued the school should have started a women's water polo program instead with hordes of local talent available and absolutely zero local talent in lacrosse.

The biggest argument against that was that Fresno State would then have to build a new aquatics center. Well, here it is. So is Fresno State planning to add another women's sport to maximize use of what will be a sparkling new facility? Or maybe even (do I dare think it?) a men's team?