With the recent snowfall and frigid temperatures in the Pacific Northwest, it doesn’t seem like baseball season. Not yet, anyway, as the Seattle Mariners just kicked off spring training in Peoria and fans look forward to MLB’s Opening Day on March 29th. Thousands of impatient, baseball hungry fans flock to Peoria each Spring so that they can get some autographs, catch a glimpse of Felix jogging through some drills, and get way too excited about some meaningless Arizona-air inflated hitting stats from split-squad games. Luckily for the true baseball fan, the college baseball season opened up last week and is in full-swing. It’s a 55 game sprint to the tournament. Guys are fighting for spots on loaded rosters. It’s high intensity, good baseball, and the Northwest has plenty of it. With only three or four games per week and fewer games to decide a championship, its all-hands on deck nearly every game. If you are a fan that enjoys the MLB Playoffs as opposed to the regular season, you will love college baseball.
The D-1 teams in the Northwest all have great stadiums, talent, and won’t charge you $10 for a luke-warm hotdog and $40 for your kid to sit in section 362 and look at their iPhone for 3 hours. Gonzaga, Oregon State, Oregon, UW, and WSU are all great places to see fast-paced, high intensity baseball. Seattle U is also an up-and coming D-1 program, who’s on-field success exceeds their modest dwellings at Bellevue’s Bannerwood Park. Regardless, that is another great place to see good baseball. The Northwest is also home to some great junior college baseball, with programs like Lower Columbia (Longview, WA) consistently producing quality teams with future D-1 and pro players.
Over the next several weeks I will take a look at different programs in the Pacific Northwest. To kick things off, let’s start with my alma mater, the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
College Baseball Team Preview: Gonzaga Bulldogs
As defending back-to-back regular season WCC champions, the Zags look to reload after losing a good chunk of their pitching staff and lineup. Like any successful college program, they will need a new crop of guys to step up and replace the draftees and seniors that have departed. Mark Machtolf is in his 15th season as Head Coach and always goes to battle with a tough group of guys. The Zags opened up in Surprise, AZ this past weekend with four tough games, all decided by one run. They bookended the trip by splitting two games with Cal Poly (8-7 and 5-4), came up short against #2 ranked Oregon State (4-3), and knocked off New Mexico (4-3). Next up for the Zags is a trip south to play the UC Irvine Anteaters on one of the nicest field surfaces in the country. Late in my college career, it wasn’t too often that I got excited to shag balls in batting practice. But, when I stepped on to the flawless green grass at UC Irvine, I was rejuvenated. With the sun beating down and pristine blades of fake-looking turf under my feet, I could have shagged happily for hours. While on the subject of playing surfaces, the Zags have a great one of their own. Patterson Baseball Complex sits along the Spokane River, across the Parking Lot from McCarthy Athletic Center. The all-natural field is a rarity in the Northwest due to the maintenance it demands. Luckily for the Zags, they have a tremendous field crew that produces a product on-par with any major league field. But I digress. In terms of expectations for the season, the Zags were picked to finish fourth in the WCC preseason poll. These polls don’t often mean a lot, as coaches don’t quite know how their own team is going to perform, let alone a team a couple thousand miles away.
By the time the Mariners take the field on March 29th, the Zags will have played 22 games, including their first two conference series against Pepperdine and BYU. Like their hoops team, outside of conference play, the Zags will play anyone, anytime, anyplace. To accompany their challenging West Coast Conference schedule, the Zags have remaining non-conference games at Rice (3 games), at UW (2), at UC Irvine (3), and singles games at Oregon, Stanford, WSU, and Seattle U. With a talented, hard-working group of guys, the Zags should fare just fine and make a run at another conference title and NCAA tournament appearance.