ith the Oregon State men’s basketball team floundering near the .500 mark , I am seeking positive reinforcement. Where do I go to feel good about my sports passion? My enthusiasm has dampened as the dreary NW winter months (otherwise known as basketball season) have grabbed hold of any hope or inspiration I might have had looking toward the NCAA Basketball Tournament. The Beavs monumentally failed in my early season prediction of reaching the Big Dance. Twenty some odd years and counting.
Sadness overwhelms me. But just as my basketball aspirations fall short (again) for any March Madness for my beloved Beavers…the ghosts of Darwin Barney, Jonah Nickerson, Dallas Buck and Mitch Canham awake me in the middle of a cold February night. All I hear from them, in unison, “All is not lost. Remember, we won back-to-back College World Series in 2006-2007. It’s okay, it’s going to be a good year.”
As the next morning comes in earnest, I awake with baseball smiles rolling on my face and in my head. Yes, baseball season has arrived. And as the hoops team underachieves, Oregon State’s true ballers on the diamond should flourish. I don’t sense any false expectations falling by the wayside in this activity.
Oregon State coach Pat Casey again has the team lined up for another run. Ultimately the goal is the College World Series. As I have followed this the better part of the last ten years, attaining one the top eight seeds going in to the post season is essential. Currently the Beavers are ranked sixth by Baseball America. Naturally, all teams will rise and fall in the rankings. So I do not expect OSU to remain in that position all season long. Again, when the season ends, going in to the tournament, just get to the top eight.
What made those teams in 2006-2007 successful, was a balance of pitching, defense and clutch hitting. I remember more two out hits for RBI’s as sparkplugs for those winning squads. And extremely confident pitchers. Having leaders like Canham at catcher and defensive stopper Barney at shortstop, certainly were invaluable intangibles. Baseball has any one or two of nine people at play on every pitch, so it is critical each player does his part. Each play can be the simplest of actions of just playing your position. Hence, this was the essence of two championship teams in those years.
If I were a motivational speaker, this would be my point to emphasize. However, OSU has been in the mix since 2005 and no speakers are needed in Corvallis. The right man is already in charge. Beaver nation is fortunate to have Casey at the helm. I remember when Notre Dame came calling for Casey and he chose to stay. This was a monumental occasion for the baseball program. Casey staying provided a foundation for years to come as well as solidified any recruiting concerns for the OSU faithful.
And let’s be honest, much to the chagrin of Duck fans, Oregon would not have a baseball team right now without Oregon State. The Beavers two championships revitalized the interest in Eugene. They can deny it all they want, but we al know the truth. Phil Knight and Nike bought the Ducks’ baseball program because of OSU. It paid dividends last season as they unjustly received a number five seed in to the tournament. Nevertheless, justice prevailed and they fell to Kent State at home to get eliminated.
In the current/pre-season BaseballAmerica.com poll, North Carolina is the top ranked team. OSU is the highest ranked Pac-12 team at number six, followed by Stanford (9th), UCLA (11th), Oregon (15th) and defending national champion Arizona (24th). Obviously it would not hurt my feelings to see my two favorites, Heels and Beavs, end up against each other again for a third time in eight years in the final series. With similar results of course. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Looking toward the season schedule, which begins this weekend at the Palm Springs Tournament, by no stretch is it easy. Oregon State plays all four of those other ranked conference opponents on the road in future weekend series. Survival of the fittest never seemed more appropriate. Make it happen, as they say. (For enquiring minds, yes, the Ducks play all those teams at home. I know, a sports schedule favoring Oregon? Crazy, right?)
For encouragement, how about playing those favorite 06-07 World Series moments in the locker room. Any reminders of feel good moments. Here is my plea for this year’s Beavers: just do your part and let the pieces fall in to place. I need more OSU baseball whisperers in my dreams. Or another title.