One of my favorite things about college sports is the value in each game. Every game counts. In other words, a loss or two in any college sport can be damaging. This isn’t the NBA where a six, seven or eight game losing streak does not eliminate you from playoff contention. Even in the NFL, a team can start the season 0-3 or 0-4 and still make the postseason. No question it is difficult, not impossible.
Six-game losing streak in college basketball? Done. For the most part. Lose three games in college football? Forget-about-it. One loss can keep you out of the hope for a championship. When it comes to baseball, a team can survive a mini-slump of losing three or four games. But in the scheme of things, as well as the standing of the tournament selection committee, it doesn’t help.
From a player standpoint, it would seem the “one game at time” theory becomes easier to follow as well. In college, having significant consequences on the outcome of every game keeps a player more focused. The future is now with every play. You can’t slack off and have the attitude that it is just another game. This mindset can be reserved for many professional athletes whose visions are distorted by over the top salaries. If this isn’t true, why do you see a player bat .225 and get paid $7 million a year? Or someone average 3.2 points per game in basketball and receive $5 million a year?
College baseball, on many levels, resembles more of a kids’ game. Or, dare I say, fun.
Which brings me to the opening weekend for the Oregon State Beavers. The Beavs won all four games to begin the season 4-0. More importantly, all on the road capped by a 5-4, 11-inning win against UC Riverside on Sunday. They trampled Riverside a day earlier, 14-3. Along with victories over Utah Valley (5-2) and Gonzaga (9-2), going undefeated away from home to start the year is a great confidence builder.
Coach Pat Casey used a lot of the roster and the team went through tribulations which will come in handy as the season progresses. They manufactured 39 hits over four games and scored at least five runs in each game. Four different starting pitchers, showing much needed depth in the college ranks, and they won a tight extra inning contest. In the first game against Utah Valley, four different players had an RBI and in the next three games, at least five players had a minimum of one RBI. How is that for a good sign? Everyone is getting in on the act.
As I mentioned last week, if everyone does their part, things will fall in to place. Already players will need to step up for those on the injured list. Left hander Jace Fry will likely not play this season due to Tommy John surgery. In addition to infielder/outfielder senior Ryan Barnes (broken wrist), a depleted roster means making the most of your opportunity for the rest of the team.
Next up is a four game set against San Diego State in California. Both teams come to this series undefeated as SDSU is 3-0. Dan Child, who was the winning pitcher in the first game of the year for OSU, will take the mound in the opener. The bull pen has proven to be worthy backups as this unit has only given up two earned runs in 17 2/3 innings. Furthermore, the Beavs are looking to go 5-0 for the fifth time under Casey, with the last time coming in 2007 (we all remember the happy ending to that season, don‘t we?). Keeping things in perspective, if OSU can get a split in four games to finish the eight game road swing 6-2, this clearly would be acceptable.
I digress. One game at a time, boys. For each game, whether the losing side or winning side, evaluate what happens and apply what you have learned. Fundamentals. When it comes to college baseball, it is the smaller picture inside the big one.
We will learn more with each passing weekend about this year’s ball club. If the winning ways continue, it will be difficult not to compare this team with those who won back-to-back College World Series. An unfair assessment when placing one team next to another who in the pantheon of great accomplishment remains the standard. But while this is only the beginning, it’s going to be fun.