The Simple Joys of Baseball and Softball; SEC Wimps Out Again on Scheduling
Two college sports that don't get nearly enough attention are men's baseball and women's softball.
I spent most of my weekend watching--in person or on TV--the Stanford baseball and softball teams.
Both are excellent teams, extremely well-coached, nationally ranked and playing in the post-season.
While baseball and softball are similar in many ways--the ball diamond, foul lines, umpires, balls, strikes, bases, innings, positions, etc.--they are very different in that softball is dominated by pitching, while college baseball is often a high-scoring slugfest.
Consider that the Stanford baseball team has scored an average of 8.6 runs per game and allowed 6.7 per game this season. The softball team, by comparison, has averaged 4.4 runs per game and allowed a miniscule 1.6.
So if you like the ping of aluminum bats and the sight of balls flying out of the stadium, catch a college baseball game. If you prefer great pitching, with runs at a premium, softball is your game.
My wife and I took our young grandsons, ages 8 and 12, to the NCAA Regionals at Stanford Friday afternoon.
I was reminded that Sunken Diamond is one of the most beautiful baseball facilities in the country. From a spectator standpoint, the sightlines are great, every seat is good (chair seats not benches), and the atmosphere is wonderful for everyone from young people to seniors.
The only downer was the price of concessions. They charge $20 for a can of Modelo. Seriously. Chicken tenders went for $14.99 and hot dogs were $7.99. Those prices are enough to make Oracle Park look reasonable.
It was a typical college baseball game. Stanford hit four home runs and won 13-2. Yesterday the Cardinal beat Texas A&M, 13-,5 in another offensive display. Tonight's game between the same two teams will determine who advances to the Super Regional next weekend.
Sunday I watched the Stanford softball team in action in the College World Series in Oklahoma City. The Cardinal were seeded 8th and had to face defending national champion Oklahoma in the first round, losing a hard-fought game, 2-0. After beating Alabama, also by a 2-0 score, they faced No. 7 Washington in an elimination game yesterday at noon.
It was a typical college softball game. There were five hits in the game and Stanford won 1-0 to advance to the semi-finals.
I got the chance to see the Cardinal's freshman sensation Nijaree Canady (above) on the mound, or "in the circle," as they say in softball, where there is no mound.
Canady is anything but typical. She is phenomenal. No other word would be accurate. So far this season she is 16-2 with a 0.51 ERA. Against Washington, she gave up a bloop single to the leadoff hitter in the first inning and then held the Huskies hitless the rest of the way.
Nijaree throws 75 mile-per-hour fastballs that are almost impossible to hit as they rise out of the strike zone. As you might suspect, her "riser" results in lots of swinging strikes. So far this year she has struck out 203 batters in 123 innings. Yesterday she never got to a three ball count on any hitter.
Unfortunately, Stanford is faced with the daunting task of needing to beat Oklahoma twice to advance to the championship finals. That's a very tall order, since the Sooners have only lost once so far this year. That's not a typo. They are 58-1 and have won 50 straight.
Senior Alana Vawter (21-8, 1.77 ERA) will pitch for Stanford in the first game today. If the Cardinal is fortunate enough to win, Canady will pitch the second game, which follows after a short break.
She threw 95 pitches yesterday, and would return to pitch today on 24 hours rest.
Funny how that is. An 18-year old college female, throwing 75 MPH, can throw 95 pitches and come back the next day and (hopefully) throw another 95 pitches.
Major league pitchers, most of whom throw in the 90s, take the mound every fifth day and rarely throw more than 100 pitches.
Just another example of why I always tell my wife and three daughters that women are the stronger sex.
SEC Scheduling Farce Continues: The SEC has decided to stay with a schedule of only eight conference games in 2024, even after Oklahoma and Texas join the league.
So the members of a 16-team league will play only 8 games against other teams in their league? Out of a 12-game schedule?
Is that even a league?
Are the SEC coaches and administrators afraid to risk their reputation as the best conference in the country by playing a tougher schedule?
Adding another conference game, of course, means that 50% of the teams in the league would add another loss to their record. This, presumably, might result in fewer SEC teams being invited to the expanded 12-team playoff.
So instead of some teams finishing 10-2 instead of 11-1, they'll continue to schedule cupcakes like Tennessee-Martin, Chattanooga and Samford.
Strength of schedule is supposed to be one of the factors in selecting teams for the playoff. Yet this year, according to the Athletic, only 2 of 14 SEC teams will play 10 or more Power 5 Conference opponents, compared to 10 of 15 teams in the ACC, 13 of 14 in the Big Ten, 11 of 14 in the Big 12 and 10 of 12 in the Pac-12.
The real issue here, of course, is money. It always is.
To go to nine conference games, the SEC wants more money from ESPN, since it would be adding more attractive games, to the TV schedule. The argument is that Alabama-Florida is worth more than Alabama-Chatanooga.
So far, ESPN has said, "no dice."
The SEC's motto is "It Just Means More." It should be: "Just Pay Us More."