Day One at the Sun Belt Tournament – From the Bird’s Nest
Wednesday was the beginning of the Sun Belt Conference Baseball Tournament at M. L. “Tigue” Moore Field. Now, the Cajuns weren’t playing until 7:30 so I didn’t have to be at the ball park early.
But there I was, sitting in the auxilliary media area down the first base line as the rosters were introduced beginning at 8:45.
I like baseball.
Besides, the plan was to do “Bird’s Eye View: on location at the ball park and some equipment needed to be checked out. And, game one, between the #4 and #5 seeds (FAU and Western Kentucky) promised to be a good one.
FAU scored four times in the first inning, and with their ace lefty Austin Gomber on the mound, it was going to be a tough road for the Hilltoppers.
Then the rains came.
I had gone to the hospitality area to get a breakfast sandwich. UL coach Tony Robichaux was there, too. We got a chance to talk because when the rains came, they came. The storm didn’t last a long time, but it rained really hard. And, there was a lightning strike within eight miles of the ball park, which meant an automatic 30 minute delay.
Now, weather can screw up a tournament faster than you can imagine. If you have multiple delays, it can push games back for hours. And, that means the folks who are working the tournament can be at the park until well after midnight. Or later.
But, if there was an example of why playing on turf can reap dividends, yesterday was a very good example. With a grass field, you’ve got to get someone to put the tarp on the field and hope they get it covered in time. Then, when it’s safe to do so, you have to pull the tarp and dump the water, usually behind shortstop and third base. Then you have to try to get as much standing water out of fair territory as you can. Then you have to fix the infield because there might be some wet spots. There are times field prep is as long or longer than the storm itself.
But with a turf field, only the mound has to be covered. And, after the rain, only the mound needs work. Within minutes, you’re ready to play ball.
That turf was a godsend yesterday.
Both pitchers were able to return to the game. WKU starter Justin Hagemann, who gave up the four runs in the first, settled down. Gomber kept putting up zeros until the eighth, when, with a five run lead, he cave up two home runs, one of them a three run shot to make the score 5-4. The FAU bullpen was solid, however, and the Owls wound up with a 5-4 win.
Meanwhile, I was trying to get some things together for “Bird’s Eye View.” I did an eighteen minute interview with Barry McKnight, the play by play voice from Troy. And, I checked out the equipment for the broadcast and was disappointed when the bluetooth where I wanted to broadcast wouldn’t hold.
But that was okay. I had already lined up a backup plan, just in case.
Or, so I thought. As it turned out, the storm knocked out all of the phone lines except the ones used for radio broadcast, so taking a phone line from game management and doing the show from the top row of the grandstand.
Hmmm, gotta come up with plan C.
But first, lunch….
Different participating restaurants are feeding the media this week. Breakfast was from Edie’s. Lunch was from Tropical Smoothie and Deano’s. And, Jeff Schneider from UL Sports Information came up witha Plan C. I would do the show from the SID office. That wouldn’t be ideal, but it would get it done. Jeff lined up UL assistant coach Matt Deggs, I had the Troy broadcaster recorded and South Alabama broadcaster Lee Shirvanian agreed to do a segment with me.
Game two started only 20 minutes late. I wouldn’t be able to watch a lot before having to go across the street, but I would be able to catch two or three inninngs.
Which was enough to remind me just how painful it is to watch Arkansas State. Now, the Cajuns were pretty inept offensively last year. And ULM was pretty brutal this year, which cost them a spot in the tournament. But down the stretch, ASU has really struggled to score. And, in the first three innings, they left a small village on base, including an inning when they had the bases loaded with no outs. Troy got a Trae Santos homer to take a 1-0 lead and it was time for me to go to work.
The broadcast went smoothly. The broadcasters gave their opinions on the tournament and the end of the regular season. Matt Deggs is a great interview. He talked a lot about philosophy and mindset and a bit of strategy as well. If you listened, you learned something. I know I did.
Meanwhile, Troy took a 3-0 lead over ASU into the ninth. Arkansas State scored two and had the tying run on first when the game ended. The great thing about the game was it barely went two hours. The 4:00 pm game would start on time. In fact, we were ahead of schedule.
South Alabama and UALR were next and when the Jags’ got four in the bottom of the first against Trojans’ starter Chance Cleveland, it was pretty much over. So, I did what any normal guy would do:
I got something to eat.
The Cajun Tails Tailgating Area is cooking during the tournament. They’ve been a festive group before Cajuns’ home games for years. And, they were cooking good stuff yesterday. Barbecued chicken and ribs, cornbread dressing and white beans with tasso.
I swear, I’m going to gain ten pounds during this tournament.
After the repast, it was back inside the ball park to set up for the Cajuns’ game. UALR does not do radio, so my area was clear to set up early. I got equipment done and got the stats that were available. There wasn’t much to do until lineups came, so I ate a Judice Inn burger.
South Alabama finished off UALR 10-2 and again, things were running ahead of schedule. When the UL team came out, I recorded a pregame interview with Robe and went upstairs to get lineups and input stats.
As the final game of the night was ready to begin, there was a moment I had been waiting for for a couple of years. The Conference office had notified my colleague and friend, Steve Peloquin, that he had been named the SBC Broadcaster of the Year. We sat on the news for two weeks but now it was time for the ceremony. Steve posed for a photo and then walked out to the mound. He stood there, kind of embarassed, while public address announced Nick Domingue announced all the things that contributed to Steve winning the award.
Then the “Stinkin’ Genius” did what you would expect. He threw a strike. It was great to hear the home crowd cheering in appreciation for what Steve had done for UL sports. Now, if the Cajuns could win, it would be a perfect first day.
When you play FIU, it’s usually a long game. Even if it’s not high scoring, it’s slow. Panthers’ pitchers work slowly. They take their time getting to home plate. They step out a lot and work the count.
And, when a game has lots of baserunners, you get what you had last night.
Nine innings, three hours, fifty minutes.
I’ve done a lot of baseball games in my career. And, I’ve forgotten many more than I remember. But last night’s drama; the Cajuns’ getting four in the ninth inning, including a three run walkoff homer, ranks probably in the top 10. There was an electric atmosphere in the ball park and this team just doesn’t know when they’re beaten. They’ve been an honor to cover this year.
But it was late when we finished. By the time I packed up and drove home it was after midnight. And, I still had to do the story on Steve and the game story for our website.
I finished and got to bed around 1:30. Back at the ballpark for 8:45.
So, what are we eating today??