Musings From Stanky Field: From the Bird’s Nest
It was a road trip so interesting, it will take two features to get into it all. This is just about the things that happened at Eddie Stanky Field over the weekend. The Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns and South Alabama Jaguars hooked up in a classic three game series, with the Cajuns taking two of three.
YOU HAD TO BE THERE: Some watched it on the South Alabama podcast. Some listened on the radio (thank you.) But neither did it justice. There was an electricity at Stanky that is usually reserved for a regional. Teams were intense, fans were intense and the baseball was top notch. Nothing on screen or over the air could possibly have captured it all..
SNIPPY AND CHIPPY: The Cajuns always bring a good contingent of fans to Mobile and this year was no exception, especially with softball playing in the SBC Tournament next door. South Alabama fans were obviously still butt-hurt from the SBC Championship game a year ago and they had plenty to say. Stefan Trosclair got a big brunt of it, as you can imagine. But it made for some interesting rhetoric between the two sets of fans. The line by a Cajuns' fan suggesting a USA's fan's family tree was a stick was probably the best line I heard of.
HAL WAS RIGHT: Hal Williams has been in charge of Game Day at Stanky FIeld for as long as I've been going there. He's one of the nicest guys in the state of Alabama and we've developed a good rapport over the years. After game two, he said to me "We just lost a game we should have won...and last night we won a game we should have lost." That put things in a good perspective for fans of both sides who felt their team should have done better.
GOOD THING THEY RENOVATED THE STADIUM: They did so back in 2005. Before that, the bleachers at Stanky Field were made of wood. I thought about that when the ball park was hit with swarms of flying termites both Friday and Saturday night. We got one in the booth. I was still grossed out. But the stands didn't collapse.
YOU GOTTA TIP YOUR CAP TO HIM: That was a line former coach Steve Kittrell used to use when an opposing pitcher went out and pitched well. While the Cajuns were taking BP on Friday, I walked out to right field where Kittrell's number 3 is now hanging next to Eddie Stanky and Luis Gonzales. I touched Kittrell's number and tipped my cap, because, well, you gotta tip your cap to him.
HE RESTS IN PEACE, BUT THE VOICE STILL HAUNTS: Gary Godwin, the long time PA voice at Stanky Field, passed away recently. Gary was a good man and a good PA announcer. But, although he's gone, South Alabama still plays a recording when they have three on base and on Saturday we heard him say "The Bags are Full of Jags."
...AND TO COMPOUND IT: South Alabama used to play a God-awful song during in and out called "Look at them Jaguars" Take my word for it. It was really, really bad. Wait...it still is. Right after the Cajuns turned a double play to erase the bags full of Jags, they played the song between innings. While in the commercial break, I went to Charlie Nichols, the SID for baseball and thanked him. I really needed the colon cleansing.
SPEAKING OF THOSE BAGS: I finally got the chance I had been hoping for on Sunday. When Hogan Harris got out of a bases loaded jam in the fifth inning, I got to recap the inning by saying "...and the bags are STILL full of Jags." Gotta admit, that felt pretty good.
I THINK HE WAS READY TO LEAVE: South Alabama coach Mark Calvi got ejected in the sixth inning Sunday for arguing balls and strikes. Calvi's starting pitcher walked three and hit two of the seven batters he faced. Calvi had enough of Rob Healey's strike zone by the sixth and got his money's worth. He stayed on the field a long time and attempted to kick dirt onto home plate. But the ground was hard and not a lot of dirt was accumulated. After Calvi finally left, Healey, to prove a point, kicked the dirt OFF the plate and didn't use his broom.
BUT HE PLAYED NICE LATER: Calvi has a long relationship with the Cajuns' coaches. He was Danny Price's pitching coach at FIU before heading to South Carolina, where he was a part of two national championships. He didn't come out of the clubhouse after the game (understandable) but he made personal calls to both Robichaux and Anthony Babineaux to congratulate them on the series win.
Now, onto the games.
I DIDN'T KNOW THIS WAS POSSIBLE: Kevin Hill is an outright stud. Make no mistake about it. He's got four pitches he can throw for strikes. He's the reigning SBC Pitcher of the Year and is probably favored to win it again. You don't out-pitch Kevin Hill. Unless you're Gunner Leger. Hill went eight innings, giving up eight hits, two earned runs with one walk and six strikeouts. Leger went seven, giving up five hits and no earned runs. He walked two and fanned seven. He was the better of the two on Friday night.
SPEAKING OF MR. HILL--Sometimes we read too much into things. Sometimes we speculate or make judgments with very little evidence. It appeared to me and a couple of others that HIll's velocity was down a tad. We wondered if it's because of all the innings and pitches he's thrown the last two seasons. He's over 100 innings again (104.2). Leger, with the same number of starts, has thrown just 77. And, Hill, who averages nearly 10 strikeouts per nine innings, got just six. We'll see soon whether it's an aberration or a harbinger of things to come.
GETTIN SOME SWAG: If it weren't for Nick Lee, Jags' right fielder Travis Swaggerty just might be the league's Freshman of the Year. The Jags' leadoff hitter had two hits, including the game winner on Friday and homered in the tenth to send the game to another extra frame. He wound up just 3-15 with five strikeouts, but I really like this kid. He's gonna be a good one.
CIRCLE THE LINEUP CARD: Good coaches do this, whether figuratively or literally. In the South Alabama lineup, there are two: Cole Billingsley is an all conference player who was the pre-season Player of the Year. Coming into the series, he was hitting over .300, with 29 stolen bases and more RBI than anyone on the Cajuns' roster. He was not a factor in the weekend series, going 2-12 with a walk and one run scored and a stolen base....And, Danny Martinez, who leads the team in RBI with 46, was 1-12 with four strikeouts.
HE'S NOT JUST A GOOD HITTER: Billingsley didn't do much offensively, but his athleticism showed in the field. He was able to keep base hits to singles with his ability to cover a ton of ground, and his diving catch of a Hunter Kasuls smash was as good a "web gem" as you'll see on any level.
THE GUYS ON THE BUMP STOOD TALL: Austin Bembnowski, the Sunday starter for South Alabama, had an unfortunate outing where he just couldn't throw strikes and lasted just 1/3 of an inning. But the rest of the arms we saw were outstanding on both sides. In fact, that outing notwithstanding, South Alabama pitching gave up just six earned runs in 28.2 innings. The Cajuns were even better, giving up five in the same amount of IP.
CAJUNS' MR. CLUTCH: Tony Robichaux lamented after the Houston game that the team needed someone to man up offensively. Louisiana DH Brenn Conrad put on the big boy pants. He reached base three times on Friday, had a two run double on Saturday and a two run single on Sunday. All four of the RBI came in the first inning, allowing the Cajuns to get off to a good start in both wins.
FEAST AND FAMINE:: Pinch hitter Adam Wolfe got a huge two run homer off Dylan Moore in the seventh inning of game two to give the Jaguars a 3-2 lead. It was his team leading seventh of the season. He was rewarded with the start Sunday and struck out four times. Evan Guillory got him swinging twice. Hogan Harris and Eric Carter caught him looking at queso.
FAMINE AND FEAST: Alex Pinero had some less than stellar at-bats over the weekend, but also had some very good ones. He was 0-2 Friday before laying down a bunt that resulted in a Cajuns' run. Saturday he was 0-4 until a leadoff single in the tenth which eventually was the go-ahead run. And, he was 0-3 Sunday but got a ninth inning single which resulted in an insurance run.
DON'T LAUGH TOO SOON: Stefan Trosclair made an error on a foul popup which led to two unearned runs, much to the delight of South Alabama fans who remember the grand slam which ended their season a year ago. Trosclair didn't tear the cover off the ball over the weekend, but he scored three runs, had three hits and drove in a run. He reached base on six of his 13 plate appearances.
WE FOUND BOBBY FISCHER: Tony Robichaux proved to be a master chess player in the Cajuns' two victories. In both games, he used fifteen of his sixteen position players, making pinch hitting, defensive and pinch running moves. And, most of them worked. In his quest to find some consistency, Robichaux has used a lot of players this season. It paid dividends over the weekend.
HOW DEEP IS YOUR PEN?: The Cajuns took a 5-0 lead on Sunday and Evan Guillory, after allowing a one out hit in the first inning, retired ten straight and was cruising. But in the fifth he gave up three hits and a walk. Now, it being Sunday and having a previous game last eleven innings, most teams would probably keep Guillory in and see if he could wriggle off the hook since he wasn't hit hard, rather than go to the bullpen in the fifth inning. But Robichaux didn't hesitate, turning to Hogan Harris and then Jevin Huval, neither of whom had pitched in the series. We know what happened. Not many teams have that much luxury in game three.
POWER UP: Kyle Clement had four hits and four runs scored over the weekend. But none was bigger than his blast over the right center field wall to win game two of the series. It was the first homer since April 3 against Arkansas State in his first weekend back from injury...a span of 86 at bats.
KEEP THEM TO TWO: South Alabama doesn't have a great team batting average and they don't have a ton of power. But the Jags lead the Sun Belt in runs scored, walks and on base percentage. The best way to keep them from scoring is to give them just two outs every inning. The Cajuns retired the leadoff man in 25 of the 29 innings. And, two of those game when the Cajuns had a five run lead on Sunday. South Alabama scored in only two of those four innings when they got the leadoff man on.
It was a tremendously played series and one that just adds to the history of the Cajuns and Jaguars. They won't meet again unless they play in the championship game.
Now wouldn't THAT be a hoot.