Thursday, April 30, 2009

What Sayith Merriman??

Well....actually we all know what Shawne Merriman said. It went something like this: "I am thrilled that we drafted Larry English! The more the Merrier, man!"

The better question is: what is Merriman thinking these days? After all, the Chargers just used their first-round draft choice on his (presumed) replacement.

How would you feel if the boss introduced you to the guy who was going to come in and take your job? "Hey Bob...we know you're the best VP of Sales we've ever had...but this is Tony...and very soon we expect him to be the best VP of Sales we've ever had...have a nice day!"

Chances are you'd be pissed. Chances are you'd have every right to be.

I've got to believe that somewhere in the back (or more likely the front) of his mind, Merriman isn't exactly thrilled about the Bolts' draft-day developments. When you're the most disruptive defensive player in the entire NFL, and you've worked your tail off to come back from a
season-ending injury, you don't expect the team you play for to start planning for your demise.

But that's exactly what the Chargers have done. Though they've said repeatedly that the drafting of English is all about making what should be a scary pass rush even more's pretty obvious to me (and should be to you as well) that the writing is on the wall.

And the wall reads: Shawne Merriman is no longer part of the Chargers future after this season.

Maybe that's OK. After all, it's no guarantee that Merriman will return from his knee surgery as the dominant player he once was...and having English behind him will provide a nice insurance policy. Furthermore, we know that Merriman will be a free agent after the '09 season and chances are he will command millions of dollars (and them some) to re-sign in San Diego. With English in the fold, the Chargers won't be forced into over-paying to keep him.

However, in my mind, this is faulty logic. And here's why: stated or unstated, Merriman is basically now in the position to have to play for himself this season. Knowing that his days in San Diego are all but over, it will be imperative for him to put up big sack numbers (regardless of how many games the Bolts win, or how many tackles he makes, Merriman's free-agent bounty will directly be linked to his sack total and nothing else).

Is this the kind of player you want leading your defense?? Perhaps, the Chargers feel that a
20-sack season from Merriman will help them get where they want to go. But in my mind, it's a guy who's focused on the success of the entire defensive unit -- and not his stats alone -- that would be far more valuable.

Either way, let's give credit to Merriman for his initial public comments. He said the PC thing by welcoming English into the fold. Imagine if Merriman had the frail self-confidence of former Denver QB Jay Cutler. The draft selection of an additional pass-rushing linebacker would have created a Broncos-sized circus.

The way it is now, Merriman will have to share the center ring with an up-and-coming talent nipping at his heels. And he'll have to deal with a ring-leader (A.J. Smith) who seems anxious to drive home the message that his star (and future Hall of Fame?) linebacker will not be welcome in these here parts much longer.

And while it's true that there aren't many guys out there as tough as Shawne Merriman, I think he'll have a tough time handling it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I No Comprende' English...Ello, Apr. 28th

Every Sunday for the past several Autumns, I have gone to church.

No, not the church that frowns upon gays and lesbians...or pre-marital sex and adultery (when it's convenient)...and not the church where whatever sins you do feel like committing will be forgiven with a kneel and an excuse.

I've never gone to that church and never will.

I've gone to the church where failures simply are not tolerated and sins can never be forgiven. The church of the bottom line -- wins and losses.

The Church of A.J. Smith.

I haven't really gone to pray...or to ask forgiveness because I missed a game while out shopping with the wife...or even to complain. Mostly I've just attended with reverence for the General Manager of the San Diego Chargers -- the master of the draft, the all-knowing definer of football talent, the Messiah of trades and free agent pickups.

Gotta say, though, after what transpired this past weekend, I'm starting to lose faith.

Do you understand why the Chargers would use their first-round draft choice to select a player who plays a position that the team is already loaded at? Because I sure don't.

Before the draft ever began I said that no team in the NFL would improve during this off-season as much as the Chargers would...regardless of who was drafted, traded or signed. That's because the Bolts will be adding the most disruptive defensive player on the planet to their roster for 2009.

Supposedly fully recovered from the knee injury that cost him just about all of last season, Shawne Merriman's presence immediately turns the Chargers into Super Bowl contenders. Lined up with bookend pass rusher Shawn Phillips on the other side of the line, San Diego will be able to bring more heat that a mid-April afternoon in Jamul (see last week's weather report for confirmation).

With the pass rush back in order, the last thing San Diego needed was another pass rusher. But in drafting outside linebacker Larry English out of Northern Illinois, that's exactly what the Chargers got.

Of course, the the world's wimpiest media -- located here in America's Finest City if you weren't sure -- could not contain itself after the first-round selection, practically doing cart-wheels and firing off bottle rockets to salute the Chargers (formerly brilliant) front office.

To me, the selection makes absolutely no sense. In fact, it looks a whole lot like what the (confused) Padres did with their first selection in last summer's Major League Baseball draft. Despite the fact that their best player (Adrian Gonzalez) is a first baseman, and their top prospect (Kyle Blanks) is a first baseman, the Padres drafted -- a first baseman.

What the hell??? I was banging my head into a wall after that pick, and now I've bloodied my forehead again after the Chargers unexplainable decision.

Not that they haven't tried to explain it. Said Director of Player Personnel Jimmy Raye (who?): "You can never have enough good football players, especially trying to put heat on the quarterback."

Oh yeah? Well I guess you could have 11 great players putting pressure on the quarterback if you wanted to...but it's not going to do you much good if there's nobody back there behind them to cover receivers. And frankly -- even with only three guys rushing -- we already know that the Chargers can't cover receivers.

Said Head Coach Norv Turner: "We felt a real urgency to create situations where we can put more pressure on the quarterback and obviously getting Shawne Merriman back will help us greatly there, but adding a rusher we thought would certainly help us."

Genius!! You mean the Chargers felt that getting Merriman back would greatly help them? But that adding (another) rusher would certainly help them?

Who was doing this draft? Matt Millen? "Yes...we felt that if we could stockpile top wide receivers in the draft for about a decade, our passing game would be unstoppable....Offensive linemen? Quarterbacks? Well, yes, but we do have a bunch of great receivers."

Look, perhaps Larry English will turn out to be a great player. I hope he does. But even if he does, this first-round pick still makes no sense.

Of course, some would say that English will make for a great insurance policy if Merriman is not healthy...or if Merriman is let go after his contract runs out next season.

Maybe so. But I say that Merriman will be back, and with him back, Phillips will regain his mojo on the other side. And if that happens, how exactly is English going to contribute this season?

Other teams may feel like they have the luxury to let a first-round pick rot on the bench for a season and learn. But when you're the Chargers, and your window to the Super Bowl is quickly closing, you need to add a player who can help you now.

And I don't think there's much argument that the Chargers have plenty of holes that need repair -- inside linebacker, defensive end, safety, offensive line just to name a few.

Pass-rushing outside linebacker, to me, did not seem to be that desperate of a need. Of course, the Chargers (who think they know everything) think differently.

I guess I just don't understand English.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Spotlight's On A.J. Again....Ello, Apr. 24th

So A.J. Smith has turned into the Kathy Ireland of swimsuit modeling. Once beautiful, but now not quite as easy on the eyes.

For several years, the centerfold spread in the NFL Draft's Monthly. But now no longer a candidate for the cover story.

Washed up and worn out. You can try a little botox here, a nip-and-tuck there...but there's simply no way to cover up the bumps and bruises. Not enough cosmetics to make choices like Buster Davis, Eric Weddle, Antonio Cromartie, Paul Oliver, Anthony Waters and Jacob Hester disappear.

This weekend, the lights will shine brightly on Smith again as the NFL convenes for its annual rite of passage in New York's Radio City Music Hall. It's a place where the Chargers General Manager used to bring down the house year after year. The curtain calls were endless and the stage was showered with bouquets at the great man's feet -- and feats.

This time around, however, he'll be lucky to still have a spot dancing in the chorus line.

Chargers fans disappointed by the lack of impact players selected by Smith over the past couple of seasons have every right to be concerned about what the Chargers will come up with this weekend.

However, to be honest, your spotlight is directed in the wrong place. Rather than focusing on Smith, it's the players themselves that should be more carefully scrutinized.

There's an old saying in the NFL that the quarterback gets too much credit when a team wins and too much blame when a team loses. Not only is this a popular saying, but it happens to be the truth.

Here's another truth: General Managers get far too much credit for good draft, and far too much blame for bad ones.

Sure Bill Belichek and Scott Pioli in New England have starred in recent years, but there's no way either of them can honestly take credit for the discovery of Tom Brady in the sixth round of the 2000 draft -- after 199 players had been taken ahead of him. If either Belichek or Pioli really knew how great Brady was going to be then why did they themselves pass on him at least five times?

On the other hand, you can blame the 49ers all you want for wasting the No. 1 overall pick in 2005 on quarterback Alex Smith...but the problem with that logic is that everybody has Smith pegged as the No. 1 QB on the board that year. In essence, the 49ers practically had to take Smith.

The bottom line is -- at least in my way of thinking -- is that the failures of A.J. Smith's recent picks lies more with the picks themselves than it does with the man who picked them.

Players like Davis, Weddle, Cromartie -- and the others -- are all remarkably gifted athletes who simply have not performed to the level of their capabilities. It's not like the Chargers were the only teams in the NFL who thought these would all be great players.

Brady, of course, is the most magical example of the following axoim -- but there are dozens of others. And the axoim is that no matter where a player is picked on draft day, it is what he does after he's drafted that matters most.

You could say that it's up to Smith -- and all of the other General Managers -- to know what these youngsters are going to do once they're brought into the fold. But if that were the case, there wouldn't be a single Hall of Famer in Canton, Ohio, who was drafted after the first or second round.

And we know that this simply is not the case.

Smith, of course, could work himself back into the local fans' good graces if things work out this weekend -- but obviously none of us will really know whether or not he has been successful until a couple of seasons go by.

One thing I do know, however. Smith will work as hard as anybody to make sure everything turns out right.

The question is whether or not the players he selects will work as hard as he does.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

At Least Pads Still Have Miss USA Runner-Up...Ello, Apr. 21st

Let's take a quick break from the early-season party that is the Padres' 9-4 start and remember why, these days at least, we can't stand this franchise in the first place.

Correct me if I'm wrong...but it all comes down to money and the Friars inability to: A.) pay to develop good players... B.) pay to acquire good players... C.) pay to keep the few good players that they do have.

All of this belt-tightening has us feeling rather lousy about the Local 9 -- despite the hot start.

But losing the likes of Trevor Hoffman, Shane Victorino, Jason Bay, Gary Matthews Jr., Derrek Lee, Milton Bradley, Ramon Hernandez, Geoff Blum, Mike Cameron, Khalil Greene, Mark Loretta, Randy Wolf and (soon, we imagine) Jake Peavy will look like nothing if the Padres let their biggest ticket item get away.

Along with now being the most famous Miss USA runner-up in history, and America's hottest lightning rod for controversy, Carrie Prejean has -- for the last couple of years -- been a member of the San Diego Padres.

Well, to be exact, she has been a member of the Pad Squad...and chances are she has fired a
T-Shirt or two in your direction between innings at Petco Park.

Now that you're aware of this...what's more important to you? Finding a way to keep Peavy or Prejean?

Well...let's put it this way. If this season turns out the way most expect it eventually will and the Padres are an also-ran by August...I'd rather watch Carrie chuck T-Shirts in a half-empty ballpark than watch Peavy chuck and duck.

With the money the Padres can save by dealing Peavy, they can hook up the hottest item in America to a long-term deal. I mean, really, who cares about wins and losses anyway?

Of course, by keeping Prejean, the Friars' gay and lesbian following may take a hit...but who would you rather have as the face of the franchise? A young lady strong enough to believe in her convictions under intense pressure or an outfielder who -- when the going gets tough -- beats up young ladies.

Agree with her or not, it took a lot of guts for Prejean to answer as she did the other night during the Miss USA pageant when she was asked about gay marriage by (celebrity?) judge Perez Hilton...Personally, I don't agree with her, but it's refreshing to see someone who's not afraid to be politically incorrect...Meanwhile, it took no guts at all for Brian Giles to hit and shove his girlfriend to the ground.

For now our attention is (and should be) on the Padres' play on the field. It has been a fun start to the season.

But when the dog-days of summer arrive, let's hope we at least still have Carrie. With her schedule now busier than ever the former Vista High student will not be able to tend to hjer Pad Squad duties as often as she has in the past.

The Padres have to make sure they don't let her get away for good.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

First Month Full of April Fools...Ello, Apr. 20th

So you and everybody else loves October baseball...yeah, yeah...big deal...long season, then long playoff series'...then the calendar turns to starts snowing or raining for three days somewhere...and then the World Series.

Don't know about you...but all I remember about last year's Fall Classic is that the final game took longer to play than a cricket match...should have called it the Winter Classic. for favorite time of the baseball season is April...right now...Why? Because this is the month that makes all the experts look like idiots. (Being as I'm clearly no expert, I get a certain amount of joy out of stuff like this).

Examples: Well, of course, the Padres are one....Which expert was it exactly who pegged the Padres for maybe nine wins before the All-Star break?? Same guy -- or gal -- I assume who had the Friars taking 2-of-3 from the unbeatable Mets and then 2-of-3 from the defending World Champion Phillies. On the road, no less.

Marlins opening the season 11-1?? Can't tell you how tired I got reading about that over and over during Spring training.

Last-place finishers in the American League?? Pretty sure I saw where the
Rays-Indians-Angels trifecta was a better bet than Lindsay Lohan staying sober.

Just when is it, by the way, that Peter Gammons is going to finally come clean and tell us that truth be told, he's really just as dumb as the rest of us?? Probably the same day he admits knowing that the Yankees' Chien-Ming Wang would be dazzling the American League with a
34.50 earned run average...or that the greatest Red Sox hurler of them all, Daisuke Matsuzaka, would be on the shelf with a 12.79.

I must have missed it, but I'm certain Tim Kurkjian called Brandon Webb on the DL with a 13.50 and also had the Cy Young-World Series MVP Daily Double pegged by coupling Cole Hamels and his 11.17 ERA right along with him. Hamels couldn't even hold a 7-1 lead against the Padres.

Here are some more: Jason Stark's blog predicting that April's batting leader would be the Nationals' Christian Guzman at a robust .515...And ESPN's Buster Olney breathlessly telling us that young stars like Alex Gordon (KC, 2-for-21 .095), Gervany Soto (Cubs, 2-for-19 .105) and Alexei Ramirez (Chisox, 5-for-40 .125) would all come crashing down to earth.

It really is amazing how much time we all waste listening to these guys...and even worse, how we're duped into believing everything they say.

You know...I hope April never ends. Think I can get the Padres to join me in that?

Early candidate for stupidest free-agent signing...goes to the Cubs who piled the dough up for outfielder Milton Bradley...Bradley already has more times out of the lineup (two -- one for a pulled muscle, I think, and another for a suspension) than he has hits (one).

My choice for April's MLB Player of the Month...already belongs to Padres closer Heath Bell. Sure the seven saves and perfect ERA are nice, but they're far from the reason he gets my vote.

Bell loudly (and correctly) called out ESPN (and all of their geniuses) for totally ignoring the 27 teams not named the Yankees, Red Sox or Mets. Bell said there's no reason for him to tune into the Worldwide leader any longer because he likes to see what's going on in baseball, not just what's going on in New York and Boston.

It's about time somebody (other than me) had the guts to call out ESPN's one-coasted coverage of what (I thought) is called the National Pastime. When history's keepers of the grand-ol' game change it to the Anything-North-of-Baltimore-and-East-of-Pittsburgh Pastime...well, then I'll start tuning in again.

Either that, or when one of the geniuses in Bristol can correctly predict what's going to happen in baseball during the month of April.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Stuff that doesn't matter, some that does...Ello, Apr. 18

"The new phone book is here! The new phone book is here!"...The lines are from the
(not-quite-a) classic Steve Martin comedy, "The Jerk"...(caught some of it STARZ last night, by the way).

The idea of the scene is that what matters little to most -- or all -- or us, means the world to "The Jerk," his name actually being in print finally validating his existence.

Same goes with the release of the NFL schedule...only in this case, you're all "The Jerks," and I'm the one who understands (correctly) that is means little...."The NFL Schedule is here! The NFL Schedule is here!" what?

Now we know the Chargers will open their 2009 quest in Oakland, against the Raiders...Then they're home for Baltimore and Miami...Then there's a whole bunch of more games before the regular season ends January 3rd at home against Washington. (By the way, if they keep ending the season later and later, the Super Bowl one day will be played on the 4th of July).

And now we have all of the "experts" in the NFL world breaking down every team's schedule and determining what it all means. "The Chargers have to play Dallas, the New York Giants and Pittsburgh!".....Oooooooohh! "And they play at Philadelphia, and play at Cleveland in December where it will be cold!"....Oh, oh!

My goodness, what are they going to do??...Well, my best guess, is that they'll show up every Sunday or Monday wherever the schedule tells them to, and they'll try to win the games.

End of story. Or is it?

Breathlessly, the experts have figured out which team has the hardest schedule (Miami) and which has the easiest (N.Y. Giants)...and that means, well, what exactly?

Not much. If it did then why bother figuring out who supposedly had the toughest schedule in the NFL last year? Answer: the Super Bowl champion Steelers.

Speaking of things that don't matter, the NFL draft is now just a week away, and all of the
draft-niks are warming up their projection sheets....Who will go No. 1 to the Lions? Who'll be picked 19th? Or 27th?

When somebody can tell me who'll get the next Tom Brady in the 6th round, or tell me which team will by savvy enough to sign (defensive player of the year) James Harrison as a free agent because he's not drafted at all...then maybe I'll start paying attention.

Until then, the whole affair is like trying to pick numbers in a lottery. Teams could do just as well closing their eyes and pointing to names in Steve Martin's phone book.

I do have one draft prediction, however: the team that will improve most from last season to next season will be the Chargers...Not because of anybody they draft next weekend, but because they will welcome back a supposedly healthy Shawne Merriman for '09.

No team will find anybody with that much impact in the draft, no matter how hard they look or how much attention they pay to Mel Kiper.

You can go ahead and continue to love Lance Armstrong if you want to, but one of these days you will get your heart broken. (Just like Sheryl Crow).

Armstrong says he may be barred from this summer's Tour de France because -- his explanation -- the people over in Europe can't stand him. (If true, by the way, kudos to the people over in Europe).

But here's the real reason why Armstrong may not be allowed to compete: Tour officials showed up unannounced at Armstrong's residence and asked him to take a drug test (completely legal, under the rules that govern the sport).

Armstrong said "sure," then disappeared for over 20 minutes, spending most of that time in the shower. Did he just want to look squeaky-clean for the authorities? Or was he increasing his chances of testing squeaky-clean?

You go ahead and decide. Me? I already decided a long time ago on Armstrong. In a sport where every single decent Tour competitor has flunked drug tests over the past decade, I simply can not believe that Armstrong was the only top-flight cyclist who was riding clean.

He has never tested positive for anything (and he reminds of this fact constantly)...but neither has Barry Bonds.

As is always the case, the NBA will get exactly what it wants for this year's NBA Finals -- Kobe and the Lakers versus LeBron and the Cavs. Can it possibly turn out any other way?

Of course, it can't.

And just in case Kevin Garnett does try to make a comeback at some point during the
post-season, believe me when I tell you that David Stern has Jeff Gillooly's phone number on speed dial. One good whack on the knee from Tonya Harding's former husband, and the Celtics will be finished.

We know you don't care much about hockey, but at least the Stanley Cup Playoffs aren't rigged. Sure some teams are better than others, but there's really no way of knowing which two teams will meet in the finals.

My guess is Detroit versus New Jersey...Two teams that have goaltenders that have been there many times before....(By the way, it's too bad you're not watching the playoffs -- or don't know where to find them -- because the Chicago-Calgary game on Thursday night was a blast).

Just how long will the Padres be able to keep this magical early-season run going? My best bet is mid-May or so...the good news is that just as the Friars are falling, the NCAA college baseball tournament will be getting underway.

Don't look now, but both San Diego State (No. 15) and USD (No. 24) are ranked and have a good shot at post-season play. My wish would be for both to win their opening-round regionals and then face-off head-to-head in a 2-out-of-3 Super Regional...with the winner going to the College World Series.

For guys like me who care about the minor sports in San Diego -- and enjoy following them -- an SDSU-USD showdown with everything at stake would be fantastic.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Strasburg Clutch As Aztecs Blank Lobos 1-0

ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO--Nothing could stop Stephen Strasburg on Friday night at Isotopes Stadium.  Not the University of New Mexico Lobos.  Not the frigid weather.  Not even the pack of student cheerleaders who formed a picket line in front of the dugout in the middle of the 7th inning, preventing Strasburg from taking the mound for a few minutes.  (OK, they were performing a routine, but it sure looked like a picket line).  And by the end, the Lobos and their fans were howling in dismay as the top-hitting team in the NCAA was blanked on their home field by college baseball's best pitcher.

In a tense, nail-biting game that started with 42 degree temps and randomly mixed mist and freezing rain, Strasburg pitched his first complete game shutout of the season as the 15th ranked Aztecs (26-13, 9-4) edged the Lobos (28-11, 8-5) 1-0.  Brandon Meredith launched a solo homerun deep into the left-field picnic section to lead off the top of the 4th, and that lone run held up to win thanks to Strasburg's brilliance, grit, and determination.  Throwing 129 pitches, Strasburg allowed 7 hits, walked one and struck out 14.  In doing so, he passed Mike Erb (SDSU '85-'87) for 2nd place on the all-time SDSU strikeout list (301 career K's), and trails Bruce Billings by just three for the all-time school record (304).  

But Strasburg's dominance was tested multiple times on Friday, and the Aztecs' ace responded each time with his biggest and best pitches.  In the 5th, miscommunication on a foul popup between Meredith and Erik Castro (1 for 3, 8 game hitting streak) allowed a catchable ball to drop off the bat of Lobos' left fielder Adam Courcha.  The next pitch was ripped well over 400 feet to left-center field for a leadoff triple.  Strasburg knuckled down and retired Daniel Gonzalez on a weak grounder to third before striking out Mike Brownstein (leading Divison I in hits) and Max Willett to end the inning.  Counting those two punchouts, Strasburg struck out 7 of 8 batters to cruise into the 8th.  

Meanwhile, Lobos' senior left-hander John Hesketh mixed and matched a sinker and slider to keep the Aztecs' bats as cold as the weather.  Hesketh allowed just Meredith's homer in 7 innings, striking out six while giving up 5 hits and 3 walks over 7 innings.  2nd year New Mexico head coach Ray Birmingham then ran out his four top relievers to get the next six outs, offering Strasburg no margin for error.  

In the bottom of the 8th, Strasburg was tested once again, as Gonzalez lined a fastball to the opposite field for a leadoff single.  After a sacrifice and a groundout, DH Ryan Honeycutt, who entered the night batting .464 on the season, lined a two-strike fastball to left field for a base hit.  Even though the ball got right to Brandon Decker in left field, Gonzalez was waved home by third-base coach Ken Jacome, and Decker's two-hop throw beat Gonzalez by several feet to home, where Erik Castro blocked home plate and completed the 7-2 putout to end the inning.  

The last gasp for the Lobos came in the 9th when cleanup man Rafael Neda delivered a clean single to left field to put the leadoff man and tying run on base.  After pinch-running, Lobos' coach Birmingham decided to give up a precious out by sacrifice once again, moving the runner Monger into scoring position.  Monger then stole third, once again putting the tying run 90 feet away with less than two outs.  But with his pitch count rising, Strasburg dug deep for a finishing kick.  He whiffed all-MWC outfielder Brian Cavazos-Galvez on a slider in the dirt, and then got first baseman Justin Howard to come around on another slider to end the game.  

The game ended with celebrating Aztecs and chirping Lobos.  Several New Mexico players came out of the Lobos' dugout to bark at the SDSU players as they were exchanging handshakes and high fives in the center of the diamond.  Coaches and players from the Aztecs responded and while there was no confrontation to speak of, the intensity is likely to be cranked up even a notch higher for Saturday's 5pm (PDT) game.  Jon Berger will throw for San Diego State, and I'll have the radio play-by-play at  

NOTES: the Aztecs dodged a jam and an injury scare in the bottom of the 2nd inning.  With two outs and runners at 1st and 2nd, Courcha hit a flyball into foul territory down the right field line.  Cory Vaughn came in and gloved the ball, but failed to call off 2nd baseman Mitch Blackburn, who wound up colliding with Vaughn and knocking the ball loose.  Blackburn then catapulted over the 3-foot fence in right and fell into the empty first row of the stands, landing hard on concrete.  Blackburn was shaken up for a few moments but continued in the game without further incident.  The folks at Isotope Stadium might consider putting up a guardrail for the players to avoid catastrophe...New Mexico entered the game with a .376(!!) team average, leading the NCAA in average, hits, doubles, and triples...they had never scored fewer than 2 runs in a game this season before getting shut out by Strasburg...Pat Colwell ended an 0-13 skid with a double in the 7th...the 15th ranked Aztecs improved to 11-2 on the road this season.  

Podcasting Issues

For those who might have wondered why there haven't been fresh podcasts since Monday, understand that actually there have been TWO fresh sets of podcasts, but somehow Chris and I managed to screw them up with our lack of technical know-how and render both sets unlistenable.  Danny Simmons' value to us is re-inforced every time we knuckleheads try to take matters into our own hands.  So, this is a message of patience, we still have ghosts in the machine, but really hope to have things running more smoothly when I get back from 'Querque.  


ALBURQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO---Gray skies, mini snow flurries, and howling winds greeted the Aztecs as they arrived here for a critical three-game conference showdown with New Mexico.  The team (and it's announcer) flew in yesterday afternoon on Southwest, with a turbulent bumpy landing that led pitching coach Rusty Filter to rename our flight choice "Knuckleball Airlines", and led head coach Tony Gwynn to consider the merits of making the 11-hour drive instead of the 90-minute flight.  

The team immediately went from the airport to the University of New Mexico to stage a practice, using the team's half-astroturf, half-grass field.  Coach Gwynn placed a screen inside the batting cage, behind the plate, and then sat on a chair behind that screen, instructing his hitters not to hit the ball out of the park (not an easy feat, given the icy but blasting wind, mile-high conditions, and inviting fences).  Instead, the hitters were told just to work on their swings, the plane of the bat traveling through the strike zone, and hitting the ball the other way.  Trying not to do too much at the plate is a constant refrain from the coaching staff, pounding the message home to try and counter the natural, youthful tendency to pull and hook the ball in search of a homerun.  It was a good practice to help acclimatize the young kids into the thin air while also getting the blood flowing after a day of travel.  

What's there to do in Albuquerque?  Well, I'm sure there's something, but it doesn't exist around the team hotel.  The Drury is actually very nice, with a hot, free breakfast buffet and complimentary wings and drinks for Happy Hour.  It just happens to be in the middle of an industrial complex.  I asked the clerk at the front desk where the nearest sundry store was.  He told me it was "a block" down the street at a Chevron station.  1 mile+ later, I found it, after walking past dozens of empty office buildings.  Oh, and there's a Clear Channel radio multiplex across the street.  Yay, dark reminders!

This morning provided a fascinating glimpse into Coach Gwynn's teaching style.  The team bused to the Albuquerque Baseball Academy after breakfast, an indoor hitting facility.  After 7 or 8 rounds of BP, Gwynn huddled the team around a video monitor, where the Academy had frame-by-frame recordings of the swings of various MLB players.  

"Head behind the ball, head behind the ball," said Gwynn, "doesn't matter who you put up there (on the screen), you'll see their head is behind the ball."

Up popped Joe Mauer, A-Rod, Giambi, Soriano, Carlos Lee, and others.  Sure enough, at the point of contact, the head was always behind the ball, the arms were extended in the hitting V, the eyes were watching the ball into the hitting zone.

"Look at the bat plane through the zone now," as the next frames clicked into place.  "Flat.  Flat.  Flat.  Look at the knob of the bat.  The knob of the bat goes to the ball, the barrel follows.  Watch."

The video of A-Rod would back up two frames, and there it was.  The knob, then the bat barrel.  

Next, Gwynn asked the video tech to put up some different players.  Derrek Lee, bad bat plane, rolling over on a fastball and hitting a grounder to third.  

"See?  That's the bad, low bat plane I get on you guys about, and look at the result."

Then, the video tech had to smile at the next group of hitters Gwynn asked to see on the screen.  The tech said, "nobody's asked us to look at the David Eckstein video before!"

But there was little Eck, with the Cards, taking (as Gwynn put it) "97-mile-an-hour cheddar" to right field.

"Here's a Punch and Judy guy, but look again.  Head behind the ball, he's choking up on the bat, but the bat plane is flat, and he takes that pitch (a Bartolo Colon fastball) on a line into right field."

I've always heard about Gwynn's exploits as "Captain Video", but to watch it in person as a lesson imparted to his hitters was fascinating for a seam-head like me.  

The last message delivered to the team was one of focus, heightened awareness, staying on the little things that lead to success, and trusting your ability.  I don't know what SDSU's results will be this weekend in New Mexico.  I do know that they are ready to play.  Catch all the action on, I'll have the call at 5pm (Pacific Time) tonight and tomorrow, and 11am on Sunday.  

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Flat Bats Shut Down By Bruins

NOTE: this is cross-posted from the all-new out the "dot net" later this afternoon for all-new fresh podcasts!

A cold and windy night at Tony Gwynn Stadium saw the Aztecs hit two solo homers but not much more in a come-from-ahead 7-3 loss to UCLA.  The 15th ranked Aztecs gave up five runs in the 8th inning, a frame keyed by an error and two big hits, two-run doubles from UCLA's Eddie Murray and Blair Dunlap. But while a casual observer might pin the loss on some shaky relief, or Ryan O'Sullivan's late error, head coach Tony Gwynn pinned responsibility on a lineup which has struggled to string together hits for three consecutive games.

"I kind of thought we were flat tonight," said Gwynn after the game, "and when you're playing a team like UCLA, you've got to put runs on the board, it's that simple.  We let them hang around, hang around, hang around, and the error set up the big inning, but you've got to give them credit."

UCLA junior right-hander Garrett Claypool was touched up for a wind-aided solo homerun by Mitch Blackburn in the 1st inning.  Cory Vaughn's blast to deep center field in the 2nd, his 7th longball of the season, gave the Aztecs a 2-1 lead.  But from there Claypool was outstanding, allowing just three hits over the next four-plus innings, while striking out a career-high eight.  Claypool allowed 5 hits in 5 1/3 innings, walking none.   

The Bruins tied the game at 2 in the 4th on Tyler Rahmatulla's RBI single off reliever Andrew Leary.  Nate Solow started the game for SDSU but went only three innings, a precautionary move set up by the shoulder troubles of senior starter Jon Berger.  With Berger questionable for his Saturday start in New Mexico this weekend, Gwynn decided to hedge his bet by limiting Solow's work on Tuesday night, leaving him potentially available for another start against New Mexico this weekend.

In the 6th, the Aztecs broke through to take a 3-2 lead.  Brandon Meredith ended a 1-for-12 mini-slump with a double to right, chasing Claypool from the game.  Lefty reliever Matt Grace was greeted by an RBI single off the bat of Erik Castro, putting SDSU in front.  But a Cory Vaughn double-play ball ended the inning, and put a cap on the Aztecs' offense for the remainder of the night.  Grace wouldn't allow a hit over the next two innings. 

Senior reliever James McLaughlin stranded three runners in two innings of relief, but tired in the 8th, when the Bruins mounted their fateful rally.  Chris Amezquita led off with a clean single to left, and with one out, Rahmatulla hit a chopper to the to the hole at shortstop.  Ryan O'Sullivan, who dazzled with a pair of outstanding plays early in the game, fielded the ball, but as he spun to throw to 2nd the ball popped out of his glove for an error.  Justin Uribe followed with a bounding ball gloved by a diving Mitch Blackburn at 2nd base for an infield hit, loading the bases.  

Eddie Murray then timed a McLaughlin slider and lined it over Josh Chasse's head in left field for a two-run double, putting the Bruins on top 4-3.  Kegan Sharp relieved McLaughlin and got Niko Gallego (son of long-time A's infielder Mike Gallego) to ground into a fielder's choice, with Uribe run down between 3rd and home.  But the chance to end the inning down only one evaporated when Dunlap took an outside fastball to right-field for another two-run double, chasing home Murray and Gallego to make it 6-3.  A surprise two-out bunt single by Gino Aielli capped the five-run uprising for UCLA.

From there, Grace and former Rancho Buena Vista left-hander Gavin Brooks sent the Aztecs home empty-handed, and left Tony Gwynn with an empty feeling when thinking about his team's offensive output.

"The truth of the matter is, offensively we have to take responsiblity for that game.  You have to generate more than three runs, or the possibility of what happened tonight can happen."

Gwynn was concerned coming into the night about the Aztecs feeling fat and sassy about their top-15 ranking in the country, but his pregame and practice warnings to the team about keeping their edge apparently went unheeded.

"All of a sudden you're ranked, all of a sudden you win a couple of games in a row, all of a sudden offensively it's not that difficult to put runs on the board, you start to get comfortable, and then bang!  You get it shoved down your throat.  If you ask any one of those guys, we talked yesterday about getting a little complacent, a little happy with what you've accomplished already, instead of putting the pedal to the medal and grinding.  This was a game as a staff where we felt we didn't grind enough, so hopefully it's a lesson learned.  Now we go into the weekend in New Mexico, an offensive park, where we'll have to put runs on the board, so hopefully this is a lesson learned."

The Aztecs are now 25-13 on the season, heading to Alberquerque this weekend for a three-game series that will determine first place in the Mountain West Conference.  The Lobos and Aztecs are tied atop the MWC at 8-4, with TCU a game behind.  I will have the play-by-play on, starting Friday at 5pm with Stephen Strasburg on the mound.  

hat tip to for the Tony Gwynn quotes, you can see his entirepostgame interview here.

NOTES: The Aztecs received a mixed bag of injury news prior to Tuesday night's game.  Right-fielder Cory Vaughn returned to the field, after being held to DH duties for the past three weeks with a sore right elbow.  Freshman first baseman Jomel Torres also returned to the lineup and went 0-2 at DH, after missing two weeks with a foot injury.  However, Jon Berger's shoulder continues to leave a question mark hovering over the weekend rotation.  Berger will be re-evaluated today after throwing on the side yesterday.  Either he will make his regularly sheduled Saturday start, or Tyler Lavigne will be moved up into the Saturday slot, with Nate Solow coming back on Sunday.  Also, DH Blake Silguero was hoping to mark his return to the lineup on Tuesday after missing a month with a broken hamate bone in his left hand.  However, Silguero aggravated the injury during batting practice and was unable to play...Pat Colwell had reached in 33 of the first 35 games for SDSU, but has gone 0 for his last 10...Erik Castro extended his hitting streak to 6 games with a 2-for-4 evening...O'Sullivan continued some dazzling defensive work with a pair of highlight plays at shortstop, making a running over-the-shoulder catch of a Dunlap popup in the 3rd, and robbing Gallego of an infield hit with a charging grab and sidearm throw in the 5th.  

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Enjoy the Hot Start, People...Ello, Apr. 14

Look...we all know what you're thinking. But stop thinking it.
Sure, sure...the Padres are 6-and-2, have won five in a row, and are sitting atop the National League West. But it's all just a mirage, right?
A dream from which we will all soon awaken.
So why bother? We know this movie is eventually going to suck. The reviews were terrible across the board.
But you know what? Here we are...and the opening credits actually seem quite enjoyable. Maybe it won't turn out so bad after all?
Maybe it will. Probably it will. But -- at least for time being -- why not grab a box of popcorn, kick your feet up, and have a little fun?
Jody Gerut becomes the first player in major league history to christen a brand new ballpark with a home run. Put a little extra butter on that nugget and chomp away.
Nick Hundley smacks out four hits to wrap up a three-game sweep of the Giants and sprays hits all over Petco Park against the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner. How'd you like another shake of salt with that, Mr. Lincecum?
Chase Headley has already homered twice and brings with him great promise for the future. Grab another handful, and don't even bother with the napkins.
See? Feels a little better doesn't it?
Go ahead and save all the piss and vinegar for later on this season. For now, we've got a burgeoning box-office smash on our hands.

One thing everybody forgot when they painted the Padres into the basement prior to the start of this season: nobody -- and I mean nobody -- can find no-name pitchers in the bushes better than Padres GM Kevin Towers can.
Frankie De La Cruz? Edwin Moreno? Luke Gregerson? Edward Mujica? I thought they were all clowns from the Tijuana rodeo. Turns out nobody in the National League is laughing now.
After four one-hit innings last night at (the new) Shea, the San Diego bullpen now has a 1.19 ERA for the season. Among the entire bullpen crew -- which also includes Duaner Sanchez, Clay Meredith and Heath Bell -- only Mujica has allowed a run.
Say what you want about this trade and that trade...whine endlessly about the payroll...wonder where all the young hitters are...but never question Towers when it comes to finding arms.

It's early, but I doubt any day the rest of the season will be sadder for baseball than Monday...first we lose one the game's most iconic voices, Phillies play-by-play legend Harry Kalas...then we lose one of the game's most entertaining players, Tigers pitcher Mark "The Bird" Fidrych...
For those who don't remember, every team in the big leagues used to be identified by the famous voice behind it -- Jack Buck (Cardinals), Ernie Harwell (Tigers), Mel Allen (Yankees), Red Barber (Brooklyn), Bob Prince (Pirates), Chuck Thompson (Orioles), Curt Gowdy (Red Sox), Harry Caray (Cardinals...then Cubs)...and let's not forget Jerry Coleman (Padres).
None call games anymore, and most are gone.
Kalas will never be forgotten in Philadelphia. But his passing reflects another piece of the majesty of the National Pastime slowly being torn away from our memories forever.
As for Fidrych, perhaps you had to grow up when I did to fully appreciate his magical hold over the game during his one brilliant season, in 1976. I was a high school freshman when "The Bird" started talking to the baseball and house-cleaning around the mound.
No player since has looked like he enjoyed playing the game the way Fidrych did.
A film of Fidrych in action should be shown to every single "corporate" ball-player who steps into a clubhouse from here on out.
Kalas should narrate.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Future of 619 Sports...

...has arrived.


The website is still going through some kinks and will continue to be developed, but Chris, Danny and I are very excited about what we will be bringing you in the coming days, weeks and months.  

RIGHT NOW, you can go check out our first-ever series of 619 Sports Topically Targeted Podcasts.  Surf around the site, hit the different'll find Chris and I talking Padres, Aztecs, the Masters, and more!  None of the podcasts are overly long, as our goal is to entertain you without taking all day to do so.  

What about this blogspot?  For a while, we will cross-post here with our blog content, but the podcasts will all be at "the net".  Eventually, this site will point to that site, and the transition will be complete.  

My personal thanks to Danny Simmons for hours of hard work behind the scenes to help create and maintain the new site.  Danny is our hidden MVP!  Also a major tip of the hat to Scott Horvath at SDSU for all his continued help and advice.

We're really excited about this, a chance to re-connect with our audience and bring you our daily thoughts via both the spoken and written word.  We hope you enjoy, and please tell all your SD sports loving friends!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

TravelBlog: 5 Days On The Road

It was a productive week for SDSU Baseball, and an interesting week for yours truly.  Five days spent traveling to Long Beach and Las Vegas with the team saw the Aztecs produce a 3-1 record, improving to 25-12, 8-4 MWC.  What did I see?  Let's review...


Back in my hometown.  We arrived early enough at Blair Field for me to take a "soul stroll", wandering Recreation Park and visiting some places I knew as a child.  A playground where I used to play.  An outdoor pavilion that was part of my preschool.  The old "Bruins Den", where my dad's MG club used to meet every Thursday.  It was a positive and enriching experience.  I felt reconnected to some old walks from my youth.  The weather was beautiful that day and the feeling of peace and comfort being in a place of familiarity was great.  It only took 30 minutes or so but honestly those were 30 of the better minutes I spent this week.  

I already wrote up the thrilling game that followed, with the Aztecs winning 4-3.  It was Tony Gwynn's first win at Blair Field as SDSU coach, he was 0-7 previously.  Prior to the game, Tony activated the positive karma by sitting down with a group of Little Leaguers, the Long Beach Aztecs.  Tony sat and talked to the kids for around 20 minutes, 2 hours prior to game time.  He signed autographs and took pictures.  

My favorite moment was right when he sat down with the kids at a picnic table behind the Aztecs' bullpen.  He asked the kids to tell him about their team.  They all shouted out in near unison:

"We're undefeated!!"

Tony asked, "so you know what that means, right?"

One kid answered right away: "we're gonna lose soon?"

So funny.

Bob Keisser of the Long Beach Press-Telegram mentioned this meet and greet in a weekend column.  All I can say is it is yet another example of the enduring class and grace of Tony Gwynn, a treasure for both his hometown of Long Beach and his adopted town of San Diego.  

After the game, the energetic ride home included a stop at In N' Out for a double-double, protein style, add mustard and onions.  


"30 minutes!!"

That's what Coach Gwynn announced as the bus door swung open in Barstow.  Lenwood Road is the long-accepted waystation between SoCal and Las Vegas, replete with every fast food eatery known to man.  Most of the players and coaches chose In N' Out, but no matter how much I love my lettuce-wrapped meat treats, I just couldn't in good concious bring myself to eat there twice in three meals.  So I walked across the windswept parking lot to what I now know to be The Worst Subway In The United States.  

Three pimply white kids were manning the counter.  The first was just tearing the bread and throwing down the meat, but he seemed to have a very hard time understanding the simple orders of the multiple people in front of me.  The second was doing produce and the register, but he kept wandering away, even with a big line.  The third was just making lunch for himself.  Right as I arrived a customer was returning his sandwich because there was some mistake with the order.  This threw a new monkey wrench in the line schematic.  Then, I stood there with my footlong turkey on wheat waiting in limbo, sans produce, the Three Amigos of the Subway all stood behind the counter, with their backs turned to the line, talking.  About what, I don't know.  A few minutes later, Mr. I Made My Lunch Instead Of Yours turned around and grabbed some gloves.  

"Ready for me now?", I asked.

He rolled his eyes.  "I suppose".  

22 minutes after walking into the store, I was hustling across the parking lot with my sandwich, hoping I wasn't the last one on the bus.  


After we checked in at Hyatt Place I hustled over to Caesar's Palace to play in a poker tournament, the one and only chance I would have to play in a tournament during my Vegas stay (the baseball games would inconvience my tournament dreams the rest of the trip).  I wound up playing about 6 hours and finishing in 6th place, which was worth a small prize.  Afterward, I was hungry and looking for something to eat.  You think of Las Vegas as a place where you can get whatever you want whenever you want, but that was pre-recession.  On this late Wednesday/early Thursday, I walked through Caesar's and the Bellagio and found, well...nothing.  The former 24-hour eateries were closed.  Row after row after row of gaming tables were empty, except for the dealers, who were essentially being paid to stand in place and then shift three steps to the right every 30 minutes.  You could have literally fired a bazooka down the middle of these two casinos without loss of life.  It was a depressing scene.  A town built on indulgence, without the indulgent, is teaching Vegas casino owners the meaning of easy come, easy go.  

The good news, personally, was that the excellent pizza joint across the street from our hotel was still open when I got back, after 1:45am.  Two slices to go, thank you very much!  Joe's Pizza By The Slice is Vegas' answer to Bronx Pizza in Hillcrest.  VERY good.  


The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is right across the street from Hyatt Place, where the Aztecs stayed in Vegas.  I was surprised at how small the place was, but enjoyed the vibe nonetheless.  Very VERY casual, lots of good tunes.  The poker room was practically empty, though, another sign of boom and bust.  In this case, the poker boom led every casino to add their own poker room.  Then, the recession ended the poker boom.  Now, Hard Rock's very cool 25-table poker room had one short-handed game going, and three dealers who would throw cards for 30 minutes, then stand around for an hour.  Just another sign of a city's economy in huge trouble.  

I already wrote up Thursday night's game in my Vegas post below.  Let me add the pictures to verify what I described in terms of wind effects.  It was a testament to the SDSU pitching staff that on both days when the wind was howling, the games still didn't get out of hand.  

Thursday night I wandered the Strip for awhile and found more emptiness, and maybe part of the problem for Las Vegas in terms of a business model.  The hotels and casinos have dropped their rates to try and attract customers.  So, there is the promise of a $45 hotel room, a reduced plane flight into Sin City, etc.  But now, try to find a decent meal under $20 on the Strip.  Good luck.  Everything is overpriced.  Even the Subway at one of the cheaper casinos mocked their customers with their $10 footlongs.  $5 for you at every other Subway in America, but here it's $10.  Combined with table after empty table with $25 price point blackjack and $15 craps, it sure felt like Vegas was asking people to show up on the cheap but then pay through the nose.  And the people weren't buying it, hauling up plastic grocery bags to their discount rooms with stuff bought at the CVS or Wal-Mart.  The casinos need to start rethinking their price points if they are going to drop their room rates.  


The one guy who seems to be doing things right in Vegas, a cabbie was quick to remind me, is Steve Wynn.  He was profiled tonight on 60 Minutes, and even though he said that if he knew then what he knows now, he wouldn't have built the ultra-luxury Encore, Wynn is one of the few moguls who isn't leveraged up to his eyes in debt.  I have to say, I really appreciate the atmosphere Wynn creates in his hotels.  Much like The Mirage, when you walk into the Wynn there is a wonderful floral smell and a beautiful veranda to wander.  The casino itself speaks of quiet class, with everyone in suits and ties and no blaring music.  Kind of the Anti-Hard Rock.  I very much enjoyed their poker room.  You can sit down and order basically anything you want.  I asked the server for a menu and was handed a tiny flip card with burgers, sandwiches and salads.  The locals at the table told me to ignore it completely and order anything I wanted.  One woman asked for a grilled cheese sandwich, cheddar on whole wheat, pickles added, with a side of barley soup.  The guy next to me told me that they made a great red clam chowder, so that's what I ordered.  And it was brought to me promptly for $5 (best priced meal of the weekend short of Joe's Pizza) and was indeed really, really good.  The game wasn't too kind to me but the people and the hotel/casino certainly were.  

The baseball game that night was a study in resiliency for the Aztecs.  Pregame forecasts of rain did not materialize.  Instead, the wind was again howling straight out on another dry and cold night.  SDSU jumped ahead 5-1 thanks to some miserable UNLV defense, but the offense was mostly shut down by freshman right-hander Tanner Peters.  This 6'0", 140(!) pound pitcher was aggressive in the strike zone all night with a fastball, slider and offspeed pitch.  I was very impressed by his tenacity and stuff.  He will be a thorn in the Aztecs' side for years to come.  Thanks to Peters' inspired pitching, the Rebels stayed in the game, then broke through to take a 6-5 lead in part thanks to a bad hop single that almost hit shortstop Ryan O'Sullivan in the shoulder after he thought he was going to catch the ball.  Ryan otherwise played a brilliant defensive game, making a number of outstanding plays.  

Thankfully, UNLV's horrible bullpen rescued defeat from the jaws of victory, as SDSU used one hit, two walks and three wild pitches to score three runs in the 8th, and they held on for an 8-6 win behind Addison Reed, who picked up his NCAA-leading 12th save in as many tries.  The game ended on a bad call, as UNLV outfielder Rance Roundy was called out at first on the tail end of a double play, when he beat the throw to the bag by a full step.  The first-base umpire, Asa Howard, made the call and then just turned and walked off the field.  Howard didn't make many friends in Vegas during the three-game series.  


Cabbies can tell you exactly what's wrong with Vegas.  As I was driven through an empty parcel of half-developed land behind the Strip, a cabbie told me how Harrah's is on the verge of bankruptcy, because they grew too fast, bought too much, and got too deeply leveraged in debt.  Now, half-built casinos are sitting there, waiting for a revenue stream that's unlikely to return for a while.  Right in the middle of this wasteland, the one tiny local casino/bar that refused to sell to the big guys, the Stage Door.  The picture I found on the Net is 2 years old.  The new sign says "21 Years Left On Our Lease!", a big F-you to the casinos trying to buy them out.  I can report that the 1/4 pound hot dog and Miller Lite is still $2.5o, just like it was in the pic two years ago.  Good for you guys, may you last all 21 years before getting swallowed by the big fish. 

Vegas makes you sick.  I'm convinced of that.  It's a confluence of factors: the dry air, the casino "smoky but smoke-free" air, and the constant, deliberate disruption of biorhythms.  What time is it in Vegas?  If you weren't looking at your own timepiece, you'd never know...and that's by design.    I woke up Saturday morning dried out, my nose stuffed, my throat scratchy.  Then I went to the hotel's mini-workout center and put in 25 minutes on an elliptical machine.  The sweat loosened everything up and by the end I felt great once again.  So that's my mini-tip for Vegas: mix in a couple of workouts, you'll feel much better.

Mother Nature made it tough for SDSU to complete their three-game sweep of UNLV.  The howling wind and dry conditions were replaced on Saturday by a very San Diego-esque combination of clouds and intermittent sprinkles.  The gray, moist day also saw the wind do a 180-degree turn, blowing in for the afternoon finale.  As such, three or four balls the Aztecs hit that would have gone for homeruns the day before got cut down for outs on this day.  The infield, though, was still rock hard and fast, much to the chagrin of Aztecs' sinkerballer Tyler Lavigne.  The Vegas native and JC transfer saw a handful of grounders shoot through that uber-fast infield for singles as part of a 4-run UNLV first inning.  Lavigne settled down from there, and the Aztecs started on the comeback trail, eventually tying the game at 6 on Chris Wilson's solo homerun to open the 8th.  But the Rebels mounted a three-run rally against tiring reliever Craig Rasmussen in the bottom of the inning, and UNLV wound up escaping with a 9-6 win, spoiling the Aztecs' dreams of a perfect 6-0 record against the Rebels this year.  

After the game, the team showered up and boarded the bus for the long drive home.  Before leaving Vegas, we stopped at a shopping center for dinner.  I grabbed a salad from Vons and walked it over to the Del Taco where most of the team was eating.  There, I saw another example of what it must be like to be Tony Gwynn.  The Aztecs' coach was sitting there, munching on chicken soft tacos with the coaching staff, dissecting the loss, when local after local came by gawking.  

"Hey aren't you Tony Gwynn?"  "What are you doing here?"  "Did you make the Hall Of Fame?"  No matter how pissed he was about the loss he had just suffered, Tony put on a smile and answered, shook hands, and left the random taco eaters with a positive image and memory.  It's gotta be tough to be a person who has experienced the ultimate highs in MLB, and yet still wants to be an average guy, sitting with his coaching staff in a Del Taco dining room.  You just can't do it.  You can't escape your past.  Tony has found a balance where he can accept that attention while still remaining as grounded as any other person you might meet.  He just has no airs about him whatsoever.  As if there was any room left in my Tony Gwynn Respect Bin, I added a new respect for the way he simply handles who he is and what he has decided to pursue.  There's very little that is glamorous about the life of a college baseball coach, even a Hall Of Fame college coach.  

Friday, April 10, 2009

On the Road with SDSU Baseball

I join you from my hotel room in Las Vegas, feeling just about the way most people feel the 3rd day they wake up in this town: worn out and dehydrated.  There is something about Sin City, between the dry, desert air, and that bizarre smoky-yet-not inner casino air, that just sucks the moisture right out of you.  But enough about me.  As Tony Gwynn said on the bus last night, this is a business trip, and the Aztecs have taken care of business so far, winning last night's opener against UNLV by a 15-4 count at windswept Earl Wilson Stadium.

As the bus pulled up to the stadium yesterday, the flags atop the press box almost served as a taunt as well as a warning: Abandon Hope, All Ye Pitchers Who Enter Here.  The three flags were starched in the 35+ MPH breeze, all three pointing directly out from home plate to center field.  The tiny flags circling the outfield fence all seemed to be pointing directly out, no matter which field you looked at.  Any contact that got up in the air was going to be trouble.  The Aztecs' counter-offer was a pitcher who doesn't allow much contact, Stephen Strasburg.  

Strassy wasn't bad by any means last night, but he wasn't in supreme command either.  The Rebels touched him up for 7 hits in 6 innings, but Strasburg still struck out 13, walked only one, and held UNLV to one run.  His fastball was getting hit a little bit, so Stephen relied on the slider to help him through.  It also looked like his mechanics were a bit off, as Strasburg was getting out in front and yanking some pitches way off the plate.  But in the end UNLV was still no match for college baseball's best.  

It was on offense where the Aztecs made the most headway on Thursday, with the bottom of their order erupting to score seven runs.  Easton Gust and Ryan O'Sullivan not only had three hit nights, but both used the whole field and played their best offensive games of the season.  O'Sullivan is the kid this SDSU coaching staff would love to get going with the bat, and he looked sharp last night, hitting an outside fastball to right-center for a double before pulling a single in his next plate appearance.  

Erik Castro continues to maul opposing pitchers.  He got a fat pitch in the middle innings and absolutely lost it in the night, blasting a three-run homer that simply disappeared.  I can't tell you if it was wind-aided or not.  The ball might have just vaporized.  Pat Colwell and Brandon Decker also continued their fine table-setting, with both extending their hitting streaks, to 11 and 13 games respectively.  

Today the Aztecs went right back to UNLV for batting practice, and they will play game two of the weekend series tonight at 7pm on  Jon Berger, the changeup specialist, gets the ball against UNLV freshman Tanner Peters.  Berger struck out 10 over 8 innings, allowing just one run in his first matchup with the Rebels this year.  He will be tested by the conditions today without question.  Last year SDSU and UNLV played an 18-16 game here...but as long as the Aztecs keep putting up the big run totals, their pitching staff should have enough to at least limit the windswept damage against an overmatched Rebels squad.  

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A Great Night for SDSU Baseball

Certain games in baseball give you the feeling that something special is happening with a team.  Such a game took place last night at Blair Field, as the Aztecs walked a tightrope from Long Beach to Seal Beach and back again, somehow emerging with a 4-3 win over Long Beach State to improve to 23-11 on the season.  The Aztecs dialed up one clutch pitch and defensive play after another, overcoming their own miscues and some tough relievers in the Beach bullpen.  They showed remarkable resiliency after giving up the lead in the 8th inning.  And freshman Brandon Meredith took another big step forward, not just with his bat but with his glove as well.  

Blair Field is a hallowed ground for youth and college baseball in Long Beach, and it's also quite a pitcher's park.  348 down each foul line, with lots of foul territory, heading out to 400 feet straight away, with a 10-foot concrete fence.  You don't expect to see many homers there, which is what made Brandon Meredith's two-run shot to open the game even more impressive.  He worked a 3-1 count, got a fastball grooved to him, and launched it to straightaway center, the ball bouncing on the top of the fence right at the 400 sign before heading into Recreation Park beyond the fence.  2-0 Aztecs.  

Goldy Simmons started for SDSU and struggled badly with his command.  Simmons turns his back slightly to the hitter as he reaches the top of his windup, and combined with a 6'5" frame, those mechanics seem to lead to some erratic pitches.  When Goldy was on target, his fastball crackled and popped the corners, but when he missed it was usually by feet, not inches.  Somehow, Simmons danced through 3+ innings, stranding two runners at third base and six overall.  James McLaughlin pitched long relief from there, allowing the tying run (which was credited to Simmons) in the 4th but nothing more over 3 1/3 IP.  

The Aztecs, meanwhile, were robbed of one or more runs in the 5th when freshman outfielder Brennan Metzger made a leaping, lurching grab in the gap to deny Erik Castro an RBI double.  There was no denying Cory Vaughn in the 6th though...he took a fastball and blasted it well out of Blair Field, bouncing onto Deukmejian Way beyond the park boundaries.  3-2 SDSU after six innings.  

From there, it was one Houdini act after another for the Aztec pitching staff.  In the 6th, a leadoff single followed by a sac, but the runner left at second base.  In the 7th, very speedy outfielder Jordan Cassas hit a leadoff double and was moved to third with one away.  Chase Thomas came in, and the left-hander got cleanup man T.J. Mittlesdaedt to pop out to catcher, before Andrew Leary entered the fray.  LBSU first baseman Steve Tinoco looked to tie things up with a hard single to right field, but Meredith dove to his right and grabbed the ball on a shorthop right before it got past, then scrambled up and beat Tinoco to the bag to end the inning.  Great Play!

Things got even dicier in the bottom of the 8th, as Leary allowed a leadoff single, and Beach then executed a perfect butcher boy play, with reserve catcher John Hill singling to put runners at the corners with nobody out.  Taylor Krick followed with a flyball deep enough to left field to score the run, but Brandon Decker dropped the ball, tying the game at 3 and giving LBSU runners at first and second with nobody out.  Leary, in a clutch moment, dialed up three straight outs to preserve the tie.

In the top of the 9th, the Aztecs once again leaned on their igniter, as leadoff man Pat Colwell drew a walk.  Then, with Decker at the plate, LBSU's catcher tried to throw behind Colwell and pick him off, but his throw sailed down the right field line.  Colwell got up and went to 2nd base, and then a wild pitch from Beach closer Charlie Ruiz put him at third with one away.  With the infield in, Brandon Meredith delivered again, lining a fastball cleanly over shortstop and into left-center field for the go-ahead RBI single.  4-3 Aztecs, with Addison Reed coming on in search of his 11th save in as many tries.

But on this night, nothing would come easy.  Reed was squeezed by the home plate umpire in both of the first two at-bats of the 9th.  Ahead 0-2, he could not get the call and wound up walking leadoff man Devin Lohman, who then stole 2nd base.  Mittlesdaedt's grounder to deep short was then thrown away by Ryan O'Sullivan, the error putting the tying run at 3rd and winning run at 2nd base with nobody out.  But Reed did not falter.  He got Tinoco on a comebacker to the mound, freezing the runners, then struck out Metzger on a slider in the dirt.  With two away, Hoime's fading foul ball down the first-base line was tracked down by a stumbling Meredith, who fell but managed to grab the ball on his way down to the earth.  Aztecs win it 4-3!!  LBSU stranded 13 runners on the night, including 4 at third base, and they had another runner thrown out between 3rd and home.  

SDSU will board a bus in a couple of hours to head to UNLV.  They will do so with a 23-11 record and all the confidence in the world after pulling out another big road victory, improving their road record to 8-1.  

Monday, April 6, 2009

Aztecs take 3 of 4 from UC Davis

While you never feel great about losing to a 4-21 team, taking three out of four in a weekend series is never a bad thing.  The Aztecs showed great promise at the plate in the first two games, but struggled in the final two, overswinging at times and reverting to some old habits.  Erik Castro continued his amazing hitting tear, and other than a poor start from Nate Solow on Sunday, the pitching staff was outstanding as usual.  

The biggest bugaboo for the '09 Aztecs has been the ability to shrug off a poor defensive play.  SDSU is 2nd in the conference in fielding percentage, but it seems that they let their defensive miscues turn into big innings more often than not.  That was the case yesterday, as one pitch after Pat Colwell broke the wrong way on a flyball and turned it into a two-out bloop single, Solow grooved a fastball for a three-run homer.  

At 22-11, the Aztecs now face four games on the road this week, tomorrow at Long Beach State and Thu-Sat at UNLV.  

Highlights, courtesy of Scott Horvath and

The Bleakest of Seasons?

Recently Chris Ello wrote that he could not remember a year in which less was expected of the hometown nine, our San Diego Padres.  Between the payroll slash, the departure of Trevor Hoffman, trade of Khalil Greene, and the assemblage of rag arms cobbled together from the waiver wire, there's a lot to get unexcited about with the 2009 Pads.  But is it really the bleakest of years?  I wanted to go back to the year I remembered as one in which, on Opening Day, I knew the team had NO CHANCE of winning.  The final year at Qualcomm Stadium, 2003.  Let's compare, shall we?

Look back at the 2003 Padres roster, by following this link through to Baseball Reference.  The first thing you may notice is the pure quantity of names on the roster.  The Padres used 27 different pitchers that season, with the back end of their pitching staff in a near-constant state of flux.  Sound familiar?  With Trevor Hoffman sidelined by surgery, Brandon Villafuerte and Jaret Wright got the first cracks at the closer job, and both failed miserably.  The bottom two slots in the rotation amounted to an open tryout, with Kevin Jarvis spending most of the year on the DL, and castoffs like Brian Tollberg, Mike Bynum, Clay Condrey and Roger Deago alternately trying and failing to stick in the big leagues.  

On offense, for the 2nd straight year, Phil Nevin got injured in spring training, this time falling while trying to learn the outfield (man, that's funny thinking back, how the Pads actually were going to put Nev in the outfield and try to get away with it).  Nevin had been moved to make way for uber-prospect Sean Burroughs at third base.  Burroughs and Xavier Nady were the exciting young hitters in the lineup, and veterans Rondell White and Mark Loretta were there for support.  Ryan Klesko was the star batter for San Diego.  

Now, let's look at 2009 for the Padres.  There are a number of similarities, certainly on the pitching staff.  While the 2009 team has two established starters in Peavy and Young, the 2003 team had more young, exciting arms in Peavy, Oliver Perez, and Adam Eaton.  They were going to take their lumps in 2003 but offered promise for the future.  There is little promise for the 2009 group, however, because we know Peavy is as likely to be traded as anything else this year.  Beyond Chris Young, you can take Shawn Hill, Kevin Correia and Walter Silva and put them in the same bag as Carlton Loewer, Kevin Jarvis and Clay Condrey.  Shake 'em up, pour 'em out, none of them are going to deliver positive results on the mound.  

Offensively the '09 Padres have a rock to lean on in Adrian Gonzalez, who is better than any Padre hitter in 2003.  Chase Headley and Kevin Kouzmanoff still have the possibility of improving to the point where they become solid performers, so you can put them in the Burroughs/Nady mold.  I would rate the '09 prospects ahead of the '03 guys on offense, just because we know in retrospect that Burroughs was a bust.  Then, you're into a group of marginal talent.  Jody Gerut in '09 vs. Mark Kotsay in '03.  David Eckstein vs. Mark Loretta.  Gary Bennett vs. Henry Blanco.  Not much to choose from or to distinguish one group from the other.  

And here's one more similarity between the two years: in 2003, the Padres were working toward something, namely the closing of Qualcomm and the opening of Petco Park.  There was the promise that something better was on the horizon, and that fans would just have to suffer through a lousy year in the meantime.  In 2009, it's a little more hazy of a target, but the Padres are working toward a time when Jeff Moorad takes full control as owner, and the team can start to rebuild its place in the NL West.  In the interim, it's 5-for-$5 food deals and value pricing, in the middle of an economy that's WAY worse off now than it was 6 years ago.  

In 2003, the Padres made it to June as the WORST team in baseball.  They quite famously lost two out of three to the Tigers in early June to fall to 18-43, the worst record in baseball.  Remember, that was the year the Tigers finished 43-119, one loss away from the all-time MLB record.  Then, Rod Beck came out from a trailer outside the Cubs' AAA Iowa ballpark and resurrected his career for the final time, sweating his way to a 20-for-20 saves performance down the stretch.  "Shooter" helped rescue the Pads from 100 losses, as they finished 64-98.  

What will 2009 offer?  Just about the same, I'd expect.  There won't be any Rod Beck sightings, and there is no new ballpark to get excited about.  The Padres' offense will depend on the development of Headley and Kouzmanoff, but their pitching staff is a lost cause beyond the few holdovers from better times.  So to answer Chris's open question, I'll say that while this may not be the least anticipated year in Padres' history, it's on the list.  

619 Sports will be at Petco Park today for Opening Day coverage, so look for my reports from the ballpark later today.  

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Long Day, Good Day

I'm gonna crash early tonight after announcing a doubleheader at Tony Gwynn Stadium.  Aztecs beat UC Davis twice today, 9-4 and 5-3.  

Game one was a convincing victory for SDSU.  I was very impressed with the team's offensive approach, particularly the big three of Meredith/Castro/Vaughn.  They did a great GREAT job working the count, taking pitcher's pitches, and making the starter give in and come to them in the strike zone.  Jon Berger really helped out the staff with his first career complete game.  He twirled a "nifty" 11-hitter, but once again walked none.  Five straight starts for Berger without a walk, and a 2/40 walk-to-strikeout ratio.  Well done.

Game two seemed to be played in cruise control.  The Aztecs just didn't have the same energy after their earlier win and in particular I felt their focus at the plate was lacking.  UCD threw a little soft-tosser named Chew who should have been racked around but instead managed a quality start.  Luckily for SDSU, the Aggies are REALLY bad on offense, so even though Tyler Lavigne was missing badly with location and struggling, he still danced through six shutout innings.  Middle relief struggled, but Addison Reed came on for a four-out save, his NCAA-leading 10th of the year in 10 tries.  It was one of those games that wasn't that great, but it's a win in the standings and can be quickly forgotten about.

Tomorrow the Aztecs will seek to complete the four-game sweep of Davis, the game will be on AM-1360 at 1pm.  Chris and I will call all the action once again.

I'm going to be spending a LOT of time with this team the next few weeks, so be prepared for a lot of material about the Aztecs.  Road trips to Long Beach, Vegas, and New Mexico in the next two weeks.  

Of course I missed the entire NCAA Final Four, were the games any good?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Aztec Highlights from Petco Park stomping of UC Davis

A great time was had by all as the Aztecs romped over UC Davis today 14-0 at Petco Park.  Strasburg had a very pedestrian 6 SHO IP, striking out only six while walking two.  He got squeezed early by the home plate umpire, and the Aggies were swinging early and getting some groundouts in the 2nd and 3rd innings.  His heater was clocked as high as 99 on the stadium radar.  Overall though a yawner game for Strasburg. 

It was the offense that had a big day today: Castro 2 HR, 6RBI, Vaughn 4-4, O'Sullivan HR.  Check out all the highlights courtesy of, including the play-by-play from Chris and I!  All you have to do is click here.  Enjoy!


Today's SDSU/Padres doubleheader at Petco can be seen with a ticket ranging from $16-$36.  If you're going to stay for both games, I guess $16 isn't bad.  But I've never felt that baseball was a game you could charge a high price to attend.  It's just way too random.  

I remember vividly the last time I overpaid for tickets.  It was also my one and only ticket bought from a scalper.  Mitzi and I went to Dodger Stadium on July 13th, 1996 to see Hideo Nomo during Nomo-mania.  The Dodgers were facing the Giants, and a rookie left-hander was on the mound for SF.  This was as near of a sure-thing as you had in baseball.  We paid $20 for $8 bleacher seats, and proceeded to watch Nomo and the Dodgers get shut out by Shawn Estes and the Giants 7-0.  The team played horribly.  Looking back at that boxscore (click through the link above), MAN what a nondescript Dodgers team that was!  Chad Fonville, Greg Gagne, Tom Prince and friends couldn't handle Estes, who whiffed 11 in one of the best starts (as it turned out) of his career.  The highlight of the night was the Popeye's Chicken that we brought with us, and the hilarious sight of Antonio Osuna trying (and failing miserably) to work on throwing a changeup in the LA bullpen.  He couldn't get the grip right and every once in a while he would just throw it off the bullpen gate.  At Dodger Stadium that's a big metal gate, so while people were just snoozing in left field or bouncing the beach ball, every once in a while there would be a loud BANG! and sure enough it was Osuna trying to throw the change again.  

What is the point of this little eddy of baseball fun?  You NEVER can predict a great baseball game.  Sometimes the game just stinks.  Sometimes the home team gets shut out on four hits by somebody you've never heard of, somebody who doesn't turn into a Hall-of-Famer, just a journeyman.  Sometimes they kick the ball around and get picked off first.  Even the very best teams have these games.  

So that's why baseball HAS to be the most affordable major league sport, by far.  You've just got to be able to go to a game on the cheap, walk up and buy a bleacher seat for $8, sit in the stands and laugh at the names of the players.  This town has had enough bad baseball to know this.  It's finally taken the economic depression, combined with the local malaise, for that connection to be made.  

The Padres will have more of those clunker-type games, many more, than some other clubs this year.  At least they have recognized this.  When you see their promotional commercials now, it's VALUE VALUE VALUE!  Smiling Octomom look-alike woman holding up all her calorie babies: popcorn, pretzel and cookie YAY!  $5 for 5!  Value weekends!  

Value parking?  Yeah, good luck with that one.

But if the team is going to be a non-contender with little to root for, at least you can give people pretzels and cookies and a nice night at the ballpark.  That's connecting with a fanbase that has little money and little interest.  

When I see the new Yankee Stadium and the Mets' new ballpark, and the AVERAGE price for a seat to see a Yankees game is now over $70...that's a complete disconnect.  From the Washington Post:

Opening now, with ticket prices up to $2,625 for the Yankees and $695 for the Mets _ yes, that's a single game _ they may seem out of step with a suddenly and sharply more restrained era. But coming near the end of a ballpark boom that began with Baltimore's Camden Yards in 1992, they mark a defining moment for a sport ever caught between trying to keep modern while reverentially retooling its past.

Wow.  That must have made a lot of sense 3 years ago, right after all the folks in the boardrooms laughed about how they were dragging in money hand-over-fist with Credit Default Swaps and chanted together: there is no housing bubble!  Now, how does $2,695 for a seat sound?  For a 9-inning baseball game?  At this point just make every seat $500 and have chocolate run out of the water fountains.  Gild the plastic silverware with gold.  

Who's going to fill that $2,000+ per game inner ring at Yankee Stadium?  I thought that was supposed to be all the Wall Street fatcats...are we going to be seeing bailout money on display behind home plate?  AIG bonuses converted smoothly into popcorn, peanuts, Cracker Jack?

I've never rooted for the Yankees, and I never could.  But now, their very home no longer smacks of tradition, history, championships.  It's money, money, money.  It's garish.  Gross.  Hey look at us, anyone in here's got to be golden, because we can throw down $500+ to just go see a major league ballgame!  What, are you jealous of our success?  The Apprentice theme is going to be piped in through the bathroom walls.  

Here's to many a night of profits flushed, and some sap plunking down $975 to a scalper so he and his lady can eat a Gray's Papaya they smuggled in while watching A.J. Burnett walk six Orioles.  The O's can win 7-0, and maybe someone can watch through their monocle as Edwar Ramirez works on his changeup.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Reason To Go To Petco...Ello, Apr. 2nd

I guess the easiest line of the week would be: "You better go see Stephen Strasburg pitch at Petco Park on Friday, because he'll be the best pitcher you see there all season!"

Ha, ha.

But, of course, true Padres' fans aren't laughing.

Friday is indeed the day for everybody to have a chance to come out and see the Aztecs' All-American, can't-miss, future Hall of Fame right-hander pitch for the first time in a big league ballpark. According to everyone who has ever seen a baseball game of any kind, it won't be the last time.

But after Strasburg pitches, there will be another game at Petco on Friday night, one that I have a feeling will be looked upon with far less fanfare and far more trepidation.

More on the season that nobody-seems-to-be-looking-forward-to later. But first, a bit more about our star.

Strasburg has been the subject of recent articles in Sports Illustrated (five pages, with pictures!), on ESPN (TV, website, magazine), at Yahoo Sports...and anywhere else anybody happens to be musing about the National Pastime these days.

One TV wag said that Strasburg -- who most certainly will be the No. 1-pick in this summer's MLB draft, and will most certainly command a salary in the neighborhood of $50-million -- is baseball's version of LeBron James.

With all of that fanfare, there's no doubt that curious eyes want to get a glimpse of this local phenomenon. So Friday at Petco (vs. UC Davis, 2:30 p.m.) will be your chance.

Personally, I have no idea how Strasburg's pro career is going to play out. At this point he's really nothing more than the latest great thing. Some of these guys (LeBron) live up to the expectations. But, frankly, most do not.

What I can tell you is that Strasburg has been fantastic so far. Coming out of West Hills High in Santee with little attention three seasons ago, Strasburg spent a year in a relief for SDSU before bursting onto the scene last spring with his amazing 23-strikeout game against Utah.

This season, radar guns have recorded him throwing fastballs at up to 102 mph (which really seems ludicrous, but hey, he does throw very hard)...And he's 5-0 with an ERA of a buck-fifty. He's also averaging a not-of-this-planet 19.2 strikeouts for every nine innings pitched.

He's good. Very good. And I'm happy to report, he's been just as good off the field. A down to earth kid who really just wants to be a good teammate more than anything else, Strasburg has not let any of the overwhelming attention go to his head.

He works his butt off between starts, and he works hard in the classroom as well. Though he's just finishing up his Junior season, he'll be just one class shorts of graduating by season's end.

Guided beautifully by a guy who's already a Hall of Famer, Aztecs' baseball coach Tony Gwynn, Strasburg seems to have all of his ducks in a row. He'd like to finish up this season by leading the 21st-ranked Aztecs (19-10) to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 18 years.

Then it should be on to the big leagues -- which, of course, is where the Padres presumably reside. I say presumably because in this, the 40th-anniversary season of the Friars, I'm not so sure many of us feel as if the Padres really belong.

After Strasburg is done wowing us on Friday afteroon, the Padres will begin (embarrassing us?) Friday night in their first local exhibition game of the year against the Angels.

You tell me...but I don't think there's ever been a Padres' season looked upon with as much dread as this one. In the early days of the '60's, you still had a bit of a novelty...In the '70's enough progress was made from time-to-time that fans held out at least a glimmer of hope.

The brilliance of Gwynn (along with a couple of World Series appearances) took care of the '80's and '90's...And for most of this decade, win or lose, we could at least hang around until Trevor Time.

Now it's as if there is no hope at all. Not a single preseason publication picked the Padres anywhere but 5th this year in the NL West, and the Friars were only that high because there is no 6th....Following last year's 99-loss debacle, not a single player of any substance has been added to the roster....And those that have some substance, the Padres spent the entire off-season trying to get rid of (see Jake Peavy while you still can!).

There are no dreams this chance...and really nothing at all to look forward to.

Unless, that is, Strasburg takes the mound again at Petco Park on August 31st when the Nationals -- the team that figures to draft him -- come to town.