April 5, 2006
Burrowing Owls and Florida Panthers are both protected species in the state of Florida. But last night, the Golden Panthers of Florida International, made their way up the Florida Turnpike to take on the Owls of Florida Atlantic in the first of two mid-week games scheduled this season. Next year, we join FIU in the Sun Belt Conference, adding a bit more significance to our games, beyond local bragging rights.
FIU had been a top program in the A-Sun's precursor, the Trans America Athletic Conference, before their exit to the SBC. The Golden Panthers usually held sway over us back then, as we were cutting our teeth in Division I and trying to get our program established. Danny Price had some great teams back then, and they won the TAAC Championship in their last year of play.
Since that time, our rivalry has evolved into a mid-week format, devoid of conference ramifications. Our coaching staffs all get along well, and our games have been hard fought, but cordial.
Last night I was anxious to see how we would bounce back from Saturday's loss, and a bit apprehensive in light of FIU's impressive 24-10 record. It's no secret that we've had our struggles, but winning eight of our last twelve games has us headed in the right direction.
We started strong by scoring four runs in the second. Alex Silversmith got things started with a leadoff double, Will Block reached on the first of three Golden Panther errors in the inning, then two bunt hits, and a Tim Mascia double gave us a lead we would not relinquish.
Meanwhile, Will Mann was in a groove throwing groundballs, at one point retiring nine straight hitters. Nick Arata, Block, and Danny Cook all got a workout, thanks to Will. Groundball pitchers tend to keep everyone sharper on defense, and those three young players looked good.
But young players sometimes regress, and in the seventh, we mishandled some balls which turned a nice shutout by Will Mann into a four run game and a concerned first base dugout.
I had earlier subbed freshman Travis Ozga for Ovy Ramirez with the hope that Travis might get a couple of at bats as we finished off the Panthers. Little did I know that Travis would be up with two runners on base in a close game, instead of our leading rbi guy. Travis stepped in a drilled a double into left center and got us back to a more comfortable six run lead, making me look like I know what I'm doing.
Meanwhile, I was trying to deal with an umpiring crew which consisted of one guy whose son played for me, another who coached my own son and the third who once ejected me for saying "ask, please".
AJ Lostaglio has become a good umpire since that warm Sunday in February of 1997 when an NC State player tried to check his swing and my request for an appeal went unanswered by AJ behind home plate. I repeated the request, a bit louder this time-still no response from AJ. The third "ask please" was loud enough to be heard by my wife, sitting under a palm tree all the way down the left field line, where I soon joined her after AJ decided he had heard enough.
I've enjoyed watching AJ on television during the College World Series; he always seems to be in the middle of the action, usually doing a good job.
Last night, he ran towards our dugout at the end of the fifth, asking to use the port-o-john. Not known for his punctuality, I had our batter prepared to stall his approach to the plate. Suddenly AJ was behind me asking if I had a spare hat! He said his had fallen into the port-o-john, and was soaked. I couldn't believe my ears, and just laughed at the sight of him there-hatless.
AJ whipped his hat out from behind his back (dry as a bone) and had his laugh at having gotten me. He joked that had it really happened, it would have finally gotten him into this diary.
I thought he missed a call later in the game, but couldn't get mad at him.
Our bullpen held FIU to only two runs the rest of the way, as our offense added another two on Jordan Hafer's fifth homer in the eighth. It was great to see our offense have such a good night. We scored in six of the eight innings, led by Tim Mascia's five for five night.
Game one of the Turnpike Tussle is in the books and the good offense needs to continue into the weekend, as we face a stiff challenge against VCU's pitching staff-they're holding teams to a .232 batting average.
We may have a weekend off in conference, but we need to keep climbing back up the ladder to turn the season around. KC