"On the Bump" w/ Cole Thompson
Monday, April 4, 2011
Hey Gents nation, welcome back to "On the Bump". This week I will tell y'all about our week leading up to our series with UT-Pan American, our actual games, and a recap of our non-conference portion of the schedule.

Monday night we returned to the field after having a weekend full of intrasquad scrimmages. We started off with a pre-game style batting practice before beginning another short intrasquad scrimmage. We began the scrimmage well, but as it progressed, our level of play significantly decreased as well. Our coaching staff does not get upset over physical errors (bad throws, aggressive mistakes on ground balls, aggressive swings at the plate), however mental mistakes are a quick way to find yourself in the doghouse. As a team, we understand this is important because we have lost several games due to mental errors. Coach Diaz and the coaching staff challenged us on Monday night to better ourselves and to put an end to the mental mistakes.

We came out on Tuesday fired up and ready to have a solid team practice. We started off by working on our defensive bunt coverage, while at the same time working on our short game (bunting) offense. The practice started well, however a huge rain/hail storm rolled in about 30 minutes into practice and we were cut short. It really poured on Tuesday night, and we were forced to wait another day to hit the practice field.

On Wednesday afternoon, we came out and put together a quality practice. We looked crisp in the field, and our hitters did a good job of situational hitting. It was really nice to see us come out and perform well in our last practice before we hit the road for our weekend series in south, south, south Texas.

On Thursday morning we woke up at 6 A.M. to travel to Edinburg, Texas. For those of you who don't know where Edinburg is, take a look at a map of the United States and find the southern tip of Texas where it meets the Mexico border. Needless to say, it was a very long bus ride. We left Shreveport at 7:30 AM and arrived in Edinburg around 7:15 PM. I know y'all wonder, what could a group of 23 guys and 4 coaches possibly do to entertain themselves on a bus for nearly 12 hours? Well, here is how I spent my Thursday: I slept on the bus from 7:30 to 10. We stopped at a gas station around 10:30 and stocked up on water, Gatorade, and other liquids. We knew we had to be well hydrated because it would be incredibly hot and dry in Edinburg. After that, we popped in the movie Miracle. As you probably know, this movie tells the story of the 1980 United States hockey team that improbably defeated the almighty Soviet Union team in order to eventually capture the Gold Medal. Although I had seen this movie several times, it had extra meaning to me this time around. In a way, our team resembles the 1980 US hockey team. We are a little undersized, youthful, overlooked, and underestimated by all of our competitors.

I'm not sure how all the other guys felt, but I know it pumped me up. Actually, I know that movie got Michigan-native Derek Dalzell, pretty excited, because I could hear him clapping and cheering loudly after each United States goal in the movie. Around 1:30 PM we stopped in Sugar Land, Texas (suburb of Houston) and ate at Chili's. It was nice to be able to stop at a restaurant with a TV because we were able to catch a little bit of MLB's Opening Day (yes Opening Day is capitalized because it is a true holiday to any baseball fan) matchup between the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees. After leaving Sugar Land, we continued our drive to Edinburg, finishing the trip by watching Saving Silverman and Shooter. I also know you wonder, how do these guys keep up with their classes when they are on the road for baseball? Well, we had a mandatory study hall the last hour of the bus ride, where we weren't allowed to listen to music and we were required to be working on some type of schoolwork.

Finally, we arrived at Edinburg Baseball Stadium, home of the UT-Pan American Broncos. To be honest, I didn't go into the trip with high expectations for the facility, but I clearly saw upon arrival that it was actually a very, very nice baseball complex. We had a quick practice and then headed off to the hotel. We finished up the night by dining at Rudy's BBQ. Most of the guys had never had Rudy's before, but my fellow Texans and I knew that it was an excellent restaurant. All in all, it was a long day, but it was a productive day as we prepared to take on UT-Pan American.

We woke up at 8 AM on Friday morning and took a 30-minute team jog around town to loosen our legs up since we sat on a bus for nearly 12 hours the previous day. After the jog we returned to the hotel and chilled until a trip at noon to our restaurant of choice on the road, Subway. On this trip I was paired with good friend Kelby Langston as my roommate. There is never really a dull moment when Kelby is around, as you have to be on your toes at all times because Kelby can dish out the insults pretty well. It is all in good fun, and he is a pretty funny guy to room with.

Around 3 PM we departed the hotel and headed back over to the stadium to prepare for our 6:05 game against the Broncos. Freshman Ryan Maldonado made his first collegiate start for us, and he was provided with some run support early. After a walk, error, and sacrifice bunt by Matt Creamer put two runners on for us, catcher Jeff Schaffert crushed a 3-run homer for us over the left field wall. It was nice to see Jeff start swinging a hot bat again, because he had been in a little slump after starting the season hot as can be. "Maldo" didn't have his best stuff for us and was relieved by Marc "Tater Tot" (a nickname given to him by the Hawaii fans) Martinez in the first inning. Maldo earned this start based off his good appearances against Hawaii, and I know he will bounce back for us and be a key arm we rely on in Summit League play. Martinez and Nic Parrott both threw really well in relief for us and got the ball to Kelby Langston. On the offensive side, we struggled a little bit to scratch out runs after Jeff's home run. Freshman Derrick Hernandez came up big for us, going 3-4 at the plate on Friday night. Peter Rajkovich and Jeff Schaffert also recorded multi-hit games for us. RJ Talamantes also came through with a nice sacrifice bunt to scratch out a run for us in the top of the 7th. Our problem was not hitting, as we outhit them 10-8. We just struggled to get guys in once they got on base. Anyways, back to the game. It was 4-4 after 7 innings and the score remained that way into the 11th inning. We threatened in the top of the 11th, as Derek Dalzell and Mark Gillean had back-to-back one-out singles. However, they caught Dazzle in a run-down between second and third base. He was eventually tagged out, and Gillean was called out because they called Dazzle for interference during his rundown. I believe this was a highly questionable call, and it killed a potential rally we had brewing.

However, we need to be able to play over calls that don't go our way. In the bottom of the 11th, they had two runners on with one out. We got a potential double play ball, but the ball took a tough hop and kicked away from our infielder. It was a tough way to lose a hard fought game, but we had several chances to win the game that we didn't capitalize on. Are we glad we competed hard all 11 innings and battled? Yes. Are we disappointed we didn't win? You know it. We aren't satisfied with "almost". We know as a team, we HAVE to find a way to win these close ballgames in the late innings. There have been several games where we have self-destructed late, and we know that we need to win these games in conference in order to make the conference tournament.

We came out Saturday ready to play two games in the scorching Texas heat, as the high was 93 on Saturday. Yeah, it gets pretty hot in Shreveport, Louisiana, but we hadn't seen this kind of heat since September of the fall. Ace Seth Lugo took the ball for us in game 1. He was perfect through 2.2 innings before they scratched out two runs in the bottom of the 3rd with two outs. In the 4th, the wheels came off for us as UT- Pan Am put up seven runs. They pieced together a few hits off Lugo and got him out of the game. It wasn't one of his better outings, but I know he will be ready to rock and roll for us in conference. He will be our workhorse and bulldog out there on the mound. I relieved Lugo and finished the game up, throwing the last 4.1 innings. I worked with coach Stephens the past week on a few mechanical changes, and it helped a lot. I was much more successful because I got ahead of hitters early, throwing 16 out of 21 first pitch strikes. It was nice to get my footing back under me on the mound before we start conference play. At the plate, we were pretty vanilla in game 1 Saturday. Derrick Hernandez stayed hot; going 2-4 and Mark Gillean added a pinch-hit double. We put the ball in play, as we only struck out twice in the game. Once again, we just have to find a way to string some hits together and execute offensively.

In game 2 Derek Dalzell got the start for us on the mound. It was only his second career start, but he came out and threw a solid 6.0 innings for us. He kept us in the game and pitched like the seasoned veteran he is. He showed good leadership on the mound and he gave us a good chance to win. In the top of the 5th, we scored three runs with two outs. This was the kind of situational hitting we need to be successful in late innings. Dan Lazarou and RJ Talamantes both had key two out, RBI singles for us. This trimmed the score to 4-3 in their favor. Kyle Morton then led off the top of the 6th with a leadoff triple. He appeared to score on a Jeff Schaffert sacrifice fly, but the umpires ruled that Morty left third base early. I believe it was very clear that Morty tagged up and there was no doubt in my mind that he left the base clearly after the centerfielder began to throw the ball in. However, the umpire saw otherwise, and we were robbed of the chance to tie the game at 4. I am not one to make excuses, but I believe we were deprived a chance to tie the game at that point. From there we fell apart and allowed the game to get out of hand. Like I said earlier, we have to be a stronger team and overcome the adversity that comes our way. Bad calls are a part of the game and happen to each team. We have to play over these mistakes and find a way to get the job done. Offensively, Mark Gillean continued his torrid hitting streak, going 2-3 in the final game of the series. Sam Martin came in and threw a solid 8th inning for us, but the damage was done by then.

The weekend didn't really go our way, and it brought an end to our non-conference part of the schedule. Our record is not where we wanted to be at this point, but we learned a lot about the game of baseball and our team over the first 16 games of the season. Now, we must learn from these experiences, and apply them in conference. We see ourselves as 0-0 in the standings right now. The games that really matter are the ones from here on out. We played all of these games to prepare for conference, and now its time to see what we are made of.

I would really like to thank all of our fans that made the trip down to Edinburg this weekend. We had a great turnout and I know all the guys appreciated y'all coming out and supporting us.

We headed back to Shreveport after the game on Saturday night. About an hour into the trip we were stopped at one of the Border Patrol inspection stations, and our bus was searched as a safety precaution. I am actually writing this blog entry at 1:30 AM as we pass through the southern outskirts of Houston. Most of the team is asleep now. Being 6'6'', I find it pretty hard to get comfortable on the bus and fall asleep. But it's all good because I have three tests next week that I am studying for on the bus before we hit the road next week on Thursday. That is one thing that is difficult about playing so many road games. Sometimes it's tough to stay up in your classes and keep up with test information. I truly believe that is one of the most underappreciated things a student-athlete does. I am really proud of our team and how well so many of the young freshmen are handling this rigorous process. I can promise you it's not easy, and I hope you guys can tell how hard we have to work in the classroom to make up work when we miss for games on the road.

Next week we begin conference play at Oral Roberts. For those of you that don't know, Oral Roberts is the team to beat in the Summit League. They have won conference the past 13 consecutive years and are one of the best mid-major teams of the past decade in college baseball. They were the unanimous pick to win the Summit League this year, while we finished in 7th place in the pre-season voting. I am excited to go up to Tulsa, Oklahoma and compete against Oral Roberts. It will be a good environment for our team to play in and we will see the "top dog" in conference right away. It will be a good litmus test for us and we will be pretty amped to begin our quest towards Sioux Falls, South Dakota and the conference tournament.

Thank you for stopping by and I hope to see you out at the ballpark. We have our next home game on April 15 (Friday) against South Dakota State. Just remember, we are working hard each day to get better and fix our flaws in order to earn a top 4 seed in our final year in the Summit League. Until next week, Go Gents.

This week I interviewed freshmen Ryan Maldonado and Nic Parrott. Ryan is a right-handed pitcher from San Antonio, Texas that has been a guy we have called on numerous times so far this year to help us out on the mound. Nic is a jack-of-all-trades as he plays outfield and pitches for us. He is one of only two left-handed pitchers on our staff so we call on him to help us out in certain matchups when he isn't patrolling the outfield for us.

Ryan Maldonado - Freshman/San Antonio, Texas
Q: What is your major?
A: Physical Therapy

Q: You must always have _________ on road trips?
A: A Pillow

Q: Favorite professional sports team?
A: New York Yankees

Q: Favorite TV show?
A: Rob Dyrdek Fantasy Factory

Q: Who is your dream girl?
A: Jessica Biel

Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
A: Starting my own physical therapy practice

Q: Favorite movie?
A: Hardball

Q: What are your walkout songs this year?
A: "Hells Bells" - ACDC & "Can't Be Touched" - Roy Jones Jr.

Q: What is your dream vacation?
A: Going back to Hawaii

Q: What is your favorite quote?
A: "Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game."

Q: What is something most people don't know about you?
A: I'm the only one in my family to go to college

Q: Why did you pick your jersey number?
A: It's my dad's favorite number and he's the reason why I'm here

Q: What is your most embarrassing moment?
A: Running a 60, tripping and falling breaking my collar bone.

Q: If you could have dinner with any 3 people in history, who would they be?
A: Nolan Ryan, Derek Jeter, A.J. Burnett

Nic Parrott - Freshman/Atlanta, Texas
Q: What is your major?
A: Geology

Q: You must always have _________ on road trips?
A: A pillow

Q: Favorite professional sports team?
A: Texas Rangers

Q: Favorite TV show?
A: Fresh Prince

Q: Who is your dream girl?
A: Jennifer Aniston

Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
A: Working for a gas company as a geologist

Q: Favorite movie?
A:I Am Legend

Q: What are your walkout songs this year?
A: "We Ready" by Archie Eversole and "Throw It Up" by Lil Jon and the Eastside Boys

Q: What is your dream vacation?
A: Going back to Hawaii

Q: What is your favorite quote?
A: "If you ain't first, then your last" - Ricky Bobby

Q: What is something most people don't know about you?
A: When I was born the doctors told my parents to start planning a funeral that there was no chance I'd survive

Q: Why did you pick your jersey number?
A:I had this number during summer ball most of the time

Q: What is your most embarrassing moment?
A: Trying to do a donut in my pasture with my car in front of my friends and ended up getting stuck in mud and having to get my dad to get it out

Q: If you could have dinner with any 3 people in history, who would they be?
A: Ken Griffey Jr., Will Smith, Josh Hamilton