Just a couple of weeks ago budget hawks at Mississippi newspapers and media outlets were preparing for the possibility of two teams in Omaha for the College World Series.
At the time, there was also the national dialogue that West Coast baseball – i.e. the Pac 12 – was down.
As we look in the rear view mirror, it was Pac 12 champ Utah that set the table for Ole Miss’ two-and-out in its regional and Arizona, which finished in a three-way tie for third in the Pac 12, that ousted SEC champ Mississippi State in a two-and-out from its super regional.
I’m not sure what that means except that clichés trumped computers this postseason. The SEC and ACC were neck and neck in the race for No. 1 conference, that designation being determined by conference RPI. The ACC was deemed the best conference, that difference being only hundredths of a point most of the season.
Also carrying the banner for West Coast pride this postseason is UC-Santa Barbara, which defeated No. 2 seed Louisville 4-2 in Game 1 of their super regional Saturday and closed the deal with a 4-3 win Sunday.
Travel in general is expensive in 2016, but Omaha during the College World Series is particularly expensive with the special event rate at hotels. While you’re there the city and others promote itself as a wonderful host, and the city does a lot of things right. I’ve always contended, however, that if it really wanted to help the fans who make the trip, many of them on an annual basis and regardless of what teams are there, the city would not gouge those fans on hotel rooms.
You can charge a different rate and make a nice profit. You don’t have to charge $300 a night and more.
Regardless of cost, had Ole Miss and MSU been in Omaha together we were prepared to provide record-setting coverage for an event that had not happened previously in our lifetimes, and who knew when it might happen again?
Part of that discussion included Logan Lowery and myself in an RV. I kind of had mixed feelings on that one.
Well, the Pac 12 saw to it that we didn’t have to experience that, and the old coaches’ cliché proved to be quite true, the cliché from coaches being that “everyone is good when you get to postseason.”
For Mississippi’s SEC teams this season, teams who reached postseason with high expectations, that was certainly the case.
Shifting gears …
The MLB draft took place Thursday through Saturday, and the Rebels appear to have navigated things with no big surprises.
The most unsettling for Ole Miss fans, no doubt, is that football signee A.J. Brown was drafted in the 19th round.
San Diego placed the call to Brown, who could make an impact at wide receiver for Ole Miss this season in spite of a load of experience and depth at the position.
My first thought when I saw Brown was drafted was that 19th round money, likely to be well south of $50,000, won’t get him to baseball.
My second thought was this is the draft and young athletes, and you never know. As Brown’s potential teammate, freshman Tre Nixon tweeted and Brown retweeted, “Patience … it will all unfold.”
The guess is Brown finds his way to Ole Miss. There’s a recent example of a guy who turned down baseball money and became a second-round NFL draft pick. The only thing that kept that story from a wonderful conclusion for Senquez Golson was his injury in camp with the Steelers.
The other thing that could affect Brown’s offer from the Padres is the fact that the MLB.com analysis on him describes him as a baseball “project.” If that’s on target it doesn’t sound like a guy that Padres would spend too much time with in negotiations if early offers are rebuffed.
Elsewhere in the draft, J.B. Woodman went in the second round, Errol Robinson in the sixth and Henri Lartigue in the seventh. Barring unforeseen difficulties with the signing process or something of a bizarre health nature – as occurred with Scott Bittle after his junior season – I expect all have played their last ball with Ole Miss.
Chad Smith was drafted in the 11th round, Brady Bramlett and Wyatt Short in the 13th round.
This is the classic example of how the draft is about potential rather than production.
All the MLB world loves a left-hander, and that’s what Smith is. He threw a nice breaking ball at times this season and had some big innings and big outs. He pitched well in the Governor’s Cup game but had no run support. He started Game 3 at Texas A&M and got it under control so the Rebels could eventually win 3-2 on the last day of the regular season.
He also had some nice non-conference outings.
The sum total of all the parts was a 4.22 ERA with 39 walks and 62 strikeouts in 59 2-3 innings. That’s a lot of walks for that amount of time.
My guess is all three are gone.
The good news for Ole Miss in the draft was not that some players were drafted in rounds that could cause them to wrestle with decisions, but that some were not drafted at all.
Third baseman Colby Bortles and second baseman Tate Blackman were also draft eligible.
Bortles didn’t have a great offensive year, but he had some big hits at big times. He finished with a .269 average, a team-high 21 doubles and his 50 RBIs were second on the team. He hit .236 with eight doubles in SEC play.
What could have attracted MLB execs is Bortles’ size (6-5, 235) and mobility and the potential he brings.
He took over third base last year and really has handled it better than I thought he would. He’s been very smooth at third, and it didn’t take long into his sophomore year for you to stop being surprised at a fantastic defensive play by Bortles.
Blackman hit just .197 as a freshman last year, far less than expected for a top 50 national recruit, and his struggles eventually led to less playing time.
He hit .322 this season, most of the year a big higher than that.
It was possible that his turnaround, plus the known commodity that he was coming out of Lake Brantley High School in Altamonte Springs, Fla., could have gotten him drafted for a second time. He was drafted in the 20th round by the Brewers out of high school.
While Blackman’s turnaround was important to the Rebels’ success this season, it can be better. Great college hitters hit .350 or above. Those are the numbers that really stand out, and Blackman can get there.
In the meantime, the Rebels could have lost four of their five starting infielders. Now they’ll return a good big of experience there with Bortles, Blackman and first baseman Will Golsan.
While Brown is a football signee, he’s also expected to play baseball at Ole Miss. There were other baseball signees drafted.
Oxford High School’s Grae Kessinger, who could potentially start at shortstop next season, went in the 26th round to the Padres.
Catcher Cooper Johnson of Mundelin, Ill., went in the 29th round to the Reds, right-handed pitcher Will Ethridge of Lilburn, Ga., in the 35th round to the Mariners.
All three signees indicated on social media – indirectly – their plans to enroll at Ole Miss.