Baseball Journal: March Madness

When Butler fans hear the words "March Madness", they think of Bulldog basketball and the NCAA Tournament.

After reading about the Butler baseball team's 2013 spring break travel and competition schedule, you may decide that the Bulldog baseball squad also had its own version of "March Madness". Below are notes from head coach Steve Farley over the past 10 days:

Week of March 4
We got 5 inches of snow in Indianapolis and cancelled a Tuesday game vs. Marian University. Our first home series of the year to be played vs. IPFW March 8-10 looked to be in jeopardy. I remembered that Bishop Chatard High School built an artificial turf baseball field this fall and I put in a call to Chatard head coach (and former Butler assistant coach) Mike Harmon to see if we could possibly play our games there. He thinks we might have a chance, as the snow melts faster off of the turf than off of real grass. That weekend was the start of spring break at Butler.

Thankfully, the snow melts off of the turf and I call the coach at IPFW and our umpire crew to let them know of our change of venue. I send an email to Butler baseball parents and fans alerting them to our plans.  We had a hard fought three game series vs. the Mastodons. Sophomore Eric Stout pitched a one-hitter in game #1 and we pull out a 1-0 victory. Senior Kyle Kramp pitches seven innings of outstanding baseball in game #2, but our bats go cold and we lose a tough 2-1 decision. In game #3 we cling to a 2-1 lead late in the game (senior Billy Laing pitches a great ballgame) but IPFW gets a couple of big hits to take a 3-2 lead. We load the bases in the 9th inning with two outs but James Baker's line drive to left-center field is caught to end the game. I'm impressed with our pitching- probably the best three consecutive starts from our pitching staff in many years!

After Sunday's game, I reminded the team to get their bags packed, as our shuttle bus to the Indianapolis Airport will leave Hinkle Fieldhouse at 4AM Monday morning! Ugh. Before I headed home, I stopped at a grocery store to buy some milk, juice and donuts for the players to eat at Hinkle in the morning before they get on the bus. We pulled out of the Hinkle lot on time and our flight to Phoenix departed around 6 a.m. With the three hour flight and three hour time zone change, we touched down in sunny Arizona around 7 a.m. local time. We found a Denny's restaurant near the airport and the guys all have a big breakfast. The two-hour bus trip to Tucson brings back a lot of memories for me, as it's my first trip back to the University of Arizona since 1982-83 when I was a graduate assistant baseball coach there under legendary head coach Jerry Kindall.

Before we get to our hotel, I have the bus driver make a short pit-stop at the U of A campus so that we can stretch our legs a little. The McKale Center, Arizona's basketball arena, is still in the same location and I notice they are converting Arizona's former baseball field into a football practice facility. I'm eager to see Tucson's newly renovated Hi Corbett Field, the former minor league headquarters for the Cleveland Indians, now leased by Arizona for their defending national champion baseball team.

The Arizona weather is great with the 6 p.m. game time temperature on Tuesday reading 81 degrees…it's great to be out in the sunshine! Coach Kindall and former Arizona assistant coach Jim Wing stop by to say hello before the game and it's great to spend some time with these coaches who had such a positive effect on my coaching career. Earlier in the day I had spoken with long-time Arizona hitting coach, Jerry Stitt. These guys were the best in the game and helped lead Arizona baseball to three national championships! The stadium lives up to its billing and we play in front of a nice crowd of approximately 2,500 fans. Many Butler parents have made the journey to Arizona to see our games. What a thrill for our Butler players to have the opportunity to compete against the defending national champions! During my time at Butler, we've had the chance to take on quite a few nationally-ranked teams, including North Carolina, Wichita State, Vanderbilt, Florida State, South Carolina, Fresno State and others.

We didn't make a very good showing against the Wildcats, as our pitchers struggled with control in both games and we had some miscues in the field. We know we are a "work in progress" and I see many positives that we can build on. A real highlight for me occurs after our game on Tuesday night as former Butler Bulldog and current Oakland A's pitcher Pat Neshek makes a surprise visit to our dugout! After helping the A's defeat the Kansas City Royals in a spring training game that day near Phoenix, Pat hopped in his car and drove to Tucson, hoping to catch the tail end of our game. What a fantastic surprise to see him and it meant a great deal to me. Despite playing only three seasons at Butler (he signed a six-figure bonus contract with the Minnesota Twins after his junior year at Butler), Pat still owns the Bulldog season and career strikeout records. I introduced Pat to our players and coaches and I think our guys really appreciated his comments and recollections from his playing days. He is a true professional and he still follows the Bulldogs with pride!

After our game on Wednesday, we bussed back to Phoenix to catch a flight that didn't leave until almost midnight. Again, with the flight time and time zone changes, we arrive back in Indy around 5:30AM. What a rugged schedule! After the players drop off their dirty uniforms in the Hinkle basement equipment room, I give them some meal money and tell them they have to be back at Hinkle later that day for our 5 p.m. bus departure to Michigan to play in a tournament vs. Eastern Michigan and Northern Kentucky University. I drive home and catch a couple hours of sleep and hope my players and assistant coaches are doing the same! When I wake up I get an update on the regional weather forecast, as the coaches in the tournament have agreed that if the weather is too cold to play in Michigan, we will move the games to the artificial turf field at Northern Kentucky, only minutes from Cincinnati, Ohio. After numerous texts and phone calls to the other coaches, we agreed to switch the games to NKU and I'm happy that we'll only have to bus two hours instead of five! We pulled out of Hinkle at 5 p.m. for the next leg of our spring break journey!

The weather in Kentucky on Friday and Saturday was very reasonable with temperatures in the high 40's and low 50's. We look good beating NKU on Friday and we played another outstanding game on Saturday, beating EMU. On Sunday, we wake up to snow flurries and temps in the mid-30's… not very conducive to baseball. We are scheduled for a doubleheader with a noon game vs. EMU and 3:30 game vs. NKU. Despite constant snow flurries, we started the game and EMU jumped out to an early lead. I'm very pleased with how our guys battled back in tough conditions and we are up to bat in the bottom of the 9th inning with the winning runs on base. I really felt we were going to get that big "walk-off" hit, but the EMU relief pitcher makes a great pitch to one of our best hitters to strike him out and end the threat. With only 30 minutes between games, our guys eat a sub sandwich, grab a Gatorade and get ready for the second game of the day. Kyle Allen pitched an excellent game and we easily defeated NKU to take three out of four games on the weekend. After a team meal at Cracker Barrel, we pulled into Hinkle Fieldhouse around 10:30 p.m.

What a week! From snow in Indy to warm sunshine in Arizona and then back to snow flurries in the Cincinnati metro area…it was a unique and rugged 10 days of "spring break" for the Bulldog baseball team. Eighteen games into the 2013 season and we still haven't played a home game. We've only had one real practice on our field! We had such mild weather in 2012… I knew we'd have "payback" in 2013! We looked forward to the next weekend when we open the A-10 conference season at VCU - a team picked by many to win the conference championship this season. Stay tuned…