I’m not going to lie to you – I no longer know the meaning of half of the stats in baseball. It seems, sometime in the early 2000s, some stat geek invented about 30 categories (yes, I’m exaggerating) that I just don’t care to memorize. But I get it – folks love to talk stats when it comes to baseball. The 300 hitter, and the pitcher with the nasty ERA – and those are old-school statistical categories, a.k.a. ones that I understand. Now you will hear some guy (who usually has mustard on his shirt) talking about a player’s OPS, which is a player’s OBP plus his…yeah whatever, man. I’ve already tuned you out, and am staring at the mascot wondering if it can see that 6-year-old, standing beside him, out of his giant baseball-shaped head. And somehow he does. Point being, concerning baseball, I don’t think about stats as much as I think about…

 

Sunshine. 

 

Good ole American sunshine. And hot dogs and bags of peanuts. And low murmurs interrupted by the crack of a bat. The thump of a fastball snapping the catcher’s mitt. How, people who wouldn’t remotely consider talking to a stranger on the streetcar, will open up and joke with someone who is sitting a few seats away – even if they’re wearing the other team’s colors. I once got a history lesson about the city of Chicago from a too tan, 270-pound shirtless fireman at Wrigley field. It was amazing. 

The sport itself lets the mind wander. It’s not the constant action – the back and forth – of basketball, or the crush of the crowd at a football game. It’s dreamy. You find yourself thinking of things from the past, or appreciating the small things in life. You find yourself smiling a lot. After the national anthem, the home team takes the field. 

 

Play ball. 

 

The Tulane Green Wave enters the 2016 season with a quiet confidence, and big dreams. After returning to the NCAA regionals, for the first time since 2008, the Green Wave returns with its entire starting pitcher staff, and six starting positional players. They’re stacked, folks. 

But it will be a defense-first team, as they don’t overwhelm teams with the long ball, but rely on their veteran pitching staff, led this year by Corey Merrill, who was voted to the pre-season all-conference team. Merrill led the Green Wave in starts (16), ERA (2.12), and strikeouts (81) last year. Most impressive, might be his only giving up one home run on the season. But the pitching staff isn’t a one-man show. Emerson Gibbs, Patrick Duester and Alex Massey all posted winning records in the 2015 campaign, with Gibbs joining Merrill with an ERA below three runs a game (2.73). This group racked up nine shutouts last year. 

Those kids will be throwing the baseball into the mitt of catcher Jake Rogers (great baseball name) who, according to head coach David Pierce is, “the best catch-and-throw guy in the country.” This isn’t a coach “talking up” his player either. Rogers led the entire NCAA in mowing down base runners trying to steal a base – he picked off 33-of-57. Do NOT run on Jake Rogers. 

On the offensive side, the Wave is led by preseason second-team All-American Stephen Alemais. The Tulane shortstop should reprise his lead-off role, and set the pace for the offensive attack, after leading the team in batting average (.312) and stolen bases (27) in 2015. First-baseman Hunter Williams (28 RBI’s), and right-fielder Lex Kaplan (27 RBI’s), will be called upon to get the runners home. 

The Green Wave opens its 2016 campaign at home Friday, Feb. 19, at 6:30 p.m. against the Illinois Fightin’ Illini. The Illinois program fields a team that won 50 games last year, and is the reigning Big 10 champion. 

So, grab those tickets and head to Turchin Field, New Orleans. If you see a guy, looking off into the distance smiling, buy him a hot dog and don’t let him get hit by a foul ball. 

 

Beer Pairing – It’s Lent, folks – Guinness Brewing’s non-alcoholic “Kaliber” 

Playlist Recommendation – The Baseball Project – “Chin Music” 

 

 

Around the Way

Talkin’ BaseballLSU Basketball, avoiding a season-ending tailspin, looks to be heading to “The Dance” again, behind the all-star play of Ben Simmons. The Tigers knocked off the quickly fading No. 15 Texas A&M Aggies, 76-71, for their second victory of the season against ranked opponents. The Tigers pinned the fourth loss in a row on the Aggies. 

More importantly, the win places the Tigers atop the SEC conference standings at 9-3, along with the Kentucky Wildcats, whom the Tigers own a tiebreaker against in lieu of their 85-67 victory earlier this season. LSU’s march to first place has been built upon their strong work on their home court, where the Tigers have posted a 13-2 record. LSU should be favored in the rest of their matchups, until they visit Lexington to take on the Wildcats on March 5, in what could be a matchup for the conference championship. AND the game is in March, and, as we all know, March = Madness. 

Congratulations to the Brother Martin Crusaders and De La Salle Cavaliers, who took home LHSAA Wrestling state championships in their respective divisions this weekend. Brother Martin claimed its fifth straight, and 17th overall, Division I state championship. The Crusaders finished the season undefeated against in-state opponents. In Division III, it was De La Salle playing the role of underdog, and knocking off the Brusly Panthers, who were seeking their fifth straight state championship. Moreover, Brusly had won 11 of the past 12 titles. But it would be the Cavaliers who would hold the trophy high this weekend, taking home the school’s first wrestling championship since 1971.