Up All Night

Feb. 16, 2007

Note: This journal appeared on collegebaseballinsider.com on Feb. 15.

When most establishments were having last call for Friday night activities, KU and SDSU began a doubleheader on Saturday morning at 1:42 a.m. The game lasted 2:51 and the attendance was listed at 33. The “nightcap” began at 5:03 a.m. but was suspended because the teams had to be off the field by 7:30. That game was resumed on Sunday morning at 3:30 a.m., with an announced attendance of 22. The final game’s first pitch was at 4:20 in front of a “crowd” of 26.

CBI asked – er, woke up – Kansas coach Ritch Price to share some of his thoughts on the wacky and wild weekend that was.

Thursday, Feb. 8
During the course of the week, we realized that it was going to be difficult to get our series in with South Dakota State. Coach (Reggie) Christiansen, the head coach of SDSU, and myself talked on the phone every day trying to make the best decision of when they should come down. On Thursday, they were predicting that it would be 46 degrees and sunny here on Sunday, so we were thinking of trying to get at least a doubleheader in on Sunday and they would travel down Saturday.

Friday, Feb. 9
When we got to the office, the Web sites had changed their forecast to 31-32 for Sunday. At this point, I called Reggie and told him I didn’t think there was any way we could play here on Sunday.

Now, earlier in the week, Jerry Laftery, the Philadelphia Phillies’ scout, mentioned to Coach (Ryan) Graves that he was going to the Hurricane Winter Invitational at the Metrodome, and that it was too bad we weren’t going to be there, because then we’d know we would be playing. We had checked on this earlier to see what time slots they had available and the particulars for renting the facility. They told me that there were only two time slots available, 1:30 to 7:30 a.m. on Saturday and 3:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. on Sunday. I told them that I may give you a call and see about scheduling an event.

Friday, when I called Reggie and told him about the new forecast for Sunday, I told him I was going to see if the Metrodome could possibly get us in. Within two hours, I had reserved the facility, the hotel rooms, gotten a bus and contacted Chris Koskie, the Big 12 umpiring scheduling coordinator.

We left at 2 p.m., right after classes. We’re only allowed to miss 10 days of class per season and because this was supposed to be a home series, we weren’t planning to use any of our days. So we couldn’t leave any earlier.

In an ideal world, if we could have left a few hours earlier, drove up, checked into the hotels and slept for three or four hours, it would have been a perfect scenario. Instead, we left at 2, we stopped and had dinner about five hours up the road and went straight to the dome.

Saturday, Feb. 10
One of the things that we preach to our players is that you have to be professional, that you play every day of the season and that you respect the game. We don’t have perfect weather, so we have to make adjustments to compete in our league and be a Top 25 team.

We’ve been through some strange game times before. Every year that I’ve been here, we’ve gone to Kona, Hawaii to play Hawaii-Hilo in our first game of the year, and we usually travel to Hawaii the same day as the first game of the series. So our kids are used this.

We got in the Metrodome at 11:30 p.m. and threw out the first pitch at 1:30 a.m. We played the first game of the series and then ran into the 7:30 a.m. cutoff with the second game, so we had to suspend play.

Overall, I thought both teams played very well. Both teams pitched very well. South Dakota State hit three home runs in the first game. Their shortstop (Jake Rogers) hit a clutch two-out, two-run homer that ended up giving them the lead in the top of the eighth.

We had the tying run on in the bottom of the eighth and the tying run at second base in the bottom of the ninth and couldn’t punch him in. So it was a very entertaining game.

When we walked in, our players were pumped up. It’s a great facility with brand-new field turf. It’s absolutely fabulous. I know our players really enjoyed the environment, and Coach Christiansen told me that his players were really fired up as well.

When we got done, we checked into the hotel about 8:30 a.m., we went and had breakfast and then, our players went to bed. We woke them up at 4 p.m. to go have a pre-game meal and watch the KU basketball game, which was on national television.

We got back to the hotel around 6 p.m. so our players could relax for a few hours before the game. We gave them meal money to go get something to eat before the game on their own.

Sunday, Feb. 11
We had a wake up call at 1 a.m., we left at 1:30 to go play a 3:30 game.

One of the many things we faced this weekend was players getting sick. All three of our first basemen were sick and unable to play, so Matt Berner, our utility infielder had to fill in at first. He had never played first base before in his life.

In the ninth inning of our suspended game, we got the first two guys out and then they put the tying run on. The next guy up hit a routine grounder to second base, and Berner dives for the ball. He ends up not getting back to the bag in time, so we allow the winning run to get on with two outs.

It’s really not his fault. He’s never played there before, and he’s trying to make a play. But that brought up Tyson Fisher, who just happens to be their best player. As a coach, you get one of those feelings in your stomach of `Oh my god.’ I had a feeling that he was going to smoke a ball in the gap, because he hit the ball hard a couple of times in the first game.

He lined the ball into right field and Brock Simpson, our right fielder, turned the wrong way, but luckily he recovered and made the catch. We found a way to survive 3-2.

We had a 15-minute break and started Game 3 at 4:30 a.m.

Our starting pitcher, Andy Marks, may have made the greatest 4:30 a.m. start in the history of college baseball. He held South Dakota State to just one run on four hits and had a shutout going into the seventh inning. He was absolutely special. He was throwing his breaking ball for a strike, his changeup for a strike. It was as good as I’ve seen somebody pitch, especially under all the weird scheduling.

We pushed across a couple of runs early, and that’s all we needed to take the last game.

When you’re at a cold-weather school like Kansas, you have to travel to get games in. We have to play at game speed, or we’re not going to get any better, because we haven’t been able to practice outside yet this year.

I really felt that we got better on the weekend and made progress as we prepare to go to Stanford in a few weeks.

I thought we played incredibly well, and I thought South Dakota State played outstanding baseball.

Reggie Christiansen is one of my former assistants here, and one of my favorite coaches I’ve ever worked with. He’s done a phenomenal job with his club. I told him after the game that they’re at least 10 times better than when we played him in 2005. I think his players enjoyed the weekend experience as much as we did.