Urban: USF Baseball -- A proud program


Urban: USF Baseball -- A proud program

June 2, 2011
URBAN ARCHIVEMychael UrbanCSNBayArea.com
They aren't exactly household, with one star-crossed exception, but the University of San Francisco baseball program has been producing some notable names for a while now.Head coach, Nino Giarratano, who was named 2011 WCC Coach of the Year, has built up tremendous respect in the college ball ranks over his 13 years at the helm on the Hilltop.Star third baseman, Stephen Yarrow, who recently helped the Dons to both their second West Coast Conference title and NCAA Tournament appearance in the last six years, was recently named the WCC Defensive Player of the Year. He and five teammates represented a school-record six first-team all-conference selections.Former Giants pitcher Jesse Foppert, former Athletic Jermaine Clark, Joe Nelson, Justin Speier and Jeff Harris are among the former Dons who have reached the Majors in the past decade or so. Several others are at various levels of the minor leagues, and yes, Scott Cousins of the Marlins is a former Don.Now consider some names familiar only to family, friends and a handful of former fellow students.Al Smoot. Mike Mooney. Kevin Cronin. Joe Williams. Buddy Holm. Paulo Della Bordella. Chris Gaggero. Eric Enos. Arnie Sambel. Mike Terry. Bob Freschi. Rob Hanke. Greg Wieser, Duffy Aceret. Buzz Lawson.A certain 6-foot-7, soft-tossing lefty, who eventually traded his spikes in for the tools of a less rigorous life in sports media, was among them, too.All of them played baseball at the USF when the program was a losing program.Good players, all. Good enough to play at the NCAA's Division I level, which is the highest level of amateur ball in the country that doesn't feature "USA" across the chest of your jersey. Some of them good enough to earn selections in the MLB draft.While playing for the Dons, virtually all of them lost more games than they won. But don't you dare call them losers.The losers were the members of an apathetic administration that regarded the baseball program as something of a necessary evil.Minimal scholarship money. Ridiculously outdated facilities. Absolutely zero effort to drum up even cursory support from the student body -- even when national powerhouses such as Stanford were rolling into the bandbox that was Benedetti Diamond, named after the program's patriarch.The head coach drew a passable salary, but the assistants could have qualified for food stamps. So bad was it that for two consecutive seasons, in 1990 and 1991, the new pitching coach was the same pitcher who led the previous year's team in losses.The results of the athletic department's gross institutional neglect -- losses, and lots of them -- were predictable. A self-fulfilling prophecy if ever there was one.So how did the Dons get from there to here, as the No. 4 seed facing the top-seeded UCLA Bruins on Friday evening in the first round of the double-elimination Los Angeles Regional of the NCAA Tournament?With a committed and loyal head coach, a collection of talented players, a dedicated core of enthusiastic alumni, and an administration that eventually stepped up and started providing the type of support any major collegiate sports program deserves.The turnaround actually started with the hiring of Rich Hill, who preceded Giarratano. But Hill, taking advantage of the fact that any improvement in the wake of the prolonged success drought would make him look like a champ, used the job as a stepping stone and was gone shortly after he arrived.Giarratano was different. He not only built on the momentum Hill started to establish, but he was in it for the long haul. Recruits look for stability in a program, and Giarrantano provided it.A modest man clearly beloved by his players, Giarratano isn't interested in taking much credit, though. After appearing with Yarrows on Chronicle Live on Tuesday, he went out of his way to gush about the increased support -- in the form of scholarship money and major improvements at Benedetti Diamond -- that helped him land the players he needed to compete with the big boys.He mentioned the alumni support, too, and Cronin has been front-and-center in terms of getting former Dons excited and involved, sending a relentless stream of e-mail touting both the program's rise, and the Dante Benedetti Foundation, the mission of which is "helping children through the game of baseball." The combination of these efforts, along with the steady rise of the program's standing in Division I, generated unprecedented interest and pride.These days, many of those aforementioned players who went through the lean years keep in touch via Facebook, swapping war stories and lauding the latest feats of the current club. Gone are the days of 25 parents, sisters, brothers and girlfriends being the only people in the stands. "We'll get 400 on a good day," Giarratano said. It doesn't sound like much, but in context, it's huge.So is Friday's game against the Bruins, where guys such as Wieser, one of the former Dons pitcher-turned-pitching coach, will again be frantically looking for updates however they can. This was was the case Sunday when USF had to beat host Gonzaga in a do-or-die WCC finale.And while UCLA is the favorite in the L.A. Regional, in a way it won't matter whether the Dons win or lose. Not to guys such as Lawson, Mooney, Smoot, and yes, that big lefty whose best fastball looked like a big-league changeup.To those guys, here's the bottom line: By putting the program on the national map, the Dons already have pulled off an upset of epic proportions.

Giants Notes: Blach shows resiliency; Another option in center?


Giants Notes: Blach shows resiliency; Another option in center?

CHICAGO — John Lackey's night started with a leadoff homer. Ty Blach's night started with a 13-pitch battle. Neither one is a positive for a pitcher, but Blach didn't view it that way. He actually appreciated Ben Zobrist stretching him out.

"It's good to have a battle like that and get you locked in," Blach said. "It gets you focused and you'll be like, I can execute and get guys out. It's good. It's a good battle."

There, in a nutshell, is so much of what Bruce Bochy loves about his young left-hander. The Giants have found Blach's arm and resolve to be remarkably resilient. He wasn't bothered when they moved him to the bullpen and he didn't get too high when they moved him back to the rotation. He is the same after seven shutout innings or three poor ones. Bochy smiled when asked about the Zobrist at-bat, which ended in a strikeout looking. 

"How 'bout that?" the manager said. "He won that at-bat. It seems like the advantage goes to the hitter, seeing all those pitches. He kept his focus and got a called strikeout and here he is pitching in the eighth inning."

After needing 13 pitches for one out, Blach got the next 23 on 81 pitches. Bochy thought Blach tired a bit in the eighth, but the deep effort allowed Bochy to mix and match in the bullpen, and ultimately he found the right mix. Hunter Strickland and Mark Melancon closed it out and got Blach his second win.

--- From last night, Joe Panik's huge night helped give Blach an early lead. With the help of Ron Wotus and his shift charts, he also put on a show defensively.

--- We're trying something new right after the final pitch: Here are five quick takeaways from the 6-4 win.

--- The options game sent Kelby Tomlinson back to Triple-A on Wednesday when the Giants activated Melancon, but his latest stint in Sacramento comes with a twist. Tomlinson started his third consecutive game in center field on Monday. The Giants are getting a bit more serious about their longtime plan to make Tomlinson a super-utility player. 

“Tommy is a valuable guy in the majors and if we can give him some experience in the outfield, it gives you more flexibility and versatility,” manager Bruce Bochy said. 

This is not Tomlinson’s first foray into the outfield. He did work there in the offseason after the 2015 season and he has played 25 big league innings in left field the last two seasons. This is Tomlinson’s first real experience with center field, and while in the past he has said that the transition isn’t as easy as some might think, Bochy is confident Tomlinson can figure it out. He certainly has the speed to be a semi-regular in the outfield, and the Giants aren’t exactly brimming with quality center field options behind Denard Span, who is dealing with his second injury of the season. 

“It’s a little different now,” Bochy said when asked about Tomlinson’s past experiences in the outfield. “He’s in Sacramento doing it, and knowing there’s a possibility we could need help in the outfield.”

If the switch doesn’t come in handy this season, it could in 2018. Bochy compared Tomlinson’s infield-outfield ability to Eduardo Nuñez, who has found regular playing time in left but is a free agent after the year. 

--- Hunter Pence did some light running in the outfield before Monday’s game. Bochy said Pence is still about a week away from being an option.

--- Bochy has said it a few times now when asked about the standings, so it’s officially a new motto for a team that got off to a brutal start: “We’ve put ourselves in a great situation for a great story.”

--- They're starting to get a little grumpy around here with their team hovering around .500. Perhaps the Cubs thought they could fool a few on the way out of Wrigley.

Agony still present, Kerr uncertain if he can coach Warriors in NBA Finals

Agony still present, Kerr uncertain if he can coach Warriors in NBA Finals

SAN ANTONIO -- Those following the Warriors and their effort to rage through the playoffs should put away those thoughts and hopes that Steve Kerr will return to full-time coaching later this week or sometime before the NBA Finals.

Forget about it, unless you know something he doesn’t.

And if you do, he wants to hear what you have to say.

Don’t get it wrong: Kerr wants to coach, would love to coach. That’s why, even as he feels like hell, he’s hanging around the team like a languid groupie. He wants to be with the Warriors in the heat of battle because they’re his team, within the culture he instilled, and he would like nothing more to get another chance to win The Finals.

But because the procedure he underwent more than two weeks ago at Duke Spine Center did not deliver the relief he’d hoped for, Kerr knows he’s not up to the task and, therefore, continues to operate as sort of a associate head coach to acting head coach Mike Brown.

“Mike is doing great,” Kerr told NBCSportsBayArea.com late Monday night, after the Warriors clinched a third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals with a 129-115 Game 4 win over the Spurs. “He’s such a wonderful human being. He’s so unselfish and team-oriented. I’m proud of him and the job he’s doing, along with the rest of the staff. I wish I could be out there with them. And maybe I will. I don’t know. We’ll see.

“He’s a great partner. And we’re in this together, obviously, but he’s got to make decisions with the staff without me. He’s done a great job of navigating the games. We’re undefeated, so he’s doing something right.”

Kerr can only help from the perimeter. The demands of the job require the coach be able to function at near-peak levels, particularly before and during a game, and he simply can’t. He knows there will be times, all too often, when the discomfort becomes unbearable to such a degree he hardly can think straight.

The agony is visible. The players see it. The staff sees it. Brown sees it, feels it and hears it. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is one of Kerr’s best friends -- as well as a good friend of Brown -- was able to see it during the Western Conference Finals.

“I've spoken with Steve and Mike; we're friends,” Popovich said two hours before Game 4. “We've known each other a long time. But as far as Steve's concerned, it's just a crap situation.

“You know, he's done a phenomenal job. And when you're going through that pain every day and that frustration of not being able to do what you want to do, it's hard to enjoy it at the fullest level. So I feel badly for him all the time but hopeful that stuff will get figured out.”

Nobody wants that more than Kerr, who has tried nearly everything any respectable specialist has recommended. So far, there has been no miracle.

So Kerr forges ahead, getting his Warriors fix by being around the group. By meeting with coaches and players. By meeting with general manager Bob Myers. Kerr was with the Warriors throughout their stay in San Antonio. He was at practices and shootarounds, sometimes on the floor and sometimes sitting in the stands observing from afar.

“I need to be around the guys,” he said. “I don’t want to miss this. Just being in the locker room, being able to talk to the guys means a lot to me. I’m thrilled for them. It’s fun to see how happy they are with three straight trips to The Finals. It’s pretty incredible.”

Kerr has been with the team for at least a few hours every day since May 10, less than a week after his procedure at Duke.

Kerr’s presence has been invaluable, both physically and psychologically, according to staff and players.

“Coach just empowers everybody,” Kevin Durant said. “His message is still the same. Even when he wasn't there in the Utah series, you could still feel his presence. That's what great leaders do.”

Participation, making himself feel useful, is one form of therapy that gives Kerr a semi-satisfying break from the misery.

“He watches film, and he watches the game,” Brown said. “So he gives his perspective from where he is. He gives insight on what we should be doing going forward, what he felt we could have done better, what we did that was good. So he just gives his input, mainly. He addresses the team every once in a while. He doesn't always do that, but he'll address the team from time to time.”

There was some belief that Kerr could return to full-time coaching within a week or so after the procedure, for which he declined to provide details. Warriors CEO Joe Lacob expressed hope Kerr might return “sooner rather than later.” Had it been as successful as Kerr and the doctors hoped, he would have.

That was May 5. Kerr announced he was stepping aside on April 23. As of Wednesday, he was been on leave for a full month.

Asked if he plans to travel during the NBA Finals, Kerr said he hopes so: “It’s like a month away,” he said, exaggerating the nine-day layoff.

He’d rather say with certainty that, yes, he will be accompanying the team because, after all, he’s the head coach.

And he will say that, the moment his body tells him it’s OK to do so.