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 Ridiculously outdated facilities.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.

GMs have taken all the fun out of Trade Deadline day


GMs have taken all the fun out of Trade Deadline day

The NHL trade deadline came and went Monday night when the Washington Capitals went chips-in on St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.

(For the record, the actual details of the trade are so absurdly complicated that all you will be permitted to know here is that the Caps got Shattenkirk).

But the fact is that, yet again, all the air rushed out of Wednesday’s trade deadline balloon for the hockey media, and the poor sods on set to babysit all the deal-lets and non-deals will weep bitterly as their phones spit out hour after hour of non-information.

At least that’s the way it is playing now. Maybe Pittsburgh will finally close that long-rumored (well, by me, anyway) Sidney Crosby-for-Phil Di Giuseppe deal, but that’s not the way to bet.

But the trade deadline has been slowly but surely dying as general managers find far greater advantage in making their deals away from the time crunch and the persistent phone calls from other general manager, agents and worst of all, media weasels.

For example, the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans broke the NBA trade deadline as well as the All-Star Game by doing the DeMarcus Cousins deal four days early and midway through the first half, in that order.

And though this wasn’t actually a trade, the Golden State Warriors broke the market back in July by maneuvering their way for the prize of the summer – Zaza Pachulia.

Oh, and the other guy.

In short, the general managers seem to have figured out the simplest way to foil the pressures of the trade deadline – by ignoring the deadline and acting ahead of time, creating their own spoiler alerts by spoiling everyone’s fun before they were fully alerted.

And that leaves the rest of us faced with an empty day of blather after we’ve all gone to the trouble of doubling down on beer and chips.

Ultimately the idea behind the coverage of a trade is to break the news of the trade whenever it happens. And the idea of the trade from the general manager’s view is to better the team and minimize the chance of being fired.

All laudable goals, by and large.

But a trade deadline without some recognizable trades is just another day when you can’t fake working, and who needs that?

What’s needed here then is a trade deadline with teeth and real tangible punishments for everyone involved. I mean, we have chips and guacamole to think of.

For instance, there is no reason why the leagues couldn’t install rules that say that no trade can be announced even to any of the principals (players, agents, medioids, et. al.) except on the day of the deadline. Any teams involved in a deal that breaks the embargo is fined a massive amount of the owners’ (as in both teams’ owners) money.

To make this work, the teams would have to agree no trade could be made between, say, Thanksgiving and the deadline. Or Christmas, depending on how you feel about tryptophan overdosing. But the point is, nothing could get done until the agreed-upon deadline, and it could only be announced to anyone on the day of the deadline.

This is profoundly unfair to the players, of course, but that little issue has never bothered management before when the alternative was money.

It is also not much fun for the media, which has to twiddle its opposables floating rumors that can’t be proven or disproven except on that one day when everyone works from midnight to midnight, wired to the eyelids on six-buck coffee and enough green tea to turn a gall bladder into a souvenir ash tray.

No, this is about making a worthwhile and ironclad trade deadline for the good of the sport, and the business.

Okay, this is about our amusement.

We all like trade deadlines. It gives order to the market, and it centers everyone’s focus on one hyper-adrenalized day to watch out for double-, triple- and quadruple-crosses from general managers wanting to jump each others’ action in search of their own personal Shattenkirks.

It spikes Verizon stock, it makes lots of business for movers and real estate vultures, it provides cheap and disposable fame for about two-thirds of the players in the league, and it makes everyone involved look like twitchy red-eyed zombies on television.

It beats the Bachelorette every time, because among other things it looks a lot more like parents do when they’ve been up all day and night with the colic farms.

In short, a trade deadline is a precious thing not to be discarded just because it’s inconvenient for a few suits and about-to-be-moved employees.

So yeah, Kevin Shattenkirk could have held another day or so. You know, for the good of the game.


Curry blames weatherman for career-worst 0-for-11 from 3-point range

Curry blames weatherman for career-worst 0-for-11 from 3-point range

In the wake of a 119-108 Warriors win over the 76ers Monday night in Philadelphia, Stephen Curry had a ready explanation for his 0-of-11 shooting 3-point distance.

He didn’t properly account for the change in weather.

“The weatherman said it’s like a low-pressure system that was coming in (and) I forgot to adjust to the thickness of the air,” he told reporters at Wells Fargo Center.

Curry’s comment may open to interpretation, but it was clear his sense of humor remained intact even after a career-worst shooting night beyond the arc.

He wasn’t the only Warrior finding it difficult to score from deep. Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green combined to go 5-of-20. The Warriors were 6-of-29 from deep, their second-lowest total of the season.

“It’s weird,” he said. “Not to discredit anything they did. The first half we had a lot of open looks that didn’t go in. Klay made a couple down the stretch. KD made one. Draymond made one from the corner.

“Other than that we still took really good shots that didn’t go in. But for us to still have moxie to withstand that and still pretty much have the lead the whole game and allow our defense to get us a win tonight was kind of our M.O.”

Given that Curry owns the single-game record for triples (13) as well as the single-season record (402), it was most alarming that he couldn’t find at least one. And he had opportunities.

“It happens but you have to try and find other ways to impact the game,” he said. “I was trying to get to the paint a little bit more and just try to make plays. One thing is I don’t get down on myself. Obviously, that’s why I got 11 of them up. I still have confidence the next one is going in and that will stay the same tomorrow.”

The Warriors face the Wizards Tuesday in Washington. In Curry’s last appearance at the Verizon Center, last Feb. 3, he went for 51 points. He was 11-of-15 from deep.

“What I love about Steph is he went 0-11 tonight from three but you wouldn’t know it if you looked at his face,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “He never loses confidence; he never hangs his head. It is a sign of a guy with ultimate confidence in his ability and the awareness that it is one of those nights.

“He is likely to come out tomorrow and make about seven in a row at some point. So that’s what I love about Steph. He keeps playing.”