Call me old school, but this guy's not right

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Man, what a season it was. I hope it wasn't my last one.

When Jack McDonald asked me to throw out the first pitch of the 2006 Nevada Griffons baseball season, little did I know that the team was about to embark upon its worst journey ever in a 22-year existence. I think my pitch, which bounced about half way from the pitcher's mound to the plate, was a harbinger of things to come.

Now don't get me wrong, manager John Hill III is a great guy. A nicer fellow you'd be hard-pressed to meet. However, John and I are of different generations. My Baseball 101 was Old School. Hill matriculated at the New School. And, as has often been said, never the twain shall meet. At that, these Griffons, selected and drafted by Hill, established a season record for losses with 30. That's three more than they lost in their inaugural campaign, the only other time they failed to reach the .500 marker. This time they had the benefit of the NBC World Series at the end, so in the regular campaign they beat their loss record by one.

Let me tell you about 2006, and what I see as having gone wrong from the start. It was not one big thing as much as a combination of little things that offset the talent.

To me, winning is a mindset, an attitude. That attitude was nowhere near the team that inhabited Lyons Stadium this summer.

Here is what Hill himself said to Daily Mail Sports Editor Joe Warren about the loss record. "I don't put much into that." Huh?

There was always talk that one game or another wasn't important because it was non-league. So, they finished dead last in the league. Nevertheless, they are all important. That's why they keep score. The object is to win. If you lose those games and don't care, pretty soon you'll start losing the others as well. It's a way of thinking. After all you must not forget, this team did set a record for losses in a season. You simply can't turn it on and off at will, like a spigot. The will to win must always be there.

If you don't know what I go through every time the team loses, ask McDonald or someone in the press box. I guess Jack figures I'm going to either stroke out or have a heart attack. Well, I guess I might if I see many more bases on balls.

And Hill didn't want to take on any additional players for the NBC World Series because he wanted to go with his own players all the way. This is OK, but I can tell you without naming anyone that there are often two, sometimes more players on the field who are not up to Jayhawk League standards. All you have to do is look at the statistics and they will bear out this undeniable fact.

Forget that. Extra bats mean more opportunities for managerial moves. Like when Hill removes the team's best hitter, left-handed Matt Wagner, after a leadoff seventh inning single with his team trailing by three runs. Boom, comes the next inning. Bases loaded, one out. The guy batting in Wagner's position in the order is right-handed with an average looking up at the Mendoza line, facing a right-handed pitcher. He lined into an inning-ending double play. There wasn't even a pinch hitter on the bench. Oh, I forgot. Hill doesn't use pinch hitters and apparently has never heard of the left-right percentage moves managers have been using for more than 100 years. Why? Because they work.

We are Nevada and have pride in our name. This team represents Nevada. It is all we have. Hill goes off somewhere else when the season is over. It's his job to take pride in Nevada when he is here, living here with the players who are at least temporary Nevadans.

This team was deficient defensively at several positions, which didn't make up for good fielding at others. If one man makes a great play and the next guy throws the ball away or kicks it, you've gained nothing. I saw team after team getting extra outs this year. That beats you every time.

This team was also guilty of base running blunders galore that cost them a minimum of three games. They consistently outhit opponents and left baserunners stranded all over the place. When the need for pinch-hitters cried out, Hill sat on his hands and let what he had fail. Pinch-hitting, like relief pitching, is part of the game. It is called strategy, which should have nothing to do with self-esteem, and didn't in my old world.

If the players didn't know what to do, why didn't they go out and hold meetings and practice or work out instead of sleeping in? Someone said the players were tired after playing every day. Hey, wake up, it's baseball! Sure, I'd be tired after playing a couple days in a row, but I am 59 years old. These are kids. And kids will be kids if you let them be. They were plenty energetic enough to party all night after losing a lot of those games. They didn't get up to at least work out because the manager and his coach didn't want to get up, either. And then it took them more than half a season to show any improvement. A lot of major league teams demand more discipline than that from professionals, who certainly know better.

I could go on all day, but my space does have limitations. I must mention that in two years, the Griffons have lost 56 games under Hill. The most ever. This was Hill's team. He handled the recruiting. Make your own judgments. One Nevadan, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions, said to me of Hill, "The guy has presided over some of the biggest embarrassments in Griffons' history." Well, no team has lost more in a two-year span.

Like I said, Hill is a nice guy. Maybe too nice. Remember what Leo Durocher said. And guess who finished last this year. He had not one chance, but two. Nevada deserves better after having supported a team for 22 years. I hope I'll live to see better days.

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