Moved from the diaries...
Thanks for the time Rich Price and thanks to JQ for the writeup
Today I met with Ritch Price, head coach of the KU baseball team to gather the information I'll need while writing the season preview pieces. I hope to have the first posted sometime next week.
First off, tip of the cap to Coach Price. He set aside about half an hour for our talk. He was friendly, interested in the blog, and entirely forthcoming in his comments. He's a good guy. He knows his players well and was fully aware that baseball was only one area of their lives. I did not get the sense that this was a man who would put wins over what was best for his players. Whenever we talked about a player who had left the team early to play professionally, on another team, or just to concentrate on his studies, Price consistently supported the players' individual decisions.
In addition to talking about specific players and what roles they will fill next year we spoke about some of the more general topics which have come up in the Baseball 101 series.
Like many, Price thought the relatively low percentage of minority players in college baseball was "a huge concern" and a great topic for discussion. He believes much of the problem lay in there being too few scholarships, but also pointed out that less than 5% of black athletes today play baseball. Increasing the number of baseball scholarships would be part of the solution, but the second part, rebuilding the baseball infrastructure in urban centers, will be much more difficult to address. The 2007 Jayhawk roster will be more diverse than earlier years with three incoming Hispanic players. Price was very open to having two-sport athletes on the team. He mentioned Charles Gordon in particular as a player who he thought had the ability to play baseball at the highest level.
Price, as is true of all people of good character, hates aluminum bats. When asked about replacing metal with wood he said, "I would be a huge fan of that." He suggested Major League Baseball would benefit by supplementing college teams to help off-set the additional costs of wooden bats. He knows scouts have trouble evaluating college talent using metal bats, and that mistakes made in these evaluations can cost a team millions.
The talk of eliminating the use of aluminum bats and increasing the number of scholarships available to baseball led to him exploring the idea of Div-I baseball breaking into two levels, similar to NCAA football programs. D-IA schools could use wooden bats and increase their scholarships to the 18-22 level, while D-IAA schools could continue with the current policies. As mentioned in earlier articles, the level of play in the top conferences is vastly superior to that in the lower conferences. Two levels of D-I baseball already exist in practice, if not in reality. While there is no serious talk of instituting this plan, it seemed to make a lot of sense in his office this afternoon.
Price was also divided about the new NCAA scheduling rules. Effective in 2008 NCAA schools will not be able to play games prior to the third weekend of February. While this change should help cold weather schools such as Kansas, it also will shorten the season by three weeks. In the past KU has used those extra weeks to visit California and the South East to pick up games against some of the best programs. With the shortened season it will be much harder for KU to schedule non-regional games. Already this has resulted in the cancellation of the KU @ Clemson series and may cause the KU @ Stanford series to conclude after 2007. Unlike schools in California and Texas, KU has few non-conference top tier programs located within driving distance of Lawrence. This makes it hard to schedule non-conference games against high RPI rated opponents. Only Wichita State, Missouri State and Creighton are within driving distance of KU. It is not realistic to schedule weekday games with schools that are out of the region as it would require the players to miss two or three days of classes. Weekdays off-campus are hard on the players academically - the NCAA only allows 10 days of missed classes to be included in the schedule. So unless more competitive programs grow in the area, KU's schedule will likely be weaker after this year. This is just a geographic reality. Hopefully it will not hold the team back. Being in the Big-12 KU is already guaranteed a minimum of 27 tough games a year.
Price was very optimistic about the direction of the program. With the most recent donation of $600,000 from an anonymous donor KU will be able to add a new team clubhouse to their other recent upgrades (indoor batting facility and stadium modernization). Price explained that talented players will be easier to recruit as KU continues to upgrade the facilities to a level comparable to the conference's traditional powerhouses. While I am not at all sure that the team will be able to repeat their success of last year in 2007 (given the huge degree of talent attrition to graduation and the draft), everything about the program has an optimistic feel to it.
I'll write up the last chapter of the Baseball 101 series and start on the season preview pieces as soon as time permits. My goal is to have them all posted before first pitch in Hawaii.
Remember, only 21 days until the start of the season @ Hawaii-Hilo, and 29 until Opening Day at Hoglund Park (Feb. 9, 3PM vs. South Dakota State).