Before many of you pop a vein from what you are about to read - do check our new change of Editorial policy. We are not always going to sprinkle our articles with good fairy dust, but you can rest assured that we will continue to “love to learn about our beloved Ducks!” Charles Fischer
Remember the promises after last year’s baseball season? We read how Oregon Head Baseball Coach George Horton was going to reappraise and examine every part of how Oregon Baseball is being coached, and put new procedures in place to expedite change within the program.
For those of us who have watched for many years, the needed changes were very obvious. Oregon has been known for great fielding, superb pitching and below-average batting. Last year was not the norm as the Ducks struggled on the mound at times due to injuries, and the fielding issues were simply a one year aberration.
Even with the slow start, the team went on a great tear at the end of the 2015 season and were quite entertaining to watch, despite not progressing to greater NCAA tournament success as many would have liked. The Ducks’ batting, however, remained sub-par throughout this late run.
If Oregon is going to challenge the Beavers for the conference crown, changes must be made to improve the offense. Oregon State plays a lot of small-ball as the Ducks do, and the Beavers have superb pitching as Oregon does, but OSU is as consistently outstanding at the plate while Oregon is consistently below-average, and we see this every year.
I understand that Horton wants to wear down the opposing pitcher with higher pitch counts to get the starter out of the game … but Oregon must set some kind of world record for strikes taken with a bat on the shoulder. As a fan, it has been frustrating seeing an Oregon batter take strike three while watching a hit-able pitch whiz past.
So my curiosity was naturally heightened going into this season after Horton’s bold statements at the end of the 2015 campaign. George hired a hitting coach from Arizona years back (who has moved on) who set all kinds of records in Tucson, yet nothing changed in Eugene. Horton controls every pitch made and every swing taken by the batters, and it seems he is locked into his MO and cannot digest doing anything dramatically different after all these years. So I could not wait to see the Ducks in person this last weekend to witness the transformation!
Don’t hold your breath.
It sure looked like the same-old, same-old to me. Oregon has great pitching, good fielding with a bunch of newbies, and below-average batting, again. At first it was disappointing, but as the recent football season taught us, things can change on you in a hurry, and you better appreciate the superb entertainment you have while it’s there.
Horton is a terrific recruiter and brings talent to Eugene that amazes me, and while my beloved Ducks may not challenge for the College World Series every year, they are still one of the best in college baseball and entertaining as hell to watch. Once I got over my initial disappointment with the hitting, I got into the game and realized I still love what coach Horton brings to this state; the epitome of “small-ball” as we try to guess in the stands which small-ball strategy he will call next.
You have to be thrilled watching these lefty pitchers mow down the batters to create a ton of short innings, and while the fielding is not perfect … it is pretty darned impressive at times. That throw by Jakob Goldfarb from right field to the plate on Sunday was simply astounding; it was a major-major league throw, and the play wasn’t even close. The tag was made well in front of home plate! The crowd just went bonkers, and all I could say was, “You gotta be kidding me!” Un-fricken-believable.
Everybody is glued to the mound on any pitch from closer Stephen Nogosek; I was stunned at the nasty movement on one that created a complete whiff by the Redbird batter. I turned to Editor-in-Chief Dano Dunn to bluster about that filthy pitch I just witnessed, and he just gave me an all-knowing smirk with a twinkle in his eye. He knows Nogosek is filthy and is an athlete to appreciate and treasure during his time in Eugene.
Further, lightning can strike in a bottle as deliberate small-ball teams can and do win the National Championship. UCLA won the College World Series in 2013, and Horton himself did it at Cal State Fullerton in 2004. Could this be the year for the Ducks? The talent is certainly in place.
Ultimately, while I did not see the changes in the Ducks’ hitting approach that I longed to see last weekend, I did watch a game that was great fun. Oregon baseball consistently provides inexpensive entertainment for all fans, and as always, a whole lot of winning!
My feathered friends: Duck Baseball is something you don’t want to miss. Despite the frustrations at the plate, we do have something special on the diamond in Eugene. We get to see a talented squad playing a very unique style that produces a lot of wins. All in all, I can’t complain (too much).
Charles Fischer (FishDuck)
Featured Photo by Dave Peaks