Is Rob Mullens on the Warning Track?

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Editorials

In a spring in which two Oregon teams are contending for national championships in the next two weeks (Women’s Track & Field and Softball), it would appear odd that I call out Rob Mullens on his questionable decisions concerning another program. In baseball, you have a warning track to let you know you might be in danger, and I can’t help but wonder if Mullens is hitting that track before the wall.

This is a tough subject and, for some of us, a highly sensitive one, as we love Oregon Baseball and want more from it. Is Rob Mullens on the right course? I am really curious for feedback on what I am presenting, as my primary feeling is that baseball should remain at Oregon. But in what way?

As Austin Meek of the Register-Guard and members of the Duck Territory message board have noted, attendance for baseball is down 60% since 2009, and is the worst since the program began. I can speak for many when I say that I am sick of small ball, poor hitting and freezing my butt off in the stands. When you add a losing record (26-29) and two losses to a 23-30 University of Portland Pilot team, you have the components of a stalled program—one that draws more apathy than interest.

George Horton

The reverse is possible. Softball has twice the attendance as Baseball, and the Beavers had an incredible 11,252 show up for the three-game Civil War baseball series in Corvallis/Mayberry, for crying out loud! This state will support an entertaining and winning Oregon Baseball team and PK Park is a wonderful place to watch a game … if we have a team that is worth watching.

George Horton’s teams usually have great pitching, lousy hitting and play small ball. The current Diamond Ducks’ pitching has declined badly (gave up 37 runs in three games to UCLA!) and, yet, the other two boring trademarks of a Horton team remain.

And I still freeze my butt off going to games.

The solution from Rob Mullens was to give Horton less money for this season and next season and to add an option on 2020 with a $500,000 buyout if we fire Horton (??). The whispers I’ve heard are that Mullens did not feel that the coaches interested in Oregon, or those whom Mullens could woo to Eugene, were an improvement on Horton. And George has promised to move the fences closer this year and has a good recruiting year to supplement a core of promising young players.

Are you buying it?

This program has been on the decline for five years and we fans could all see it happening. The ol’ baseball guys I talk to tell me that the “Horton magic” in recruiting SoCal players is gone. The word is out that hitters can’t hit in PK Park (the cold heavy air) and that Horton calls every swing for you. Noted Oregon Baseball analyst Gar Pearson explained that, on a cold day, a hitter will have stinging hands as he runs to first base from the temperature and aluminum bats and that hitters do not want to come north anymore.

At one point in April, Oregon hitters had 10 home runs at away games and only one at PK Park. We call these clues …

Something has to be done to offset these disadvantages, and moving up the fence is a good start. However, they hit superbly 40 miles up the road, and worse yet, five hours north in Seattle. There, fans see cold-weather baseball doing quite well, as the bastard Huskies have passed Oregon and finished in third place in the Pac-12. Think about it—two of the top three Pac-12 teams are cold-weather teams. Not only can it be done in Eugene, it should, with our facilities and a fan base longing for exciting baseball. If there was ever a program that could get jump-started in a hurry, Oregon Baseball is that program.

What would Rob Mullens have done with Rich Brooks?

A baseball insider who truly knows the situation up close has complained to me about how,

“George doesn’t try hard enough to get cold-weather hitters from the northwest.”

Yet another explained to me that the good ones go to Corvallis/Mayberry, and that, now, Washington has emerged to take the next tier of NW players. Lovely.

FishDuck Feedback …

The baseball benefactors who brought the program back will need to help out again to revive it and take the next step. There are plenty of young coaches who will outwork Pac-12 rivals in recruiting in a Cristobal-esque fashion. These coaches currently reside at a less funded programs and would be interested in the high upside that is the potential of Oregon Baseball. (Didn’t Coastal Carolina win the NC recently? Good coaches at smaller programs are out there …).

Fans have to bring their full football warmth gear for baseball … even in May. Sit in the section behind home plate and you have the north wind blowing down your neck, and you do not have the same constant activity that you do in a football game. This brutal, penetrating moist Oregon cold is tough on fans, especially on the old farts like me who like to attend. For crying out loud, Oregon—fix it!

Figure out some way to block that terrible north wind that chills fans to the bone and use some innovation to create some warmth for the fans. Consult with other cold-weather teams?

Do some marketing in the community when a new coach arrives and acknowledge, even embrace, the cold temperature. Make it a macho thing—the “Green Badge of Courage” for those attending and supporting Oregon Baseball—as it does take a tough fan to endure three hours in the cold.

Cole Irvin loved the atmosphere of a big crowd—let’s get them back!

And give us something to cheer about!

Hire a coach who can follow the blueprint of other successful cold-weather teams and has the energy to kill it on the recruiting trail. Move those fences up and determine a strategy to help the hitters overcome the cold. Make PK Park an advantage for our beloved Ducks.

Has Mullens Mucked this Up?

What do you think Mullens should be doing here? Should 500K be spent on a buyout and more on a new coach immediately? How will the team do next year with a lame-duck coach?

I think Rob Mullens has done well with some of his hires, but I question his judgment last year and in previous years for letting baseball slide without acting decisively, as he has with other mediocre Oregon programs in the past.

What should his next move be?

Charles Fischer    (FishDuck)
Eugene, Oregon

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