Thursday afternoon, I was lucky enough to get to chat with former Major Leaguer Aaron Boone. If you're from the New England you probably enter a certain expletive between his first and last name because of a quite legendary walk-off home run in the 2003 ALCS against the Boston Red Sox. So what is Aaron Boone liking in the field of 8 this year? And what was it like to play with Derek Jeter? This and more...
I know you played at USC (Southern Cal), do you wanna tell us about your time there?
Aaron Boone: Yeah I grew up wanting to go USC since I was in about 7th grade. So all through junior high and high school that's where I wanted to end up. So to get the realization to go was really a dream for me and I followed my brother (Bret) there...he's four years older than me. So I knew the program really well, I knew Coach Gillespie well, who was the coach at the time.
My experience was amazing. Played on some really good teams with some really great players at a great university that's a big part of my life still. So I had the dream college experience---except for winning a National Championship.
Now did y'all win it the year after y'all left?
AB: What would've been my senior year, they lost in the finals to Fullerton.
AB: My junior year we were ranked Number 1 most of the year, then we lost in the last game at LSU to go to the World Series. Played with five or six big leaguers on our team...it was just a really tight group and it was frustrating we didn't get there, but it was exciting they made it the next year.
You played in the 90s, the game has certainly changed---college at least, and a lot of it is attributed to the bats...
So twenty years later, from your perspective, how do you think the game's changed?
AB: I just missed the burst in the bats when, I think it was 95 through 98 when USC beat Arizona State, that was the four year boost in the bat when the bat could be minus whatever...but when I was there they (the dimensions) where more like what they have been the past few years. So everyone I've talked to, everyone close to the game kinda says that the (BBCOR) bats are less than a good piece of wood. As far as the ability to drive the ball and it's manifested itself in a lack of power in the game and then the stadium (TD Ameritrade in Omaha) coincided in becoming the opposite of Rosenblatt, so you've got the bats being deadened moving into a big yard. It's no surprise it's been a low scoring College World Series as of late and could set even lower scoring records this year.
They started using the BBCOR bats in 2011 and you look at teams like UCLA or South Carolina, do you think it's more the bats or just a shift into a pitcher's game?
AB: I think it's more the bat. That being said, when I'm looking at the Major Leagues now...and I've been out for five years, the power pitching is unlike anything I've ever seen, and I think it trickles down to the College and High School levels. We're at a time where pitching is ahead of the batting, but I think the depression of runs (at the college level) is more to do with the bats, but it's definitely a bit of the pitching being ahead of the curve too.
I was reading something that Jonah Keri wrote on Grantland about the batting averages at the Major Leagues being much lower, but they’re (pro teams) also using more shifts. But like you said, this pitching domination has trickled to the college level, so given that...who are your favorites in the CWS and who should we watch for?
AB: I look at it, I think it's wide open...I really do. 1-8, nothing would surprise me. Across the board, these teams pitch and play defense and TCU arguably does that better than anyone. They've got depth in their starting rotation, they've got a closer and they catch the ball at a high level. When you catch the ball and you can pitch...obviously you're going to be in games. This team's played in close games, so it comes down to "can they execute?" when situations come up. You know, "can they get that key hit?" and if they do, they're going to be difficult to beat.
That being said Virginia, when I look at them, they're talent leaps off the board. They may be the most talented team across the board. But I really look at this and with only two National seeds, I really look at this as wide and I think you're going to see a lot of competitive, low scoring ball games.
Talking about our coach Jim Schlossnagle, he's putting guys like Cashner, Matt Carpenter, and most recently Bryan Holaday at the pro level. As a college coach, what do you think he's doing so well to prepare for TCU players for the next level?
AB: I think it's a feather in his cap certainly. You're looking in the state of Texas, where there's no shortage of talent. When you're in a hotbed like Texas, you're in a good position to recruit a lot of good talent and some diamonds in the rough too.
I think it was this fall you were on Keith Olbermann talking about the Cuban players in the Major Leagues like Yasiel Puig and the good things they're doing coming straight from Cuba, but do you think there's an advantage of staying in college and maybe learning the game there first?
AB: The statistics say there is. But it's something that's a case-by-case basis. For me, coming out of high school there was no way that I was ready for the Majors...but there are kids who are. And now we're at the point where it's life changing money, so there's some advantages coming out of high school, but statistics will show that going to college and refining your game physically, mentally, helps. There are a lot of kids who are physically gifted who aren't ready for minor league baseball and playing every night in po-dunk towns. But it's a case-by-case basis for each kid, each family and each situation.
These guys are in a playoff mode and setting right now, you have experience with that---especially with the Yankees in 2003---what do you think is the difference between a team like Lafayette, who had a great regular season and fell off, versus a team like Texas or UC Irvine, who have been able to do to carry their momentum and exceed expectations?
AB: First and foremost, you've got to have the ability to beat quality teams. But baseball, more than any other sport---except maybe hockey---with series is that anything can happen in a given game. One thing that usually holds true in these games is that the more consistently you pitch and catch the ball, especially in this day in age where the big homers don't always exist or runs are hard to come by, these things give you the best chance to still be standing.
I know you have to leave soon. But Jeter's on his farewell tour; was there anything you got from him during your time with the Yankees?
AB: I would just say, playing with him---he's one of the most confident players I ever played with. He's a superstar, he's the New York Yankees shortstop. Everyone knows who Derek Jeter is, whether you like baseball or not.
He's kind of handled it in the perfect way. I think what really endears him to his peers and people that are fans of the game---there's just a blue-collarness to everything about him. Not to denigrate anyone, but you freakish talents like Barry Bonds or Ken Griffey Jr...these kinds of guys who are just so, so gifted, whereas Jeter, a lot of him was regular, you know? He was just really, really good. There was a blue-collarness to his game that I certainly appreciated, I think his teammates and I think his opponents appreciated.
Do you wanna talk really quick about your stuff with All-State and what you’re doing with them for the College World Series?
AB: This weekend in the first four games of the series, the first foul ball caught in each games, the Good Hands people from Allstate will be there. The fan that catches the first ball will receive a commemorative trophy and a donation will be made in those games and every game thereafter to the Nebraska Boystown, up to ten-thousand dollars...it's just a great cause. Allstate's been involved with the NCAA for a long time and now they're with the College World Series, which I think is a great thing. So tomorrow from 5-6, I'll be there at the Allstate booth singing autographs. Very excited for it.
Lastly---this isn't March Madness, no one really fills out a bracket---but if you did, who do you have circled as your Champion?
AB: Oh man. I'm going to go with TCU.
The readers will love that.
AB: Yeah. I'm going to go with that. In fairness, I haven't seen anyone in person. I look forward to seeing these teams in their workouts; getting to talk with these players and coaches and really just getting a better feel for these teams as a whole.
But right now as I'm arriving, I'll go with TCU based on how they've been playing the past couple of months. The combination of pitching and defense is there.
Well, we hope to prove you right. Can't thank you enough for taking the time to speak with us and have fun in Omaha.
AB: Thank you!