Whether you really think about it or not, Southern California's baseball dynasty is as opulent as the New York Yankees, the Dallas Cowboys, and Manchester United. Like all of those teams I just listed, it's been a minute since the Trojans have won a National Championship (1998)–or even made the College World Series (2001). That may not seem like that big of a deal for most programs, but for them, you could consider it a serious drought. Despite that, the Trojans are arguably the college baseball team, and a record 12 National Championships sure as hell demands a lot of respect as they'll roll into Fort Worth this weekend.
In honor of this, we sat down Cooper Perkins, play-by-play man for USC Athletics, to discuss this weekend's series, among many other wonderful things. Give Cooper some love on Twitter and thank him for stopping by Frogs o' War.
First off, thanks for doing this. I got to go see the TCU-USC matchup last year-we lost 7-6, maybe on a bad call. But then again, that's just how baseball go. That being said, I really loved the campus. For those who've never on USC's campus, the field is adjacent to the rec area. Plus, you can drink there if I remember correctly... With those lovely things in mind, what's the relationship with baseball and the school? USC obviously has a rich history, but is it mostly geezers going to the games or are students really into them as well?
It's funny that you mention the drinking bit because that's actually a huge item of importance in getting people out to games. It's the only USC sporting event, including football, that sells beer and wine on site...they actually tried to take that part go away a few years back and saw the attendance plummet. Students have started to turn out more consistently, especially on Fridays, since the athletic department has made an active effort to promote and market the games with free food and clothing giveaways.
It also helps to have the program back on the map to some extent since the last 8-10 years have been brutal. In terms of the overall relationship, baseball has kind of become an ugly stepsister of sorts when you look around campus. Despite the 12 national titles, only one of those has come in the last 20 years and last season was the team's first NCAA tourney appearance in a decade, so it's a process of building interest around the program all over again. Around these parts, football is king and the basketball program is on the rise, but marquee baseball matchups on campus like Mississippi State last weekend and even TCU & Vandy last season spike attendance.
David Oppenheim is crushing the ball and Jeremy Martinez seems like a big threat as well, who should the Frogs be worried about, and why, when they're facing the Trojan offense?
Oppenheim has been absolutely raking this season and that about fits his profile. He's a really mature hitter with excellent bat control and a strong sense of his approach; that's really shown up lately as he's gone 11/18 in his last four games and cemented himself as a table setter at the top of the order after starting the season towards the back half of the middle. Martinez is a little bit different in the sense that he is consistently the most difficult out in the lineup. His command of the strike zone is extraordinarily advanced and that shows up in the way he battles at bats and puts the ball in play. Jeremy actually still has yet to strikeout this season in just a shade under 50 plate appearances. The player who probably presents the source of greatest trepidation for the Frogs is Timmy Robinson in the middle. He had a breakout season a year ago and is just starting to round into form after a slow start that stemmed from a lingering elbow issue. He's been confined to a DH role to this point, but we may see him back out in center this weekend. When he's seeing the ball well like last weekend against Mississippi State, his power is really impressive.
What about the pitching? I'm a big fan of Kyle Davis, and I don't think we'll see mid-week starter, CJ Stubbs, so aside from Davis, who gives USC the best chance of winning this weekend?
It'll be interesting to see if we get our first look at Mitch Hart this weekend, who's a returning Freshman All-American. He's had a little bit of arm trouble and as a result they've been cautious in working him back, but about two weeks ago Coach Hubbs said they'd be looking to work him back in a few weeks down the road.
That timeline would project Saturday as perhaps a chance for his first start, in which case he's unquestionably the second best pitcher on the staff. As a freshman, he struggled at times with his control and can see walks pile up, but there are games where he is virtually unhittable. Whether or not he pitches is a big question mark and could have a heavy influence on the series.
To this point the other two starters, Bernardo Flores and Brent Wheatley, have been a mixed bag. Flores has tremendous arm talent and can get it up there in the hurry, but hasn't been able to throw the ball by guys this year. Wheatley started as the Saturday starter, but flipped to Sunday after opening weekend and has been really impressive in that slot. Wheatley's a mature pitcher who is pretty well-regarded among scouts and has a solid mix that can get outs. Like Hart, his success is directly related to his ability to throw strikes and get ahead in counts.
We talked about USC's rich history. You could make the case for either Rod Dedeaux, Skip Bertman, and Augie Garrido as the best college coach ever. Sell us on Dedeaux.
I have a tremendous admiration for Augie Garrido personally, but with respect to Augie, Dedeaux's influence on college baseball is borderline foundational considering both his history as an elite winner and an incredible talent developer. The same could be said for both Bertman and Garrido, but to win five consecutive National Championships in any sport is a tremendous feat, especially baseball where the next best showing is two titles in a row.
What is unique about Rod is that a good chunk of his legacy actually transcends College Baseball in the respect that he was a tremendous advocate for baseball internationally. He played an integral role in bringing the sport to the Olympics back in ‘84 and spent a lot of time growing the sport in Japan throughout his career. I feel like the way Hall of Fame sportswriter Jim Murray summarized his legacy so well when he argued that, despite the fact that Rod only made four plate appearances in the big leagues, his impact on the sport as an ambassador of the game and major league talent developer might be enough to warrant a spot in the MLB Hall of Fame.
The Trojans have also produced names like Mark McGwire, Randy Johnson, and one of my favorite players of all time, Barry Zito (the Zeets as I call him). Do you have a favorite?
Don't forget Tom Seaver on that list! Personally, I'm a huge Mark Prior fan. They named the bullpen after him at Dedeaux field a few years back, which illustrates some of the respect he holds within the program. He was incredible in his time at SC and it's a shame that he had some of the injury issues that he did in the big leagues. As a collegiate, though, Prior was probably the most electric arm and advanced pitcher that's come through the program, Johnson included. Believe it or not, when they were teammates, McGwire was actually a better collegiate pitcher than the Big Unit, but obviously Randy put it all together eventually to end up in the Hall of Fame.
Is there a perception of TCU out west? Baseball, or otherwise? Can anyone find Fort Worth on a map now?
It seems like there has been a rising interest among some high school students in California with respect to looking at TCU. I think the success the university has had athletically has been a huge influence in helping build that national interest. At least around SC, the respect is pretty notable since every time the head coaching position opens up (which feels like every 5 or so games), Gary Patterson seems to be a popular choice among Trojan fans. With respect to baseball, involved fans certainly watch Big-12 ball from a distance and are aware of the success the Frogs have had, but, generally speaking, Pac-12 fans are somewhat isolated in where they allocate their attention.
How do the Trojans win this series? How do they lose it?
Hitting with runners in scoring position will make or break this team over the course of the season, this weekend especially. They've made a nasty habit of piling up hits and baserunners, only to strand them on the basepaths. The guys are aware of it and they're working to resolve the issue, but in a season where eight of their first ten games have been decided by a single run, leaving as many runners on base as they have to this point is a borderline death sentence.
Kanye or Kendrick?
Bless you. (For the record I like them both a lot). How do y'all finish in football next year?
The way the schedule shakes out makes things tough. If things go well, 9-3; if it all goes sideways, 6-6. My guess is 8-4 will be where they end up, but take that conservatively since I've never been much of an SC football optimist.
Complete this sentence: (Blank) is the coolest person of all-time?