Beavers' run powered by local guys
OMAHA, Neb. - Much was made last week of Oregon State's ascension to the College World Series championship despite the school's location in rain country on the upper corner of the Left Coast. Most of coach Pat Casey's squad is from Oregon or Washington, and Casey's ability to convince Northwest kids they could reach the pinnacle of college baseball while playing for the Beavers has been a key to the program's success.
'The heart and soul of most clubs is the recruiting they do from their state,' Casey says. 'There are probably more people who live in San Diego County than live in the entire Northwest, so we have fewer choices. To have the guys represent the Northwest is really special for me, and knowing they have such pride in our area. We're fortunate so many good kids decided to stick around.'
Casey tells a story about a recruiting trip to the home of OSU shortstop Darwin Barney, then a star at Southridge High.
'I went into his living room and told him, 'You know, we can win a Pac-10 championship,' ' Casey recalls. 'The other day, I asked Darwin, 'What did you think when I told you that?' He said, 'I thought you were full of crap. But I was coming anyway, coach.' '
• One of the disadvantages Northwest schools face is having to play the early part of their schedule on the road, usually in California or Arizona, because of the weather. Southern schools typically have been able to start seasons much earlier and find a midseason groove sooner. That will change in 2008, when an NCAA rule change sets the third Thursday in February as the earliest a team can play a game.
• A few months ago, Chris Kunda couldn't have expected more than a bit role as a defensive specialist this season. His climb up the ranks at Oregon State - starting at second base, earning Pac-10 defensive player of the year honors, reigning as MVP of the Corvallis regional - culminated with being selected by the New York Yankees in the 19th round of the major league draft.
'I was sitting on my couch, watching TV and listening to the draft on my computer,' says the senior from Philomath. 'Hearing my name announced was pretty cool. That's one of those moments I'll remember the rest of my life.'
Kunda soon will be headed for the Yankees' spring training facility in Tampa, Fla., where he will begin his career with the organization's Rookie League team. 'They told me I'd start there, and depending on how things go, they might move me up to their single-A team in Staten Island (N.Y.),' he says.
• The most productive bat in the Oregon State lineup at the CWS was ignored in the draft, but he'll soon get his opportunity to show what he can do in the pros.
Senior first baseman Bill Rowe, an Ashland High grad who played his first three years at Cal Santa Barbara before transferring to OSU this year, will sign a free-agent contract with Milwaukee and be assigned to the Brewers' Class A team in Helena, Mont. The 6-3, 230-pound Rowe - 11 for 24 (.458) with eight RBIs in the Beavers' first seven CWS games - will be a teammate of OSU first baseman Cole Gillespie at Helena.
'I knew it was a long shot to get drafted, being a senior and not having a very good junior year,' says Rowe, who hit .235 at UCSB last season. Rowe is hitting .345 with six homers and 56 RBIs for the Beavers and went into Monday's championship game as a bona fide candidate for CWS Most Valuable Player.
• Each day during the CWS, the Omaha World-Herald printed a Q and A with four players from competing teams. One day, the players were asked to name their boyhood heroes. One player named Superman, another Mickey Mantle. OSU catcher Mitch Canham singled out his father, Mark.
Mitch's mother, Kimi Canham, died in 2003 at age 40 of a drug overdose. Mark Canham was the rock in his son's life.
'My dad pushed me down the right path in life,' says the redshirt sophomore from Lake Stevens, Wash. 'Any time I needed anything, he was the one who came through, nobody else. I learned an awful lot from him.'
Mitch's brother, Dustin, is in the Marines. Mark Canham says it is possible Dustin will be called for duty in Iraq.
'The greatest tribute I get as a father is the compliments I receive about Mitch and Dustin as people,' says Mark Canham, who watched every game wearing an orange OSU jersey with 'Canham, 11' on the back. 'I've done my job. But what am I going to do after this? I mean, how do you beat having a son in the College World Series?'
• Mitch Canham is one of nine Beavers taken in the MLB draft, going in the 41st round to St. Louis. The 6-2, 210-pound Canham let scouts know it would require third- or fourth-round money for him to sign, and he says odds are 'pretty high' he will be back at Oregon State next year. He will play in the Cape Cod Amateur League this summer along with OSU teammates Joe Paterson, Mike Stutes, Eddie Kunz and Barney - if the last doesn't make the national team.
'If they play well enough, maybe (the Cardinals) will put me in there with the third- and fourth-round guys and offer me what I deserve,' Canham says. 'But I'm pretty much looking forward to next year and coming back to Omaha with the Beavers.'
• Oregon State coaches aren't sure how the Beavers' long CWS run will affect Barney's bid to make the 22-man U.S. national team, but they do know he has not been excluded. Tryouts for many of the 36 candidates took place in Hartford, Conn., the past week, with exhibition games against teams from the New England Collegiate League.
OSU assistant coach Marty Lees spoke to Eric Campbell of Team USA baseball operations.
'He said, 'I don't even want to talk to you about it right now. I want you to win a national championship; then we'll talk,' ' Lees says. 'They've been gracious enough to let us concentrate on Oregon State baseball for now.'
Barney will fly to Hartford midweek.
• Not all the 2,000 or so Oregon State fans who made the trip to Omaha went via jet. Retired Portlander Bill Wallin, a former head coach at Hillsboro High and assistant at the University of Portland and Linfield, drove by himself, making the trip in 24 hours over three days. Wallin, a baseball junkie, watched all 15 CWS games after getting a season ticket from a friend.
'I've always wanted to go to the College World Series,' says Wallin, 65. 'Figured I better get back here one time before I kick it. It's been everything I hoped it would be and more. It's a big-time event. There's an atmosphere here that can't be surpassed.
'The baseball has been great,' says Wallin, who stayed at a KOA campground for the 10 days he was in Omaha. 'And what a tremendous job by the Beavers, especially by their pitchers. It's so much fun watching these guys I saw play in high school.'