College World Series: It's still fun and games as Arizona baseball settles in to Omaha
OMAHA, Nebraska — The Arizona baseball team has done plenty of sightseeing over the past few weeks.
The Wildcats explored waterfalls in Hawaii as they ended the regular season with a sweep over the Rainbow Warriors.
Next, they took in the Bayou and all its offerings in a rain-soaked regional that concluded with Arizona winning two straight elimination games over host Louisiana-Lafayette.
Then came the mundane window views of a six-hour bus ride from Lafayette to Starkville, Mississippi. Arizona abruptly ended its tour of the South with a comeback victory over the Mississippi State Bulldogs in Game 2 of the Super Regional, sending the Wildcats back home to Tucson before arriving at their final destination: Omaha, Nebraska.
On Thursday afternoon, the team’s charter jet landed in Omaha for the College World Series, where the team was welcomed with a tour of TD Ameritrade Park.
It was at TD Ameritrade, the mecca of college baseball, where the Wildcats at last stumbled upon a view that filled their young minds with wonder and awe.
“Dude, they have outlets in the lockers here,” Sawyer Gieseske told his teammates.
iPhones and Androids came out. Everyone had to document the happenings to their Snapchat stories. Film tape and fungo bats could hold off, for a minute.
“For them to walk in, get their phones out, do their snapchat and all that stuff, it was pretty awesome,” Arizona head coach Jay Johnson said.
The team’s tour of TD Ameritrade served a larger purpose, of course. The Wildcats got to view the diameters of the field close up, take in its massive size (the park has a seating capacity of 24,000 people) and walk the same turf that the 2012 Arizona team stomped over in route to a national title.
“We’re all in awe,” JJ Matijevic said. “How amazing it is, how beautiful it is. We’re all pretty excited.”
Arizona’s excitement was matched with a level of calmness once the team began its first practice.
Nothing different stood out about the team’s routine other than that some local kids were invited to shag fly balls during batting practice.
“One thing these guys should be very comfortable with is travel,” Johnson said. “We’ve been on the road five weekends in a row.”
Johnson said that he has yet to decide who will start on the mound for Arizona’s Saturday evening game against Miami.
Nathan Bannister and Bobby Dalbec have been Arizona’s rocks on the diamond thus far this postseason.
Dalbec threw 8 2/3 innings in Game 1 of the Super Regionals, a 1-0 Arizona victory. Bannister, the senior right hander, tossed 14 innings in Regional play, leading the Wildcats to a pair of wins.
Whether it’s Dalbec or Bannister on the mound Saturday night, Johnson expressed confidence that the Wildcats will have plenty of ammunition in store.
“What’s nice about this particular game is that we do have a lot of options. In the regional and the (Super Regional) in Starkville, that wasn’t the case,” Johnson said. “It’s nice to allow these guys a week of rest. They’ve all gotten a bullpen or two and several guys will be ready to go.”
Arizona relied on four relievers in its Game 2 Super Regional victory over Mississippi State, with Cameron Ming eventually earning the win. So far this postseason, the UA’s bullpen carries a 2.25 ERA.
The pitching staff took in some reps Thursday afternoon, and Johnson said that the pitchers will get some more throwing in on Friday when the team holds an open practice at TD Ameritrade. The practice takes place from 10:10-11:00 a.m. MST.
Opening pitch for Saturday’s game against Miami is slated for 5:00 p.m. MST.
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