Is that too ham-handed a pun for the title? Oh well.
On Wednesday, I drove about four hours south of Lincoln to visit the home of the storied Wichita State baseball team. Literally built from the ground up by current head coach Gene Stephenson, the Shocker baseball program has graduated many recognizable names in baseball: Casey Blake, Joe Carter, Darren Dreifort, Braden Looper, Doug Mirabelli, Mike Pelfrey, Nate Robertson, and Eric Wedge. They won the national title in 1989, just over a decade after the founding of the baseball program in the late 70s.
Eck Stadium is the home of Shocker baseball, and I've got to say, I was impressed. It's a nice facility -- awful astroturf infield notwithstanding -- and it just feels like a college park. There were plenty of WSU students around the park, even though it was a chilly 50 at game time.
The most interesting thing about Eck Stadium, though, is the beer policy. Coming from Nebraska where both Haymarket and Rosenblatt are dry stadiums, it was a shock to see beer stands set up at a college park. Not only could you buy a brew from the concession stand up until the end of the game, if you had a $5 outfield berm ticket, you could bring your own cooler. That's right, for $5 you can bring a cooler full of your favorite brew, sit on the grass and watch a baseball game. If they had that policy at Nebraska, Haymarket's berm section would be packed with half-drunk college kids every game.
There was a drawback to the loose alcohol policy, though. Unlike the vast majority of college games I've been to, there were a decent number of people in the crowd that were heckling the students on the field. A couple idiots to my left were getting so bad that a cop had to come and threaten them with ejection if they didn't shut up. All things being equal, I think I'd rather catch a game at a beer-free college park than one that serves. There are plenty of minor and major league games I can attend and have a frosty one; I'd rather not see these kids on the field get heckled brutally by an intoxicated dumbass. If you're getting paid to play, you're a legitimate target. Student-athletes? Nope.
Anyway, as for the game itself... Drew Bowman got the start for the Huskers, and pitched very well. He gave Nebraska 5 2/3 innings pitched with only 6 hits, 1 run, 1 walk and 3 strikeouts.
Matt Foust then came in to relieve him, and continued the Husker pitching excellence. In an inning and a third, he gave up only one hit and struck out one.
Nebraska entered the bottom of the eighth inning with a 3-1, but then... everything fell apart as Mike Anderson felt a need to give the massively struggling Charlie Shirek an opportunity. Shirek gave up one run, but left two baserunners for Zach Herr (pictured on the left), who struck out the only batter he faced for the first out in the inning.
Anderson lifted Herr and replaced him with Erik Bird, who has yet to show this season that he remembers how to pitch. After all was said and done, Wichita State scored four runs to take a 5-3 lead.
Two of the Shocker runs were scored by 3B Conor Gillaspie, who went 2-for-4 against Nebraska to improve his average to .338 on the year. Gillaspie is a native of Elkhorn, Neb., and while I'm not concerned that the Huskers didn't show interest in signing him, it hurts when a Nebraskan is a key factor in a Husker loss.
After taking such a promising start to the game, the mismanagement of the bullpen by Mike Anderson let a quality win slip away. Using arguably the two least effective pitchers on the staff in the late innings of a game you're leading on the road... well, that's just not smart.
So, the Huskers left Wichita with a 20-13 record, continuing to slide down to what could be their worst season in a decade.