Don't get us wrong, Ole Miss loves itself some football. But in mid-February, as the last reverberations of National Signing Day ripple through the blog sites, and as the rest of the college sports world readies itself for March Madness, Rebel Nation opens its second season: baseball.
Nothing beats the Grove on a fall Saturday, but a warm spring afternoon spent lounging at Swayze Field is an entirely different sort of awesome -- pounding a cooler-full of Natty Lights, accruing a sunburn and berating the poor mother of the opposing right fielder with an exhaustive list of the known synonyms for 'prostitute'.
Let's get this out of the way now: we might just suck this season. This year's Rebel baseball team has hemorrhaged an irreplaceable amount of key contributors from a 2013 squad that was underwhelming to begin with. But that doesn't mean we're declaring a time of death for the 2014 season just yet. A talented recruiting class offers some immediate field treatment, and a cast of experienced role players could help foster an unexpected recovery. Or we could flatline by the second week of SEC play.
Either way, we at the Cup are fired up for another season of Rebel baseball, and we've put together an epic preview to get you prepared as well. There are plenty of big story lines: Is Mike Bianco coaching his final season? Can anybody replace Bobby Wahl at the top of the rotation? Will Yellow Cup finally break into the winner's circle of the Solo Cup Races? We'll touch on all of those, as well as give you projected starters, heckling tips, season predictions and a whole lot more.
Here it is: Red Cup Rebellion's sprawling, gorgeously formatted, alcohol-tinged preview of the 2014 Ole Miss Rebel baseball season. You may want to crack open a beer for this.
Mark your calendar
Feb. 14 Opening Day: Unfortunately, we open on the road against Stetson. Also unfortunate for your significant other: we open on Valentines Day. They'll understand (they absolutely won't).
Feb. 21-23 First home weekend series: Time to get druuuuuuuunk at Swayze.
March 14-16 SEC opener: The Rebs open conference play on the road against South Carolina.
April 8 at Memphis: A great excuse to get drunk at Autozone Park and even drunker on Beale St.
April 11-13 at Mississippi State: The Bulldogs are national championship contenders this year.
April 17-19 vs LSU: A home series against the Tigers is as rowdy as it gets.
April 22 Governor's Cup: Ole Miss and State meet up once more for their annual mid-week game in Pearl, Miss.
May 20-25 SEC Tournament: Played in Hoover, Ala.
May 30 NCAA Tournament begins: /fingerscrossed
June 14-25 College World Series: LULZ
Complete 2014 schedule.
C - Will Allen
1B - Preston Overbey
2B - Dalton Dulin/John Gatlin
3B - Austin Anderson
SS - Errol Robinson
RF - J.B. Woodman
CF - Auston Bousfield
LF - Braxton Lee/Will Jamison
DH - Sikes Orvis
Friday: Chris Ellis
Saturday: Sam Smith
Sunday: Christian Trent
Mid-week: Jacob Waguespack/Cheyne Bickel
Complete 2014 roster.
Who's in, who's out
By Catfish Powe-boy
A brief look at the notable departures and arrivals for the 2014 squad.
Stuart Turner: Last season, Turner led the Rebs in batting average, hits, homers, RBIs and slugging percentage while providing some bad-ass defense behind the plate -- so his third-round selection in the MLB draft was no surprise.
Bobby Wahl: Wahl was the best starting pitcher to come through Oxford since Drew Pomeranz, and his fifth-round draft selection leaves a gaping hole at the top of the rotation.
Mike Mayers: Alas, no more Halloween music on Saturdays. I, for one, hope Mike Myers mask guy keeps creeping people out in left field, just for the hell of it.
Brett Huber: So that's our Nos. 1 and 2 starters from last year gone. Go ahead and toss in the school's all-time saves leader while you're at it.
Andrew Mistone: We'll miss his elite defense at the hot corner, but the biggest blow is losing our weekly excuse to dance to Don Omar.
Tanner Mathis: The King of the Seeing-Eye Single was a dependable leadoff hitter for three seasons and -- thanks to his random bouts of trolling -- was the closest thing this team had to Marshall Henderson.
John Gatlin: Well, these first two aren't exactly new, per se. Gatlin missed his senior year with a foot fracture but returns to the middle-infield mix.
Senquez Golson: After skipping last season to focus on football, 'Quez brings his cornerback speed back to the outfield in Swayze.
J.B. Woodman: The top grab of the Rebs' eighth-ranked recruiting class, the outfielder was rated the 30th-best prospect in the nation by Baseball America and turned down a pro contract with the Mets.
Errol Robinson: The Perfect Game All-American and slick-fielding infielder should see immediate playing time at shortstop.
Colby Bortles: Colby's big bro, Blake, played a little QB for UCF and will be a top-10 pick in the NFL Draft come May. Do a Google Image search for Blake Bortles. You're welcome.
Dalton Dulin: Dulin went in the 36th round of the draft and is expected to push Gatlin for playing time at second. Plus, his dad runs one of the best travel teams in the Mid-South, so ALL THE CROOTS.
By Catfish Powe-boy
Gone are last season's top two hitters, Stuart Turner and Andrew Mistone, who accounted for 27 percent of the Rebels' hits and 30 percent of RBIs all by themselves. But consider that neither of them were expected to make the impact they did at the plate last year. Turner came into 2013 as a mildly-touted first-year JUCO transfer, and Mistone was coming off a .243 season. The fact that they swung so well provides some hope, misplaced as it may be, that players on this year's club can make a similar rise from obscurity.
The strongest candidate for a breakout campaign is senior Austin Anderson, who went on an absolute tear at the dish in the latter part of last season to finish with a .310 average and had just 13 strikeouts in 213 at-bats. His defense at shortstop had more holes than the plot of LOST (18 errors), but a move to third base should cut down on his exposure to the ball.
For the second year in a row, we're hoping senior Will Allen and junior Sikes Orvis can step up to provide the big power numbers. It didn't go so well in 2013 -- the pair combined for just 44 RBIs, had 65 strikeouts and owned the two worst batting averages among the nine starters. Turner's departure moves Allen back behind the plate, where he showcased his pre-pubescent girl arm in 2012. Orvis will rotate between first and designated hitter with Preston Overbey, who is still trying to live up to the hype he arrived in Oxford with three years ago.
Prior to last season, I predicted on this very site that Austin Bousfield would have a breakout year and be named to the All-SEC team. Wrong. Instead, Boz regressed from a .281 average to .253. He's still a hell of a defender in center field, which will keep him in the lineup, but he needs to step it up at the plate as a junior.
Boz will be joined in the outfield by a rotation of junior Will Jamison, JUCO transfer Braxton Lee and highly-touted freshman J.B. Woodman.
Also new to the lineup are freshmen Dalton Dulin and Errol Robinson, who will likely hold down the middle infield, though Dalton may start out splitting time with senior John Gatlin.
All-in-all, the Rebs' opening day lineup could sport as many as four untested bats. Here's to Barney Stinson's "New is Always Better" rule.
By Catfish Powe-boy
Remember that god-awful, skin-tight suit Jim Carrey wore as the Riddler in that mid-90s Batman movie? That's what the Ole Miss pitching staff looks like this year: green and full of question marks.
With last year's top two starters gone, Mike Bianco has to completely retool his rotation. The favorite to be the No. 1 guy is Chris Ellis, a junior right hander who started just two games last season. He was originally expected to be the Sunday starter in 2013, but an early injury and the solid work of Sam Smith relegated him to the bullpen, from which he posted a not-so-hot 5.57 ERA. Smith, another junior righty who was a surprisingly steadying force on Sundays, will likely bump up a day to Saturdays. He has more weekend starts than anyone on the roster, but longevity is a concern -- he qualified for a decision in just four of his 15 starts (3-1) last season and averaged under five innings per outing.
The Sunday spot is up in the air, but it appears JUCO transfer Christian Trent has the inside track. The southpaw went 7-2 at Delgado Community College in New Orleans last year, posting an ERA of 3.26. Sophomore Jacob Waguespack and freshman Cheyne Bickel are also in that conversation, though I think they'll begin the season in mid-week roles.
The bullpen is also in a state of flux, having lost Tanner Bailey and closer Brett Huber. The top arm is expected to be senior Aaron Greenwood, who -- while we're on the subject of Batman villains -- went all Two-Face last season. He was dominant through the front half, then absolutely collapsed down the stretch. By the end, he was blowing a lead nearly every time he took the mound. Also working in middle relief are a pair of lefties in senior Jeremy Massie and sophomore Matt Denny, the latter of which showed real promise last season by posting a 2.14 ERA over 21 mound visits.
Junior Hawtin Buchanan is an intriguing piece of the puzzle. He's of the Kenny Powers, throw the ball faster than f$#k school, with a fastball touching the upper 90s. Two years ago, I thought for sure he was destined for a weekend starting role, but injuries and chronic inaccuracy have limited him to a spot role in the pen. He could land anywhere between the closer role or the Sunday starter, depending on how much his location has improved.
Expect this pitching staff to have a lot of moving pieces during non-conference play as the coaches try to sort out everyone's role.
Hate, hate, hate: How to heckle like a pro
Heckling the other team from the student section is a time-honored tradition at Swayze Field. The Nkemist, one of the most diabolical player haters this side of the (University of) Mississippi, shares some advice for getting under the skin of opponents.
"Real hatin', man, that's like an art form, man. You know, it's like you a born hater." - Ice-T
- Do your homework. Social media is your friend.
- Make it personal. For example, would you want someone talking about your whore mother? No, I didn't think so. But what if they called her by name? "Your mother, Wanda L. Blandweather, is a whore!"
- Less crowded weekday games are great for making sure the opponents hear you.
- There are no rules as long as the security guards aren't paying attention.
- A couple of important things to keep in mind: 1) All of their mothers, sisters, aunties, grandmothers, wives and girlfriends are whores and they need to get out of your lap. 2) Their parents don't love them. This is especially useful when the player is a child of divorce.
- Get some ladies involved. Nothing is more emasculating than a girl criticizing your throwing technique or your sweet Oakley shades.
A 2013 retrospective, or 'The beer showers ain't what they used to be'
By One Man To Beat
William & Mary.
William and F#$*&ng Mary.
That was the end of last season in the first round of the NCAA Tournament -- an eliminating loss at the hands of the TRIBE OF WILLIAM & MARY.
Okay, it's real. It happened. Let's move on. But not before we take one last look back at the season of 2013 to gain perspective on the season ahead.
The 2013 Ole Miss Rebel baseball team (38-24, 15-15) was anchored on the mound by Bobby Wahl (10-0, 2.03) and Mike Mayers (5-6, 2.83), and offensively, Stuart Turner owned the lion's share of output (.374, 5 HR, 51 RBI). Brett Huber notched 12 saves to lead the bullpen and led the team with a Maddux-esque sub-2.00 ERA.
Last year's team left something to be desired, let's be honest. There were fantastic and phenomenal moments to be sure -- that first weekend series win over TCU, a sweep over then top-25 Alabama and a win against No. 2 LSU. Then there was the disappointment of splitting with State and the subsequent rise of Bulldog baseball to a sickening finale in the College World Series. The chance to topple a national seed with the selection of Ole Miss to play at the N.C. State regional, only to trip up against the likes of the aforementioned sons of bitches at W&M.
There was the glory of Turner and Wahl mowing through line-ups with relative ease and then watching in dismay as the bottom of innings were fruitless and full of overly-aggressive base running (looking at you, Cliff Godwin). It was some Sound and Fury bullshit. Fire and Ice. Robert Frost, go smoke your damn pipe and drink scotch. You get the picture.
Leave 'er in, take 'er out: The Mike Bianco debate
By The Ghost of Jay Cutler
When Mike Bianco was hired to be the head coach of the Ole Miss baseball team in 2000 -- yes, it was that long ago -- the Rebels had only been to the postseason twice since 1977, its then-most recent SEC championship-winning season. Ole Miss had largely, since the retirements of legendary skippers Tom Swayze and Jake Gibbs, been a moribund baseball program.
Enter Bianco, who immediately returned the Rebs to postseason play, finishing second in the SEC West and earning a two-seed in the New Orleans Regional in the summer of 2001. Since then, Ole Miss has been a postseason and top-25 mainstay, making an NCAA Regional in 11 of Bianco's 13 years in charge. For a while, it seemed like the Rebs were poised to take over the SEC's Western Division -- they posted three straight 40-win seasons from 2005 to 2007, hosted four straight regionals from 2004 to 2007, won the SEC Tournament in 2006 and the SEC Baseball Championship (sorta) in 2009.
"Host a regional in the stadium that we more-or-less built for the explicit purpose of hosting NCAA baseball events -- or bust" is not too much at all
During Bianco's 13 years in Oxford, Ole Miss has been ranked as high as No. 2 in the country, boasted 22 all-American selections and had 75 players taken in the MLB draft. Oxford-University Stadium has expanded to one of the nation's largest and most well-equipped college baseball venues, and Ole Miss fans have routinely put the program towards the top in overall attendance figures. Rebel baseball has become, for the lack of a better term, cool, with an odd and eccentric fan culture mingling with uncharacteristically lax alcohol laws to create a gameday atmosphere bettered by few, if any, college baseball programs in the country.
But, as any of our rivals would be quick to remind you, Bianco has yet to make it to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. "Ole Miss At Home Again," they'll uncleverly quip, pointing out that their program -- whether it be LSU, Mississippi State, or Arkansas -- has done something which Ole Miss hasn't since the 1970s. And, really, they've got a point. I mean, what's the point of winning the SEC Tournament, recruiting all-Americans and hosting NCAA Super Regionals if you're just going to sit there in disgust as you watch UVA or Texas dogpile on the pitcher's mound?
No, Bianco hasn't taken us to Omaha, and with his program's recent decline out of the SEC's elite in favor of the aforementioned gangs of idiots, it's easy to see why Ole Miss baseball fans are beginning to get restless with his continued leadership. With Ole Miss unceremoniously bowing out of the 2013 season after a loss to William & Mary in the Raleigh Regional, and with Bianco's program not hosting a regional since the 2009 season, rumblings of "Omaha or bust" are beginning to surface.
Perhaps that's a bit much, but "host a regional in the stadium that we more-or-less built for the explicit purpose of hosting NCAA baseball events -- or bust" is not too much at all, I would argue. If the Rebels can not host a regional this season (notice that I haven't said anything about actually winning said regional), or if they miss postseason play altogether, as they did in 2011, then it would hardly surprise many of us to see Bianco fired from the very program he resurrected.
How to be a Swayze Crazy: An intro to Ole Miss baseball traditions
Swayze Field is home to one of the rowdiest settings in all of college baseball. It's also one of the most unique, sporting a wide array of whacky, obnoxious and all-around awesome traditions. In case you're new to Rebel baseball, here's a crash course in what to expect.
Alcoholics in the outfield: Beer is technically illegal on the Ole Miss campus, but thanks to a quirky jurisdiction boundary, it can be brought out to the student section in right field. Rebel undergrads (and even a few of us graduates) load up coolers full of booze, set up folding chairs and park themselves in the right field terrace. Security will search your cooler on the way in, but they're just checking for outlawed glass containers. It doesn't matter that you may be somebody's high school brother toting a rolling cooler stacked with beer, but God forbid you bring a six-pack of Abita bottles.
Beer showers: Did Ole Miss just hit a home run or walk off hit to win a game? Then throw up your umbrella and zip up your rain jacket because you're about to experience a deluge of cheap beer and brown water. I never really participated in this tradition. Maybe that's because I experienced some friendly fire while hosting LSU friends for a series, or because any beer/bourbon in my cup is worth more consumed than thrown. Then again, this video is so awesome, it makes me feel otherwise.
Writing on the warm-up ball: After the Ole Miss outfielders are finished warming up, the center fielder will throw the ball into the right field terrace for a student to guard while the Rebels bat. Bring a pen because by "guard" I mean cover in creative writings and doodles of the (usually) vulgar variety. At the end of the inning, the ball guardian hurls the ball back to the outfielders. It's fun to follow the evolution of the ball's artwork over the course of the game as well as the outfielders' review of the ball's artistic progression.
Love is Gone: Put down your drink for this one! Between the top and bottom of the fifth inning, David Guetta's "Love is Gone" is queued up over the stadium loud speakers. The baseball team gathers at the top rail of the dugout while pumping their fists to the beat and all Rebel fans are expected to follow suit. Once the beat drops, it's time to let loose and get wacky, but be aware of your neighbor. Throw your fist, hands, legs, etc. in any and all directions, making sure to pause and resume according to the beat. Senquez Golson shows us how it's done.
Throw it in the dirt!: The first time I heard this chant was during my undergrad years before the expansion to OU Stadium. During any three-ball count to opposing pitchers, super fan Chip Clinton (who passed in 2009, R.I.P.), would yell in a raspy, deep voice "Throw it in the dirt!" to which the rest of the stadium would immediately echo "DIRT". This tradition continues today and is an Ole Miss favorite. The response is traditionally loud and quick, so pay Chip his respects and control that Southern drawl.
Rock-paper-scissors tourney: Every third inning, non-starters will take a warm-up jog down the third-base foul line to the bullpen. Upon arrival, a fierce five- to seven-player rock-paper-scissors tournament breaks out. Loser has to, I dunno… buff someone's glove or bat maybe?
Watching drunk guys fall down the hill below the right field terrace: Self explanatory.
[REDACTED] Cup races: This tradition started last season. While some people might think that mascot races are lame, I love this new addition. There's even an @OMSoloCups Twitter account that tracks the record of each cup throughout the season. Poor Yellow was winless last season, but we all know he's got heart. Moreover, we at Red Cup Rebellion can't really be too upset, considering the blog's namesake comes from Red [REDACTED] Cup. So cheer on.
'Everyone loves Red': Stacking up the 2014 Chase for the Cups
It is a cliché to suggest that tradition is important in Oxford, Miss., cliché to suggest that an investment in things past is the modus operandi for the present, but here at the start of another season of Cup Racing, the cliché is proven true once again.
Under the bough of an oak tree, two boys stare one another down. Their bodies lean forward, arms angled at their sides, legs planted, ready for a quick start, but their faces are turned to one another. "You're Blue Cup," one of them says, and the other snorts his contempt. Before they can argue further, they take off, sprinting hard across the stretch of green.
After, hands on his knees, taking in gulps of air between his laughter, the winner says, "Told you I was Red."
I ask why they both want to be Red, why neither claims any loyalty to Blue or Yellow. "Everyone loves Red," the loser says. "How it's always been."
The great pageantry of the Super Bowl has come and gone, and as they always do, the eyes of the sporting world turn again to this idyllic Southern town and to the start of another Cup Race season. On ESPN, the talk is of Blue Cup's last minute bid to leave Oxford for the greener pastures of Auburn. Around town, there was never any doubt that he'd stay.
"You race the best, you better be ready to lose."
An old man, bellied up to the City Grocery bar says, "Blue wouldn't be nothing outside of Oxford. He's a thug." His compatriots nod in agreement, sip bourbon from their glasses. They are remembering, no doubt, the last race of last season, when Blue turned to his defeated opponents, wagged a finger at them, and said, "You race the best, you better be ready to lose." Their contempt for this "thuggery" has been brewing for months, fueled by the vocal hand-wringing of Jay Mariotti, who called for a season long suspension for Blue.
I ask the men if they're ready for the start of the season.
"Hell yes," one of them says. "Been looking forward to it all year."
And do they think Red is going to improve on his last season?
"Oh, Lord, yes. I seen him training the other day. Looking fast. Boy can flat out run." His friends agree. I sit with them for an hour, listening to their tales of Cup Race seasons past, of moments of glory and defeat. They speak of one weekend, long distant now, when Red swept all three races. As they remember, their voices take on a quality of hushed reverence.
Red Cup is fast. There is no denying his speed, his agility, and the same is said, grudgingly, of Blue Cup. With Yellow, though, there are the questions, the constant side-long glances when he jogs past. Red is a hero, and Blue is a villain, but Yellow is a cup without a country.
A month ago, Skip Bayless suggested that Yellow ought to be replaced by Green, that there was no reason to keep giving a losing cup shot after shot. "It is absolutely dragging the sport down," he says when I reach him via phone. "Look, Cup Racing is popular right now, but if you pay attention to the history of the major sports, stagnation leads to their downfall. You have to keep it competitive, and Yellow Cup isn't competitive."
I ask Yellow about Bayless' statements, but he won't comment on them. He looks at his feet, and with the practiced calm of the eternally shamed, says, "This'll be my year."
The tourists are arriving. Outside Rowan Oak, I meet a man from Tokyo, here to see the ground that Faulkner walked and to take in the splendor of the soon-to-open Cup Race season. He tells me the sport is growing in Japan, that it shouldn't come as a shock if, in a few years, Japanese cups begin to come here, where the competition is most fierce.
I ask who he's pulling for this season. He laughs, his face lighting up. "Red," he says. "Always Red."
By Catfish Powe-boy
If the newcomers can live up to the hype and a few veterans can have breakout seasons, this team has a chance to surprise some people in the SEC West. You have to ask yourself, though: can anybody replace Bobby Wahl and Stuart Turner? The answer, quite frankly, is no. If we couldn't make it out of a regional with those guys, I can't seeing us doing it without them.
I think the Rebs manage to just scrape into the NCAA Tournament with a 32-24 overall record and a 14-16 conference mark. That includes series wins vs. Missouri, vs. Auburn, at Kentucky and vs. Georgia. The series losses come at South Carolina, at Alabama, at Mississippi State, vs. LSU, vs. Arkansas and at Texas A&M.
Ole Miss sneaks in as the four-seed in somebody else's regional and is promptly eliminated.
Mike Bianco is fired after 14 seasons as head coach.