Thinking out loud … while wondering whatever happened to Jim Foster and Charlie Hickey?
— Record-setting? Better believe it. Bryant baseball is traveling where no Bulldog has barked before, as a No. 2 seed at the NCAA regional in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend. The Northeast Conference champs won a nation-leading 47 games during the regular season and are playing in their third regional tournament over the past four years.
— Not for nuthin’, but did I mention best winning percentage and best run-differential (beating opponents by about five runs per game) in the country, too? Didn’t think so. Not bad for a team that scooped baseballs out of 6-foot snow drifts while several opponents prepped for the season in the relative warmth south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
— The star of this “Can You Top That?” act just might be URI’s baseball team, as the Rams steamrolled through the Atlantic-10 tournament by a combined 38-7 over three games. The Rams are in their second-ever NCAA appearance (and first since 2005), playing as the No. 4 seed at the regional in Columbia, South Carolina.
— It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Two plane tickets to South Carolina to watch the Rams make history? $677. Two plane tickets to Virginia to see the Bulldogs try to beat a national title contender? $746. The chance to watch two baseball teams from Rhode Island in the NCAA Tournament in the same year? It’s never happened before. Priceless.
— There’s a true Rhode Island flavor sprinkled throughout the NCAA field this year, beyond just Bryant and URI. Fairfield features Brendan Tracy from Providence’s LaSalle Academy, with the Stags playing at Texas Tech. UConn, winner of the American Athletic Conference Tournament, plays at Georgia Tech with a former Hendricken Hawk, John Toppa, second on the Huskies in hitting (.314).
— Would now be a good time to mention I used to coach Tracy in the Rumford (Rhode Island) Little League? Just sayin’.
— Lest we forget, another former Hendricken star — Reed Gamache — leads America East champ Binghamton at Texas A&M this weekend. The senior second baseman hit .367 for the Bearcats and was a candidate for Player of the Year in America East, hitting just under .400 in conference play.
— Oh. Right. Boston College baseball made it, too, as an at-large selection from the ACC. That’s five New England teams among the field of 64 in the NCAA Tournament — another first — on the road to Omaha, Nebraska, for the College World Series.
— Tweet of the Week I, from @UConnHuskies: Only three schools to play in a bowl, the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball and baseball tournaments this year are: UConn, Texas A&M, Miami.
— Still, the Huskies are getting nary a sniff from the Big 12, which held league meetings this week in Irving, Texas, with expansion on the unofficial agenda. While the school itself seems to fit the profile for what the league would be looking for in a potential member — gridiron prowess aside — the travel difficulties simply are too much to overcome. It’s tough enough to get to Morgantown, West Virginia — but Storrs, Connecticut, too?
— Cincinnati and BYU remain the top two choices for inclusion, by my book, if the Big 12 votes for expansion. Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said this week he would like a decision on this from league membership before the end of this summer. If Brigham Young balks on Sunday scheduling, Memphis and Houston then move into prime position.
— And Houston is charging hard on the outside in this race.
— While it may still be awhile before potential expansion is sorted out, one of the financial models offered to the Big 12 this week suggests the league could gross an extra $1 billion (yup, One Billion) by adding up to four more teams. Oh, boy. With that kind of money possible, it’s not hard to see why some institutions are posturing and fighting in line to partner with the league, which includes scandal-ridden Baylor as a member.
— As an aside from the Baylor fallout, even with Ken Starr resigning his post as president and chancellor of the university, he’s staying on as a professor in the School of Law. What exactly is it that he’ll teach? Ethics? Oversight? How not to run a school? How to treat female students as cannon-fodder for the football program? Will he have any female students? Just wondering.
— I’ll say this for the Pawtucket Red Sox: Their marketing folks don’t miss a thing. Free Tom Brady Night is June 10 at McCoy Stadium, with anyone named Tom or Brady getting in for free. Silly? Perhaps, but the promotional idea and subsequent media coverage received national attention. How often does a minor league team get the national spotlight for anything?
— In addition to the team’s support of TB12 (box seats will be marked down to $12), there will be a week of Patriot-related activities leading up to Free Brady Night, with autograph signings, player appearances and first pitches. Nope, no one can say these PawSox don’t know how to stoke the fires of a hot stove topic.
— Ridiculous, meet sublime. The PawSox’ rivals in the International League, the Buffalo Bisons, know how to troll. The Bisons (Toronto’s Triple-A affiliate) announced they’ll sponsor a Keep Brady Suspended Night, with a buy-one-ticket, get-one-free option if you bring a fully inflated football to the park. And if your name is Tom or Brady, you’re allowed in, but you can’t watch the first four innings of the game. No appeals allowed.
— Lost in the glare from the Free Brady spotlight this week was the loss of first baseman-of-the-future Sam Travis to an ACL injury. He suffered the injury to his left knee running down a baserunner last weekend and had to be helped from the field. The good news is he should be ready in time for 2017.
— Still not getting too excited over the Red Sox resurgence, Mookie Betts’ play aside. Tuesday’s performance in Baltimore was ridiculous — three home runs and a Willie Mays catch in the outfield? Then two more dingers Wednesday? Hot hands are great, but wake me when the dog days of summer arrive and as the trade deadline appears on the horizon. Then we’ll get serious. In the meantime, I’ll just enjoy watching these guys play — like you will.
— Unless you’re a Yankees fan.
— Eduardo Rodriguez (I refuse to call him E-Rod) was solid if unspectacular this week in his 2016 debut. It took three months for his knee tendon to heal properly before he could pitch on a big league mound, but now Boston has added a top-of-the-rotation pitcher to the mix.
— That’s better than any trade I can come up with, for certain. Getting something substantial for nothing in return? Deal.
— Clay Buchholz will return to the rotation. As much as the thought makes me queasy, it will happen. Injury, illness or act of God, he’ll be back. But here’s a thought: You want him back, and you want him to pitch well. Why? So he can become a tradeable commodity, that’s why.
— Pete Abraham of The Boston Globe said it this week. I’ve said it since the start of the Sox surge into relevancy this season. This team, right now, is simply outhitting its mistakes, the last two nights of the Baltimore series notwithstanding. There’s a long way to go before the p-p-playoffs, but for the postseason to have any legs around here, the Red Sox staff will need another arm. Or two.
— Two potential additions to keep an eye on over the next 6-8 weeks — former Red Sox left-hander Rich Hill and former Rays (now Padres) right-hander James Shields. At midweek, Hill had eight wins and his return to Boston for mid-range prospects seems a no-brainer. Shields could have been had for a healthy Pablo Sandoval. Now? He might be worth a look as long as top prospects aren’t headed to San Diego in return.
— Remember when the Sox were Cardiac Kids, coming from behind to get big wins? Not anymore. These Sox are strict frontrunners, and have managed to score in the first inning of two out of every five games they’ve played thus far. Double-digit hits in three of every five games as well. They jump on teams with an offense that knows the strike zone.
— Brown’s national semifinal lacrosse matchup with Maryland was edge-of-the-seat fun to watch. If you ever need an example to show a non-lax fan just why the sport is exploding around the country, all you need to do is replay the last five minutes of the Bears and Terps. That should do it.
— That the Bears lost by one goal in overtime, to the No. 1 team in the nation, with Brown’s own national scoring leader (Dylan Molloy) playing on a broken foot should be at least a little consolation for Lars Tiffany and his team. And perhaps motivation for the future, knowing just how close they came to the national title — Maryland lost the championship to North Carolina by one goal, also in overtime.
— Condolences to the Friars hockey family and assistant coach Scott Borek, who lost his son Gordie in an auto accident last weekend in New Hampshire.
— Did you see where former St. John’s point guard Rysheed Jordan was charged in Philadelphia with attempted murder and robbery? Jordan and two men apparently tried to rob three other men in a cellphone deal. Allegedly, Jordan shot one of them in the arm, then tried to evade police by running from a traffic stop and throwing a gun over a fence. Jordan was released from his Philly D-League team in January after just 11 games. I’ve got nothin’ more on this one, except smh.
— Providence sophomore-to-be guard Drew Edwards had some minor knee surgery this week, and I’m told he should be back working out by mid-to-late July. Drew is one of several players on campus getting ahead in the classroom, attending summer classes.
— Without Ben Bentil, PC’s non-conference hoop schedule suddenly just became imposing. No seniors on the roster, and the second game of the year is at Ohio State? Memphis and Iowa or Virginia on a neutral court? The learning curve will begin early for next season’s Friars.
— In fact, PC opens the season on Nov. 14 against Vermont with six games in a 13-day span. Kids love to play, and would rather play a game than practice, naturally. Better get the teaching part done early, however.
— Vermont. New Hampshire. Maine. Massachusetts. Rhode Island. Where is Connecticut on Providence’s schedule? Kevin Ollie’s Huskies keep ducking the Friars. And it doesn’t make much sense — someday soon, UConn will need an out-of-conference schedule boost that won’t cost anything. Can Mohegan Sun make this happen?
— As for PC not playing Bryant next season, Kevin McNamara had a good story in the ProJo on that this week — it’s a game both coaches don’t like to play because of their long-standing relationship. Tim O’Shea would play it, however, if Providence asked him to. Add to that the fact that the Bulldogs almost beat an undermanned PC team last season and, well, let’s just say they’re skipping this year.
— You know you’ve already done it, but playing the “win-loss” game, anyone have the Friars at better than 10-3 in non-league play?
— The kid of Billy the Kid (Donovan), his son Brian, is expected to walk-on for basketball at PC in the fall. Wait for it — now you can feel old. It was 30 years ago his father enjoyed his senior season for Rick Pitino at Providence.
— Billy the Kid’s Oklahoma City Thunder may have come up short in the NBA Western finals, but none of it was from Donovan’s doing (or undoing). The maddening part of it for him must have been watching the countless times Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook decided to take an ill-advised (OK, bad) shot.
— Who ya’ got? The NBA Finals amount to a coronation of sorts — either of the Golden State Warriors as the best team of all time, or King LeBron James finally leading Cleveland to the Promised Land. I still like the Cavs, but partly because it’s just been too long since the city has been a champion at anything (52 years, and the 1964 NFL title) besides misery and defeat.
— Did you get a look at Tom Brady’s cookbook? The pre-order phase sold out quickly — surprised? OK, so it’s not a real cookbook, but a “lifestyle manual,” whatever that might be. But if you want to be pliable like TB12 (and Gumby, dammit) and able to fend off hard-charging defensive linemen, go for it. But get ready to drink yuzu juice and eat a lot of mung beans.
— Yeah, I had to look it up, too. A mung bean looks like a green pea, but can also be colored golden, yellow or black. It is considered a high source of protein, fiber, antioxidants and phytonutrients — all considered good things for overall health. Nowhere does it say it helps you outrun 300-pound linemen, however.
— Over at his house for dinner recently, I ate what my buddy Statbeast sez he knows how to cook pretty well — meatloaf and apple pie. I asked him which one I was eating. Don’t think I’ll be back again soon.
— Big labor — the AFL-CIO — now is backing Brady in Deflategate. As we’ve mentioned before, this is not about deflated footballs, and hasn’t been about deflated footballs for some time. This is about marking territory — or Commissioner Goodell peeing on the fire hydrant that is the NFL, to let everyone know he’s still the alpha male.
— At issue now? Whether or not the commissioner acted in the rather self-serving role of employer, or as a truly neutral arbitrator in considering Brady’s appeal. You be the judge. I still say TB12 serves no time, and suits up in September. Anyone want to bet a Capital Grille steak dinner on it?
— I’ve always thought Disney to be a magical place, where hopes and dreams can come true for kids of all ages, right? If Disney can breathe life into the Pro Bowl, as the NFL all-star game relocates to Orlando from Hawaii next year, there should be an investigation. Either that, or hire some cast members to run for president.
— Tweet of the Week II, from @81sportsfan: The Pro Bowl would have to move to a strip club for anybody to actually watch it. I don’t think Disney will go there, no. But I don’t think you’re wrong, either.
— In case you care, the Pro Bowl goes back to the old AFC vs. NFC format. Team Rice vs. Team Irvin just never did it for me. Only if they actually played, would I care. Stupid is as stupid does.
— The unique nature of having two Rhode Island teams in the NCAA baseball tournament for the first time naturally had me thinking about Providence Friars baseball, and the program’s closure in 1999. While recently retired John McDonald was the last PC player in the pros, Friars baseball still has a presence, if not influence, on the college game today. All-Big East catcher and 10-year pro Jim Foster, a former head coach at URI, currently is the associate head coach at Boston College for Mike Gambino — with the Eagles in the NCAA Tournament this year.
— And the last coach in Providence College baseball history, Charley Hickey, still is coaching today at Central Connecticut, having just completed his 17th season as the school’s winningest baseball coach with more than 500 victories. Hickey had an up close-and-personal look this year at the Bryant Bulldogs, rivals in the NEC, as his Blue Devils managed just one win in nine games against them.
— Charlie from Swansea, Massachusetts, posted on Facebook this week, about the PC basketball schedule: Don’t know how good those teams are, John. Seems pretty competitive for a young team — do you know much about those teams? Charlie: Vermont and New Hampshire have potential NCAA-contending teams in America East, and UNH won 20 games last year and played in the CIT. URI should be Top 25-good. On the road at Ohio State in your second game with no seniors? At least we know who the visiting team will be that night in Columbus. UMass is always athletic, and the Friars have lost five in a row at BC. Memphis? Iowa or Virginia? No further explanation needed there. The Friars will need to find a win or two as an underdog to be thinking about the postseason themselves.
— Interested in having your questions on local Rhode Island sports (and yes, that includes the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics) answered in a somewhat timely fashion? Send ’em to me! It’s your chance to “think out loud,” so send your questions, comments and local stories to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll share mailbag comments/Facebook posts/tweets right here! Follow me on Twitter, @JRbroadcaster, and on Facebook, www.facebook.com/john.rooke.
— Don’t forget to tune in to Providence’s 103.7 FM every Saturday from 7-9 a.m. for Southern New England Sports Saturday! Call in at 401-737-1287 or text us at 37937.