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UC IRVINE NOTEBOOK : Baseball Prospects Are Bleak, Thank Goodness

January 22, 1992|ROBYN NORWOOD

The baseball season--the one they told Mike Gerakos might not come--will open today, just like any other.

Who knew it could be so sweet for a coach to worry about such things as having a No. 1 starter whose earned-run average last season was 5.62? Who knew that losing the players who hit 23 of your 34 home runs could seem like a relatively small matter?

"It's time for us to look ahead, not back," Gerakos said. "Right now, we have an opportunity to get the season going."

UC Irvine's game at 2:30 today at Anteater Field is an exhibition against Spain's pre-Olympic team. At noon Saturday, the Anteaters will play a varsity-alumni game. The official season starts Tuesday, against Loyola Marymount at Anteater Field.

Last spring at their final game, Irvine's players lowered the flag to half-mast, fearful the program would be dropped because of budget problems.

After a tense wait, the program survived with a smaller budget that the team boosted considerably with its own fund-raising. Four other Irvine sports lost all university funding, and are fending for themselves.

Another round of budget cuts might occur this spring, but, for now, there's not much purpose in worrying about things that don't happen on a diamond or in a batting cage.

"We have a lot of position players returning," said Gerakos, whose 11th Irvine team finished 24-32 last season. "But we lost a lot of innings on our pitching staff. We need our new people to mature."

Some key returning players:

Matt Filson (LF)--Senior led the team with a .316 batting average and 37 runs batted in last season. He is the leading home-run hitter returning, with seven last season.

David Bladow (RHP)--Senior was 5-7 with a 5.62 ERA last season, but he is the No. 1 starter and the leader of an inexperienced staff.

Billy Bardens (3B)--Senior hit .281 while striking out only seven times in 128 at-bats.

Steve Ott (OF)--Senior outfielder hit .300 and drove in 28 runs.

Chris Facione (OF)--Junior hit .284 and led the team with three triples.

Joe Furukawa (2B)--Senior played in 52 of 56 games and led or tied for the team lead in at-bats, stolen bases, runs, hits and doubles.

Among the newcomers are former Orange Coast College first baseman Corey Parker and former Bakersfield College pitcher Jon Vanzandt.

Even with the season starting, it's unlikely that the effects of last year's uncertainty have dissipated.

Two promising players who had signed letters of intent last year decided to go elsewhere. Gabe Sollecito, a freshman pitcher who had four saves and compiled a 3.89 ERA (second best on the staff), transferred to UCLA. No one signed with Irvine in the fall.

Competing coaches can tell recruits that Irvine is unstable. That doesn't make Gerakos happy, but he won't term it negative recruiting.

"You can't say nothing happened," he said. "Something did happen. But we've weathered the biggest storm we could."

The $550-a-year tuition increase approved by the UC Board of Regents last week will be expensive for the athletic department, which must pay an increased cost for athletic scholarships. The increase is expected to total about $35,000, according to Athletic Director Tom Ford.

Ford said he remains somewhat optimistic about the overall department budget, which will undergo scrutiny in the coming months.

"I hope we don't have to cut any further," he said.

Ugly stat of the week: For the month of January over the last three seasons, the Irvine men's basketball team has a 3-22 record. In 1989-90, the Anteaters went 5-23, including 0-9 in January. Last season, Irvine went 11-19, 3-7 in January, beating San Jose State, Fresno State and Cal State Fullerton. With three games remaining this month, Irvine is 3-12, 0-6 in January.

They don't have a victory to show for it, but the Anteater men are making the kind of offensive changes that could help break their seven-game losing streak.

Coach Rod Baker has shelved some of the Irvine offenses that have tended to stagnate in favor of a simpler motion offense.

"If in fact we're not very good, it's (the coaches') responsibility to make the players better," Baker said. "We're really going to limit the things we try to do. We're really trying to concentrate on taking makable shots.

"There's no value to a missed three-pointer. There's great value to a made two."

"We're just trying to concentrate on trying to do the things we can do, and not try to do the things we can't do."

When the Irvine women's tennis team gets its first victory this season, it will be No. 300 for Coach Doreen Irish. The first chance will be Friday, although it's a slim one--Irvine travels to UCLA, ranked No. 4 nationally.

Irish, in her 18th season at Irvine, has a 299-218 record.

With No. 1 singles player Kelly Goldsborough, No. 3 Biljana Korac and No. 4 Ali Yoshimoto back from an 18-12 team that finished third at the Big West Conference Championships, Irish has the core of a team, that she says, has the talent to surprise some teams this season.

Irvine also has added a standout freshman: Gina Garcia, who once was ranked No. 1 in the girls 16s in Northern California, and No. 22 nationally.

Notes

A men's basketball alumni day is scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday in Crawford Hall. . . . The women's swimming team earned its first conference victory Thursday, led by junior Robin Palermo's victories in the 200-yard and 400-yard freestyle races.

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