YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

A Short Glove Story

Tulowitzki helps Long Beach try to reach College World Series

June 11, 2004|Paul McLeod | Times Staff Writer

Ballplayers can be a superstitious lot, so which fielder's glove will sophomore shortstop Troy Tulowitzki of Long Beach State wear against Arizona tonight at 7 in the first game of the best-of-three super-regional at Blair Field?

Will it be the one that led him to only nine errors, a .966 fielding percentage and first team All-Big West Conference honors during the regular season?

Or the good-luck glove he used at last week's regional at Stanford, where he earned most-outstanding-player honors and in his mind atoned for a poor showing on the same field a year ago?

While Long Beach (39-19) has made a name with stingy pitching -- most notably Angels' first-round draft pick Jered Weaver -- the 6-foot-3 Tulowitzki has anchored the left side of the 49er infield. And Long Beach will need good fielding efforts this weekend to earn its fifth trip to the College World Series.

"Arizona is a very capable team," Tulowitzki said of the Wildcats, making their first appearance in a super-regional after upsetting Notre Dame, 7-6, to win the South Bend Regional. "They swing real well. They don't strike out a lot. They put the ball in play. They put pressure on our defense. But I really like our chances."

The 49ers have won three in a row and are 65-24 at home over three seasons. In March they swept a three-game series from the visiting Wildcats (33-24-1), outscoring them, 18-4. They're 15-8 against Arizona overall, 2-0 in postseason play.

Then there's the pitching staff. Weaver (15-1), a junior right-hander, is expected to pitch the opener. Cesar Ramos (11-4), a sophomore left-hander, is expected to start Saturday at 4 p.m. They have a combined earned-run average of 1.89. Junior left-hander Jason Vargas (7-6) has struck out 86 batters in 104 innings. He'll most likely start Sunday's third game, if needed, at either 3 or 6 p.m.

"With those guys on the mound, everybody's confidence goes up a notch," Tulowitzki said.

At last week's regional, playing in front of dozens of family and friends from nearby Sunnyvale, where he attended Fremont High, Tulowitzki's confidence was brimming. He was flawless in the field and he hit three home runs, two of them against top-ranked Stanford. A career .291 hitter, he batted .417 in the regional and Long Beach advanced out of a playoff series held in Palo Alto for the first time in four years.

Long Beach has had a succession of quality shortstops in the last 15 years, most notably former Olympian and current Toronto Blue Jay veteran Chris Gomez and Oakland Athletic rookie Bobby Crosby, the 2001 Big West player of the year. Tulowitzki has a chance to be the best yet, according to Coach Mike Weathers.

"He's a better hitter than Gomez was, and he's much stronger," Weathers said. "He's probably got a little more power than Crosby does at this stage as a sophomore. They're very similar in size, fielding, arm strength and range. The only difference hitting-wise is that Crosby was a little more of a contact guy. Tulowitzki is a little more emotional at the plate. But once he doesn't do that he will be as good or better."

Many thought Long Beach was a lock to advance to the College World Series last season. But Tulowitzki blames his costly errors, one each in 5-1 and 4-2 super-regional losses at Stanford, for the 49ers' elimination.

"It was a big learning experience for me and I guess you could say sometimes failure is maybe when you realize something," he said. "It made me want to work very hard in the off-season and improve my skills so something like that had less chance of happening again."

Teammates said Tulowitzki was too hard on himself, but they admired his work ethic as he tirelessly fielded extra ground balls in practice the week before the Palo Alto regional.

"We didn't know if he was thinking about what happened last year or not, but to come out and have the weekend he had is awesome," senior first baseman Mike Hofius said.

Sophomore second baseman Chuck Sindlinger said Tulowitzki "blew things out of proportion" by taking the blame.

Weathers said Tulowitzki has put it behind him.

"This year he has blossomed," Weathers said. "He still has a ways to go offensively. But what you saw this weekend is something he is very, very capable of doing once he becomes more consistent at the plate. And when he does, he will be a top player a year from now and people will be talking about him on the first day of the draft."


NCAA Baseball Super-Regionals

Best-of-three at Long Beach State

* Tonight: Arizona (33-24-1) vs. Long Beach State (39-19), 7 p.m.

* Saturday: Arizona vs. Long Beach State, 4 p.m.

* Sunday: Arizona vs. Long Beach State, 3 or 6 p.m.*

At Cal State Fullerton

* Saturday: Tulane (41-19) vs. Cal State Fullerton (40-21), 7 p.m.

* Sunday: Tulane vs. CS Fullerton, 6 p.m.

* Monday: Tulane vs. CS Fullerton, 4 p.m.*

*if necessary

Los Angeles Times Articles