Omaha calling USC back to baseball’s elite


Before you go ahead and book your tickets for the College World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb., let the season play out a little bit more.

It is, after all, only four games old.

But at 3-1, the USC baseball team couldn’t have asked for a better start — other than 4-0, of course.

Really though — three wins in four games, a minimum of six runs in each game and solid starting pitching in the victories is fairly impressive.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

There’s reason to be optimistic at Dedeaux Field, at least after the first four games of the season. Where there were questions, there are some answers. Where there were concerns, there are temporary assuages.

Can the Trojans hit?

That was, and really still is, the main question this team will have to answer. After all, Grant Green, Robert Stock and Hector Rabago are gone.

But through four games, all they’ve been doing is hitting — to the tune of a .312 team average and 31 runs scored.

Sophomore Ricky Oropesa is picking up right where he left off in 2009, batting .313 through the first four games with three extra-base hits and four runs batted in. Additionally, sophomore transfer Matt Foat has five runs batted in to lead the team.

The Trojans should be able to pitch in 2010. The starting staff is expected to be the strong suit of the squad, anchored by a veteran Sunday starter in Kevin Couture and two solid sophomores, Andrew Triggs and Chad Smith.

And after four starts, things are looking good.

Smith had a rough first start (4.1 IP, 6 ER), but the rest of the staff has started off strong. Three starts with an ERA of just over 4.0 — good enough to win those games.

But of course, the disclaimer remains the same: It has been only four games. Take a deep breath. Let’s see what happens as the season moves on.

It won’t be easy to hit .312 as a squad for the rest of the season, and USC is bound to have a couple of bad starts here and there — just like every other baseball team in the country.

And let’s not pretend the Trojans have defeated perennial powerhouses. Taking two of three from Cal Poly and beating Loyola Marymount on a Tuesday isn’t exactly the equivalent of slaying Goliath.

The tests begin in earnest Sunday at Dodger Stadium, when the Trojans take on No. 23 UCLA. It’s a small taste of what’s to come — a brutally difficult Pac-10 schedule.

But so far, so good.

And while it’s far too early to start looking toward Rosenblatt Stadium, that should always be the goal. Especially for a team with USC’s history.

Especially this year.

The Trojans are 12-time national champions, winning more than any other program in history. They’ve been to the College World Series 21 times.

They might as well have renamed Rosenblatt Stadium as the Dedeaux Field of the Midwest.

But this will be its final year  the stadium’s of service. Starting in 2011, the College World Series will be contested in a brand new ballpark in Omaha.

It will truly be the end of a chapter in the history of one of the most storied tournaments in college sports.

Is there a better way to celebrate the end of the Rosenblatt era than with a tribute from its greatest tenant?

The answer to that is undoubtedly no.

USC owes it to college baseball, the city of Omaha and the ghosts of Rosenblatt Stadium to get back there one last time.

Some are counting down the days until the stadium is gone, having written it off as a worn-down relic of the past. Others will rue the day it closes its doors, revering the ballpark as a shrine of greatness.

To USC, it is simply a second home. The Trojans have no choice but to pay one last visit and say goodbye the right way.

“Thrilla on Manilla Paper” runs every other Friday. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Grant at tunkel@usc.edu.