Have you ever been really unlucky for a long period of time?
How about for almost four years?
And every time you were about to get on a positive run of some sort — every single time you started wondering if you were about to break your cold streak and snap out of it — you started getting unlucky again.
That’s pretty much the situation Chad Kreuter and the USC baseball team is in — according to Kreuter, at least.
The fourth-year coach won just about 50 percent of his games in his first three seasons at USC, leading many to expect he would be fired last May. But he wasn’t, and this season Kreuter’s team is .500 (14-14) again.
But it’s just a matter of luck to him, and he seems to think it will turn around, eventually.
“That’s baseball,” Kreuter said after the Trojans fell Saturday, striking out while down 4-3 with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
“That’s baseball,” said Kreuter Thursday, after his team blew a chance to drive in a runner from second with the score tied 1-1 and two outs in the bottom of the ninth and then gave up three runs to visiting Oregon State in the top of the 10th. “We did what we needed to do, we just needed a break somewhere along the line and they ended up getting it in the 10th there.”
And there are more excuses too.
“Hey, we’ve had six games in conference, and four of those have come down to the last pitch,” Kreuter said after Saturday’s loss.
“We feel that we’re close,” Kreuter said. “But we’re not getting that big swing out of somebody in those situations. We need the team, the hitters, to make quality at-bats out of the at-bats they are having, and that starts with the very beginning.”
That might be true, but it also starts with you, Mr. Kreuter. There are a variety of reasons, undoubtedly. And by no means am I advocating fans to put the blame directly on Kreuter’s shoulders.
Private colleges have a significant disadvantage when it comes to college baseball. Every team, public or private, gets 11 scholarships they can distribute in any way they wish. For example, if a team had 21 players, they could give each player a half scholarship and one player a full scholarship.
USC has 35 players on its baseball roster. The school doesn’t release scholarship figures for its players, but it’s safe to assume the Trojans are splitting their scholarships pretty evenly among players — with a few exceptions for star players and walk-ons.
Then think about a public school like Long Beach State. The Dirtbags have a reasonably good program, have been definite competitor to the Trojans in recent years and close to USC geographically.
Like USC, Long Beach has just 11 scholarships to offer players. But it also costs less to attend Long Beach — $35,000 less. In-state tuition at Long Beach State is around $3,500. Tuition at USC is around $38,500. And as a high school player from Southern California aims to be drafted by a professional baseball team and eventually make it to the major leagues, why would you ever pick USC?
But it isn’t a new development. Mike Gillespie — Kreuter’s father-in-law, in a weird twist — coached the Trojans under the same restrictions for 20 years and posted a .618 winning percentage and won a championship. And Kreuter’s four years at USC have been marked by an incredible loss of recruits to the Major League Baseball Draft. Kreuter, for a reason unfathomable to many close to the program, continues to recruit the best of the best high school prospects in the nation.
And they come. He’s a good recruiter. But, in the odd world that is college baseball, what he fails to realize is that those players will never actually end up attending USC.
Those players — like Jiovanni Mier in 2009, Tim Beckham in 2008 and countless others in the past few years — almost always end up being drafted in the first round and getting a gigantic signing bonus offer from an MLB team.
For a reference point, Mier got $1.4 million. Beckham got $6.15 million. They’re not coming to college.
There’s something wrong with the USC baseball program. Whatever it is — and, after covering the USC baseball team almost game-by-game for a season and a half, I have no idea how to fix it — Kreuter needs to change something about the way he’s running the team.
He can’t keep waiting, hoping or praying for luck to come around.
Because it won’t.
“Looking Past the X’s and O’s” runs Mondays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Pedro at firstname.lastname@example.org.