As the seconds on the FAU Arena game clock dwindled down last night while covering the FIU Panthers season sweep of FAU, thoughts of my bartending days came to mind.
Not just because a robust adult beverage was what the occasion called for, but also because of the hit song "Closing Time" by Semisonic.
While a loss to the Hooters last night would have for all intents and purposes been the end of FIU hoops this season, maybe, just maybe the Panthers can build some momentum with their third straight win and have their own "new beginning".
Maybe this was the beginning's end of bad FIU hoops and a new beginning of a promising future that includes some solid recruits next season. Stay tuned. Before a quick trip to Troy on Saturday, the Sun Belt's top two teams (Western Kentucky and South Alabama) descend on FIU's Pharmed Arena next Wednesday and Saturday.
By the way, nice job by FIU Prez Maidique to get more than 100 Panthers fans on a bus up to the Mouth of the Rat (that's the Boca Raton translation for our non-Spanish speaking readers) for last night's Parting of the FAU Red Sea. That's the kind of enthusiasm FIU fans are waiting to unleash when the Panthers teams make winning a habit. And unless, you actually heard the entire "Ole, Ole, Ole FIU" cheer from the FAU student section, who were standing and sitting behind yours truly on press row, you could have sworn it sounded like they were cheering for FIU. Don't start pounding your keyboards, Hooters fans, I know you weren't cheering for FIU.
Back to FIU hoops, the top 3 Sun Belt teams get tournament byes and seeds 4 through 8 get 1st round home games. FIU (6-9 in Sun Belt) is now No. 9 with three games to play. The Nos. 5-8 teams are all 7-7 in the Sun Belt.
While the Panthers baseball squad is not talking Omaha just yet (unless you count gpantera and his prediction of 56-0) -- at least from watching practice and new coach Turtle Thomas's detailed instruction, work ethic, enthusiasm and relentless conditioning program, and talking to FIU baseball players and reading your comments on the GPP -- there is definitely a sense of hope springing eternal at the FIU ballpark.
The biggest concern is going to be the pitching depth with the season compacted into a little more than three months. The hitting should be there, especially with TT's instruction and the fielding can only get better. Team speed is also an issue, with pitcher Akeem Francis probably being the fastest Panther.
If you need proof there is constant instruction under TT, here's a snapshot from a recent practice. A Panther went for a ground ball in the hole and missed it. Last season, when the Panther missed that kind of grounder, the former coaches would ask why did you miss it? This season when that grounder was missed, the first thing the new coaches said was: "Here's what you have to do to get that grounder" and showed the Panther how to field the play. While all that may sound a bit like the old "Baseball Bunch" TV show hosted by Johnny Bench, it's exactly what the Panthers needed.
Regardless of what happens at this weekend's three-game series with USC, I wouldn't read too much into it. First of all, it's the first three games of the season and either team or both may not be at their best. Second, while the point is to try and win every game, the experience of these 3 games against the 12-time National Champions Trojans will help the Panthers get ready for conference play where the Sun Belt is ranked No. 6 out of 31 Division I conferences when it comes to conference strength.
So if FIU sweeps, takes two out of three, loses two or gets swept, if you want a better gauge of where TT's team stands check the record on March 24 after FIU has played 25 games and has just come back from Arizona and a brutal four-game tournament against College World Series teams: Arizona State and UC-Irvine. By then, we should have an idea of how much work needs to be done at University Park.
Speaking of work at University Park, if you're going to the game tommorrow night, you will see a spruced-up FIU Baseball Stadium.
The inside of the stadium got a fresh paint job and if you happen to be one of those fans that bought one of the sold out suites or was invited to a suite to watch the game, then you may feel like you're watching the game from a major league stadium suite. There has been some serious re-modeling there.
Also, there are plans to build field level suites behind home plate to give fans a catcher's view of the game. There is a ton of unused room under the seats on the second level. The field level suite will be sort of like they used to have at Dodger Stadium before they re-modeled Chavez Ravine. And you thought the Turtle was only making FIU baseball better on the field.
If you want to see one difference a good pitching coach makes, then check out my FIU baseball preview in Friday's Miami Herald.
Last chance to send in your prediction on the FIU baseball season for the Win a GPP Blog II is before 7 p.m. tommorrow night (Friday). Once Chris Allen throws the first pitch, the contest closes. I'll list all the entries with records and postseason results in an upcoming post.
And I haven't forgotten about your stadium questions. Will have all the answers, soon.
FIUJM: MC is currently interviewing several candidates for the O-coordinator position, but last I spoke with him, there is no leading candidate. MC previously said he would like to have the position filled six days before spring practice starts. So by my count that would be in 10 days on March 2. FIU opens spring ball on Saturday, March 8.
FIU0406: You are correct the GPP would have to get another name after the "Golden" is dropped. I'll take suggestions for re-naming it from Panthers Prowl to whatever you good people of the GPP can come up with. Maybe we'll have a Win a Blog contest for the new name of this blog.
Jim: Welcome to the GPP. Yes it would be a great deal for MLS, FIU and Miami-Dade County taxpayers for soccer to come to the new state-of-the-art FIU stadium. MLS gets to play rent-free, FIU gets exposure and financial rewards, and the taxpayers don't have to help pay for a $120 million soccer stadium next to the new Marlins ballpark for a soccer team that may not be here in five years.