'The Significance of Temple's Bowl Berth' or 'The Existential Baggage Inherent in Shipping the Band to Albuquerque, New Mexico'

'The Significance of Temple's Bowl Berth' or 'The Existential Baggage Inherent in Shipping the Band to Albuquerque, New Mexico'

The Temple Owls did not meet their goal of winning the 2011 MAC Championship. This is a stand-alone point that requires no added explanation and possesses no reasonable refutation.

From the beginning of training camp all the way through to their official elimination at the hands of not one, but two different place kickers—neither of whom, by the way, were even playing Temple at the time—coach Steve Addazio and every single member of his program focused only on the conference title game in Detroit. It was the number one bullet point in every statement regarding the team's motivation, and the opening answer to every question about how Temple would ultimately measure itself.

But sadly for the coach, the team, and, ultimately, their perpetually disillusioned and cynical fans, the dream ended. The Owls, who fought all year for a for an accomplishment no longer in reach, were forced to pick themselves up and switch gears in an attempt to qualify for a bowl game. A month and a half later, they find themselves in (of all places) Albuquerque, New Mexico and without any discernible sense of failure. It's not "sort of" like all the MAC title talk never happened; in fact, it's exactly like it never happened.

Maybe some of that sentiment can be blamed on a convenient amnesia—that the original goal was merely forgotten in this new wave of still largely uncharted excitement—but even the most ardent defenders of Temple's "ever-rising" football program can't argue that the 2011 Owls didn't strive for something and ultimately fail.

Though, on the eve of the team's second bowl game in the last three years, it just doesn't really seem like that particular failure matters anymore. And there's a good reason why (even if it is a little disingenuous).

The beauty of qualifying for this bowl game is that both the university and its supporters have the potential to look back on this season and remember when the Owls made history. Bowl bids, especially in the modern era (when you can qualify even with a losing record), may not mean a lot to other institutions, but they certainly do to Temple. Such an appreciation for what others take for granted is no doubt the product of a history graced with such an opportunity a mere three times over the last thirty-two seasons.

When the Owls broke through with their bid to the 2009 EagleBank Bowl, securing their first postseason appearance in exactly three decades, it was a genuinely meaningful moment for a small, but disproportionately tortured fan base. No, they didn't beat UCLA on that impossibly cold night at RFK, but the very idea that the Temple was even in the game legitimately meant something. Whether students, fans and alums stayed at home to survey the game from indoors, or, as was a popular option for those in attendance, slugged pull after pull of whiskey in the hopes of keeping warm for even a few fleeting moments within the stadium's confines, there is a very good chance that those who watched remember exactly where and how they did so when Temple played in its first bowl game since 1979.

Saturday's meeting with the Wyoming Cowboys carries with it that same kind of gravity. Winning the Gildan New Mexico may not sound like much, but it doesn't really need to either. A Temple win ensures that 2011 will be remembered as the year the Owls ended their drought. Sure, long-term concerns will later set in regarding the future of certain players and the overall direction of the program, but whether or not they won the MAC title will prove wholly irrelevant in comparison to the sheer relief of that moment when Temple finally "did it."

That said, with that kind of emotion of the line, Saturday also carries with it the potential for yet another let down at the hands of the Temple Owls. This is a subject we've covered on this site in the past and one that could end the 2011 season on a profoundly sour note. A Wyoming upset would send Temple back to North Broad with neither a MAC title nor a bowl victory, but rather a familiar slap in the face, a reminder of what happens when Owls fans regretfully anticipate that which never comes.

Getting to the bowl game is still a welcome change, but its also part of the very reasonable expectations the team set for itself at the outset of this year's campaign. While 2009 was a celebration of simply "being there," 2011 needs to be a celebration of both being there and leaving there with a win. Just as it's no longer satisfying being "competitive," merely earning a bid isn't enough. It's once again time for the Owls to take their next step as an up-and-coming program, a step they've had trouble negotiating in any number of opportunities the past three seasons.

With all that in mind, if this to be a totally honest account of the significance of this single game, it's largely inarguable that all the following facts are, well, factual. 8-4 is a fine record for any football team in any conference. The Temple Owls are not the program they once were. One loss in a practically insignificant bowl game means as little as a win on that same stage. The majority of these games, after all, are indeed a sham, a fabrication of an important event which exists solely to make money absent any sense of true achievement. Lost in grand scheme of more important happenings across the landscape of college football, games like the Gildan New Mexico Bowl mean absolutely nothing.

That is, unless you're Temple. For Temple, this game has the power to literally make or break your entire season. For Temple, this game is of the utmost significance in your long-time search for respect and credibility. For Temple, a program for decades lost in the grand scheme of more important happenings across the landscape of college football, games like the Gildan New Mexico Bowl mean everything.

Thinking man's pitcher, Phillies prospect Cole Irvin enjoying time with Clearwater

Thinking man's pitcher, Phillies prospect Cole Irvin enjoying time with Clearwater

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Clearwater Threshers pitcher Cole Irvin is a student of baseball, but maybe the word “student” – simply stated and in its base meaning – describes the young left-hander best.

A graduate of the University of Oregon who completed his undergraduate degree in sociology in just 3½ years, Irvin has applied a studious, methodical approach to his work on the mound, where he starred as a freshman and senior for the Ducks as a regular Friday night starter.

His 2014 collegiate season was marred by Tommy John surgery, but he reflects on it now as being an important part of him staying in college and obtaining his degree. He remained in Eugene another semester after getting drafted by Pittsburgh in the 32nd round, his second time getting selected.

“I look at it as a positive. I wouldn’t have been able to finish my degree at Oregon if I didn’t have the surgery,” said Irvin, who was drafted in the fifth round by the Phillies last June.

“Sociology covers so many topics. It’s a great degree to have. My studies varied from the population of salmon affecting society to the study of social media. There was so much I learned in so many diverse topics. I like interacting because everyone’s opinion mattered.”

The sociological background also easily translates to the diamond for the 6-foot-4, 190-pound Irvin.

“It’s the same in baseball. The more information you have about the opposing team, our team, if we’re doing the shift and other things… now you have all that collected information. Now you just go do your thing. I think I apply (sociology) to so many different aspects of what I do,” he said.

Sociology aside, Clearwater pitching coach Aaron Fultz has been impressed with the mental approach Irvin has displayed.

“Very (much so),” replied Fultz when asked if the southpaw is the quintessential cerebral pitcher. “He’s a no frills guy and he’s here to work.”

Fultz broke in to MLB and played three seasons with the San Francisco Giants – 2000 to 2002 – and the former big leaguer said Irvin reminds him from a work ethic standpoint of a Bay Area teammate of his.

“He kind of reminds me of Jeff Kent. He comes here and he wants to work and get better,” said Fultz of Irvin, who also bears a slight resemblance to the five-time all-star and 2000 NL MVP of the Giants.

That industrious attitude worked well for Irvin in his first spring training camp in the Grapefruit League in February. He broke camp by bypassing Low A Lakewood and joining the Threshers. Then he proceeded to overwhelm hitters in the Florida State League.

Irvin, 23, was 3-1 in four starts in April, posting a 1.04 ERA. In 26 innings, he allowed 22 hits, struck out 20 and walked just three. His WHIP stood at 0.96.

“His first four or five starts, I thought he was the best pitcher in the league,” Fultz said. “Since then, we’ve had a little hiccup here and there about location and just giving up some hits. He’s had some bad luck, too.

“But I love the way he goes about his business. He gets the ball and he’s ready to pitch. He has a very good idea and is a smart kid. He doesn’t throw 95, but he’s left-handed – that helps – and he has a really good change-up. His stuff is better than average, but his tenacity and the way he goes after hitters is a really good selling point for him.”

Irvin said he tries not read what is written about him or the multitude of numbers baseball produces.

“The past three outings haven’t gone the way I’ve anticipated, especially after the first five starts of the year,” said Irvin, who is 3-5 with a 3.20 ERA after four straight losses starting on May 4 against Jupiter.

He will try to break that winless skid on Tuesday when he faces Florida back in Clearwater.

Of his standout first pro season at short-season Williamsport last year (5-1, 1.97 in 10 games), Irvin admitted he doesn’t look at the stats, saying, “Honestly, I don’t know the numbers. I don’t get ahead of myself and look at stats. Every once in a while, I’ll look at media stuff, but I try not to follow that stuff.

“Once it gets in your head, you start to get anxious about moving up and thinking about things you’re not supposed to be thinking about. I’m supposed to be thinking right now, ‘What can I do to get better and get to the big leagues?’ It’s not about being in the minor leagues; it’s about being in the big leagues.”

Irvin has enjoyed his season so far and, like a good sociology student, is harvesting his own data.

“There’s a lot to build off of. It’s my first full season, so it’s exciting to spend a whole year playing baseball and doing something you love and is fun. It’s something I’ve dreamed of as a kid,” he said.

“I never thought I’d be here this quick, so I’m taking it one day at a time. I can only focus on this day, and tomorrow will come tomorrow.”
 
Three questions with Cole Irvin

You throw a one-seam fastball. What does it do?

“It’s literally across one seam, holding it with one finger. It depends on the wrist. If it’s on the side of the ball, it’s going to fade (versus righty batters). But if your wrist is more on the inside toward your body, it’s going to cut. I only use it as a strikeout pitch. [Laughing] I’d say it’s a wipe-out pitch, but I don’t have wipe-out stuff like most of the guys on this team. It’s an effect pitch, where there’s a little uncertainty where it’ll go.”

You’re from Yorba Linda, CA, the birthplace of Richard Nixon and home of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. Have any good Nixon stories?

“Actually, I do. When I was 12, I had to do community service for the high school I was going to go to. I had to have so many hours. The library was looking for someone to clean the helicopter – Air Force One helicopter or whatever it was called. Every Sunday morning I’d show up at 5:30 a.m. to clean that helicopter. I had to go through the Secret Service back door and security checks. I was 12, so there wasn’t much information on me. I spent four or five Sundays cleaning that helicopter. It was so much fun.”

As an Oregon Duck, you were able to play in the Civil War against the Oregon State Beavers and New York Mets outfielder Michael Conforto. Any success?

“My senior year was the first time we’ve ever gone to Goss Stadium and won a series at Oregon State. I pitched against Conforto and also played with him on the Team USA collegiate team that had (Chicago Cubs star Kyle) Schwarber. Honestly, Michael’s one of the great guys to know and talk to. He’s just a world-class, awesome guy.”

Now on Phillies' bench, Ty Kelly looks back fondly on Team Israel experience

Now on Phillies' bench, Ty Kelly looks back fondly on Team Israel experience

Ty Kelly is currently the 25th man on the Phillies' roster, a utility man who has all of two starts with the club this year.

But two and a half months ago, he was one of the headlining players on the Cinderella squad of the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

Kelly was the starting third baseman for Team Israel, which made a surprising run to the second round with a perfect run through Pool A. The team began the WBC with an upset over host South Korea before wins over Chinese Taipei and the Netherlands. Israel beat Cuba in the next round in Japan but fell to Japan and the Netherlands handily.

Unlike most MLB players who spent their spring in Florida, Kelly got to experience two major Asian cities -- Seoul and Tokyo -- while getting his preseason at-bats.

"It was a great experience, trying the food and all that and seeing all the sights," Kelly said.

However, he wasn't too adventurous with trying the local cuisine compared to his teammates.

"Some of the guys were really trying to seek out the native food," Kelly said. "I wanted to do that as much as I could, but at the same time, you're still trying to get ready for baseball games in a tournament, so you've got to do what's best for your body.

"Chicken sandwiches for me were the way to go for the most part," he added with a laugh.

Kelly's participation with the squad began in the middle of 2016, when Peter Kurz, the President of the Israel Association of Baseball, emailed him and asked if he had a Jewish grandparent. Kelly's mother's side of the family is Jewish, making Kelly eligible.

Last year was also the end of Kelly's long road to the major leagues. Drafted by the Orioles in 2009 out of UC Davis, Kelly was traded multiple times, once straight up for current Brewers slugger Eric Thames before Thames went to Korea and back. Kelly wound up with the Mets and finally made his MLB debut two months shy of his 28th birthday. He played 39 games for the Mets at six different positions and got a hit in his only postseason at-bat, which came vs. Madison Bumgarner no less.

Kelly still had to make the Mets this spring, which could have made joining the WBC a tough decision. However, the organization was on board with Kelly playing in the tournament.

"It made it difficult, but I talked to the Mets about it and they were all for me going over there and still playing and getting experience," he said. "People were still watching, so once I got the go-ahead from them, it was an easy decision."

Kelly made the Mets out of the spring but had just one at-bat before he put on waivers and was claimed by the Blue Jays. Eight days later, he was traded to the Phillies. He has four hits (three doubles) in 19 at-bats with the Phillies and had the game-winning RBI single two weeks ago in the front end of the Phils' doubleheader with the Nationals.

He's the only player from Team Israel to have played in the majors this season. Ryan Lavarnway and former Mets 1B Ike Davis are in Triple A while the roster also included former MLBers Nate Freiman, Sam Fuld and Jason Marquis.

While none of his WBC teammates have parlayed Team Israel's run into MLB time, Kelly still thinks the team caught the eye of people in the game.

"There was definitely a lot of fandom around our team," Kelly said. "A lot of people rallied around us, including people in front offices I think. Of Jewish descent or not, I think a lot of people liked what we did.

"Being a part of that definitely looks good for me, which is just an added bonus."