CARTER LAKE, Iowa—One of my favorite College World Series traditions is the resumption of a longstanding golf rivalry with NCAA.com writer Doug Kroll. After a two-year hiatus, we returned to Shoreline Golf Course—or as we like to call it, the Royal Links of Carter Lake, the site of my great triumph in 2010 and an unsatisfying draw in 2011.
Today was a carbon copy of last night’s Vanderbilt-Virginia game. Doug made four straight pars to open the day while I sprayed the ball all over the place, giving him a commanding eight-stroke lead after five holes. But like the Cavaliers, I chipped away at his lead until the end, closing the gap to one stroke after 17 holes. Then he brought in Adam Ravenelle to slam the door on the 18th, finishing with a 90 while I posted a 92. Congrats to Doug on exorcising his demons; I look forward to taking back the crown next year.
Another CWS tradition is the unveiling of my annual All-Fitt team, a list of the players I most enjoyed covering in 2014. Typically the list is crowded with players who share my smallish stature, but it’s really just a list of my favorite players to watch and/or interview this spring, and this year’s crop is a quite a bit taller than usual. If only Ro Coleman had gotten more playing time! Next year, Ro.
C: Grayson Greiner, South Carolina
A natural leader with a flair for the dramatic, and so charismatic. A great quote. Barely edges Kyle Schwarber of Indiana, another favorite.
1B: Mike Papi, Virginia
I’ve often called him the toughest out in college baseball. His at-bats are always must-watch events. He edges Connor Spencer of UC Irvine, one of the most articulate players in college baseball this year.
2B: Dansby Swanson, Vanderbilt
Half of my all-Vanderbilt middle infield; just a dynamic all-around player with a magnetic personality. Edges Virginia’s Branden Cogswell.
SS: Vince Conde, Vanderbilt
A long-time personal cheeseball of mine, I can’t fathom how Conde even made four errors this year. The guy is so instinctive and seems to make every single play.
3B Taylor Sparks, UC Irvine
Sparks is known for his big raw power, but he is also a wizard at the hot corner, and his athleticism plays in all facets of his game. Well-spoken on the postgame interview dais, too.
OF: Michael Conforto, Oregon State
It’s fun to watch Conforto hit; like Papi, he controls the strike zone extremely well and has serious power. Also a fantastic teammate and a great interview.
OF: Ross Kivett, Kansas State
I happened to catch a midweek game in Manhattan in which Kivett hit for the cycle. Best individual performance I saw all year, and he followed it up with a tour de force session with reporters. Fantastic sense of humor, and an entertaining blogger to boot!
OF: Brian Wolfe, Washington
One of the leaders of the best Washington team in years, Wolfe robbed a home run and came up with a few big hits when I was the Huskies host a doubleheader against Washington State. Also gave me an uncommonly thoughtful postgame interview; very cerebral guy.
OF: Mark Payton, Texas
I’m cheating to get a fourth outfielder on this team—Payton just has to be on here. Right in the conversation with Papi and Conforto for toughest out in college baseball. The epitome of a “hard-nosed grinder.” Just a great player.
DH: Trea Turner, North Carolina State
A fixture on the All-Fitt team since he was a freshman, Turner is an electrifying player with incredible insight off the field. I’ll miss covering him.
UT: A.J. Reed, Kentucky
I was fortunate enough to be on hand for the start of Reed’s historic season in Wilmington, and for the end of it at the Louisville Regional. Then I had a chance to visit a bit more with Reed in Omaha, where he accepted another Player of the Year award. A class act, in addition to being an amazing college baseball player. His 2014 season will go down as one of the great campaigns in college baseball history.
SP: Aaron Nola, Louisiana State
Nola has been the best pitcher on college baseball for two years running, and it was a real treat to watch him ply his craft once again this year. And he’s truly a class act.
SP: Harrison Musgrave, West Virginia
Musgrave might have been the most honest, self-reflective player I interviewed all season. Very unique personality and a great success story.
SP: Brandon Finnegan, Texas Christian
Finnegan’s performance against Texas Tech in Fort Worth was one of the most dominant outings I saw this season. His fastball and slider were a treat to watch that day.
SP: Luke Weaver, Florida State
Weaver’s fun-loving personality makes him a pleasure to be around. His teammates love him, and so does every reporter who’s ever spoken with him.
SP: Carson Fulmer, Vanderbilt
Another great personality, and I always enjoy watching him attack hitters with his electric repertoire. He’s so aggressive, and his team feeds off his energy.
RP: Brendan McCurry, Oklahoma State
Finally, a little guy! McCurry is just 5-foot-10, but he has the mound presence of Randy Johnson. Loved how he attacked hitters with his fastball, excellent breaking ball and good changeup.