Oregon Trail: March 27

Back on the recruiting trail

By now you've probably heard that Oregon will field a baseball team in 2009 for the first time since 1981. It's not every year that a school with the kind of resources Oregon can boast essentially starts a program from scratch, and the Ducks showed the college baseball world they mean business when they hired George Horton away from Cal State Fullerton to lead their rebirth on Sept. 1. With one of the nation's best coaching staffs—including talented assistants Jason Gill and Andrew Checketts—attempting to start an elite program in the backyard of two-time defending national champion Oregon State, we figured it would be compelling to check up on the Ducks' progress once a month, in a feature called The Oregon Trail. Below is the fifth and final regular monthly installment.

Previous installments:

There has been one constant during these monthly check-ins with the fledgling Oregon baseball program: the Ducks need catching. Every month, Oregon's coaches lament the lack of quality catching prospects available in the high school class of 2008.

This month, recruiters Jason Gill and Andrew Checketts are back on the road, as March 1 marked the start of an open period on the recruiting calendar. They're canvassing the West Coast, but their same old concern lingers.

"I think our '08 class is shaping up pretty good, but we still need catching," Gill said. "That's been kind of a problem. Trying to find one that can compete for us right away has been the difficult part.

"(The recruiting trail has) been interesting. You get to see how many really good players are out there still. We're starting to catch up to everyone else's recruiting class. For us to go after a lot more '08s, they have to be pretty special. We're starting to bear down on the '09s."

At this relatively early juncture, the Ducks are only bearing down on high-end prospects in the class of 2009. They're focusing on players at premium positions—pitchers, catchers, shortstops and center fielders. That isn't to say the Ducks will ignore a powerful corner bat, but their primary goal is being strong up the middle.

Oregon continues to scour mostly the Pacific Northwest and California for talent. Gill began this recruiting period in Northern California and Washington, while Checketts blanketed Southern California. Now they're crosschecking each other. That's one of the major benefits of not having to coach a team this spring: more time to turn over every rock on the recruiting trail, and more time to get a second opinion on players.

"It's a huge advantage, to be honest with you," Gill said. "I'm running across guys and going, 'Why hasn't this guy signed with anybody yet?' And we're seeing 2010s that probably a lot of other schools haven't laid eyes on yet. Maybe they've heard of them, but we're seeing them. It's an advantage that was necessary, especially going into the Pac-10. I'm not saying we'll be this unbelievable team because of it, but it will help us catch up quicker."

Of course, March hasn't been all business. Head coach George Horton held his annual Easter egg hunt last weekend, and Gill and his wife joined one of Horton's daughters and Oregon's camp director in the attempt to find all of the eggs Horton hid throughout his new home in Eugene.

"His oldest daughter's 27, and he claims to be 26-0-1; he calls it a tie and there's an asterisk by it," Gill said. "He hid 87 eggs, and we only found 84. So his record's 27-0-1. He hid one in a jar of peanut butter. We tore his house apart, it was hilarious. Coach has always been like that, he's always going to find time for family, that's just the type of person he is."