UCLA is top dog at the Hormel Classic

Tim Klobuchar

If it was possible to come up with a nickname for a baseball lineup more lethal-sounding than “Murderer’s Row,” the 1997 UCLA Bruins would be the team to claim it.
So far this year, the Bruins’ stats have made the 1927 New York Yankees’ lineup look like a junior varsity tee-ball team. UCLA hits .361 as a team, averaging more than 11 runs per game and has hit 47 home runs in just 20 games.
The Bruins bring their 17-2-1 record and No. 2 national ranking to the Metrodome this weekend for the Hormel Foods Classic. They also bring quite a reputation along with them.
“I’ve been told that their lineup one through nine is the best in the country,” Gophers coach John Anderson said.
The best of the bunch is junior third baseman Troy Glaus, who was on the U.S. Olympic team this summer. Glaus, who Anderson said is projected as a top-five pick in the June major league baseball amateur draft, is hitting .423 with nine home runs and 30 RBIs.
UCLA isn’t exactly your all-pound, no-mound team. It has a team earned run average of 3.63, which is very respectable, especially in the aluminum bat-inflated world of college baseball.
It also has an ace, junior left-hander Jim Parque (4-0, 2.83 ERA), who was also an Olympian in 1996. He’ll pitch against the Gophers in the team’s final games of the round-robin tournament on Sunday afternoon.
His opponent, Mike Diebolt, has given early indications he might actually be able to cool off the Bruins’ bats. Diebolt has an ERA of 0.56 in two starts this season.
“No one’s in awe of UCLA,” said Gophers designated hitter Phil McDermott. “I’m not, and I would hope no one else on the team is either.”
They might be wondering, though, why the Bruins would leave the comfort of southern California for a winter tournament in Minnesota.
“It should raise their level of play,” Anderson said. “They need to get challenged. Teams from the Sun Belt never come north, but it’s a chance to play in a major league stadium.”
If Minnesota feels confident braving the UCLA lineup, chances are it would be downright cocky facing the other two teams in the tournament, Washington and Nebraska.
That’s not quite true, but the Gophers like their chances. The Hormel Classic starts a stretch of 17 straight home games for them at the Metrodome. That could be the quick remedy for the 1-6 record they compiled on their season-opening road trip.
“Every time we’re at home, we expect to win,” said Gophers catcher Bryan Guse. “We don’t care who we’re playing.”
Minnesota will at least have a chance to work its way up to UCLA. They open with Nebraska tonight and play Washington on Saturday, a team that recently dropped a pair of games to Lewis and Clark State.
But Minnesota can’t afford to look past those two teams nor work on scheduling the College of Ponce de Leon for next season. Nebraska is off to a 5-2 start, and Washington has players such as sophomore shortstop Kevin Miller, who was drafted out of high school.
“All four of the teams in the tournament have a chance to be in the NCAA tournament at the end of the year,” Anderson said.
bytes: Gophers starting pitchers for the weekend are Brad Pautz (0-1, 16.43 ERA) vs. Nebraska, Justin Pederson (1-1, 3.00 ERA) vs. Washington, Mike Diebolt (0-1, 0.56) vs. UCLA.
Freshman third baseman Matt Scanlon, recovering from a broken finger on his left hand, was cleared to practice this week, but his playing status for the weekend is uncertain.