Negen catches on to homer fun

by Sarah Mitchell

Catchers have traditionally received little credit, even though they are the brains of the entire baseball operation. Their most important jobs — calling pitches and keeping pitchers relaxed on the mound — are often overlooked, but nonetheless vital to a team’s success.
With due respect to Mike Piazza-types, the players who complete the receiving end of the battery are stereotyped as slow runners who swing weak bats. Usually when a catcher reaches base safely it’s considered a bonus.
However, in this past weekend’s road series against Illinois, Minnesota catcher Jeremy Negen made a case for his position.
Negen, a sophomore, hit his first career home run, a two-run shot over the left field wall, during Sunday’s 12th inning to secure a 11-9 Gophers win and a series split.
“It felt good to get it out of the way,” Negen said. “I just wanted to hit the ball hard.”
In response to Negen, freshman Jason Shupe sarcastically explained the physics behind the long ball.
“When you hit the ball hard, it goes out,” Shupe said.
Although Negen hit his first career home run, he said his main concern is defense.
“My number one duty is handling the pitching staff. I like to get hits, but I like to concentrate more on the defensive side, keep us in the game,” Negen said.
Following the game, head coach John Anderson said he was happy Negen was the game’s hero. Anderson added, though, that he was not surprised the number nine hitter took a ball deep off of the Illini’s Tom Zidlicky, who shut out the Gophers during game two on Saturday.
“This is a crazy game, and some crazy things happen every once in a while. That’s just how screwed up it is sometimes,” Anderson said. “Both teams were struggling to score runs the last four or five innings, and here comes up a guy hitting .260, hasn’t hit a home run all year, hits a ball out of the park against their best left-handed pitcher.”
Two down
During Saturday’s game two, Minnesota realized the team can never overstaff its coaching corps.
After Anderson and pitching coach Mike Dee were simultaneously ejected from the game by home plate umpire John Garlits for arguing a balk call on Dan McGrath, head assistant coach Rob Fornasiere and volunteer assistant coach J.T. Bruett were left in charge.
The team lost 2-0 and the incident was a learning tool for the entire team — especially Negen, who was left behind the plate to call the pitching sequence on his own.
However, Negen said after the game he felt comfortable in Dee’s absence. Negen said he had already gotten to know the tendencies of the Illini batters.
Tough guy
Two weekends ago, it was Matt Scanlon’s fashion sense that was lacking. This past weekend, pitcher Brad Pautz changed his look.
Magically, the pitcher sprouted facial hair during Sunday’s pre-game. The wizard behind the deed was the equally goofy McGrath, who drew a goatee on Pautz’s face.
McGrath, who called his work the “Fu Manchu,” explained that he put eye black on Pautz face to lighten the tense mood before Sunday’s game. Minnesota had dropped two out of the first three games of the series and needed a win.
“It’s just joking around,” McGrath said. “Pautzy is an out there type of guy.”
After the game, Pautz explained to his parents that his new look would reappear before he pitched his next game, in hopes that he would throw better than he did against Illinois. The Illini roughed up Pautz in game one Saturday, knocking him out in the third inning.
Pautz’s father, however, said the goatee alone could not save the pitcher.
“You have to throw strikes to win,” he said.
Around the horn
ù Robb Quinlan has gone 10-for-20 since moving to the lead-off spot five games ago. Quinlan leads the Big Ten in runs scored with 50.
ù Mike Arlt is tied for first in the Big Ten with five triples on the season. With his next triple, Arlt will join elite company, tying five other Gophers, including Quinlan, for the most three-baggers hit in a season.
ù Mark Groebner continues to run away with the Big Ten stolen bases title. Groebner has stolen 19 bases this season, six more than the players tied for second place.
ù Dan McGrath’s pick-off move continues to surprise opposing players. McGrath, who has caught seven runners straying too far from the bag, leads the Big Ten in that category.