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Consider the Redbirds: Vanderbilt v. Illinois State

If you don't get this title, read a book. If you don't know how to read, you really shouldn't be insulted by this. Purple monkey dishwasher.

David Foster Wallace, delivering the commencement speech that would become "This is Water."
David Foster Wallace, delivering the commencement speech that would become "This is Water."

"There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, 'Morning, boys.  How's the water?'  And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, 'What the hell is water?'"

-David Foster Wallace, This is Water

"You will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do."

-David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

This weekend, the Defending National Champion Vanderbilt Commodores welcome the Illinois State Redbirds for a three game series at Hawkins Field.  I know next to nothing about their baseball team.  Less than I knew about Indiana State's baseball team - and all I knew then was they were a #2 seed in the tourney last year and that Larry Bird does not play baseball.  About Illinois State?  Well, it's in Bloomington, Illinois, which, no matter how many times I read that, looks like it's really in Indiana.  I know literally nothing more.

And that's okay.  What I do know is the late essayist, novelist, and short story writer David Foster Wallace knew Bloomington, Illinois.  And he knew Illinois State.  He used to teach there.  Here's what he had to say about the town in his chilling 2001 Rolling Stone article about 9/11:

Bloomington is a City of 65,000 in the central part of a state that is extremely flat, so that you can see the town's salients from very far away. Three major interstates converge here, and several rail lines. The town's almost exactly halfway between Chicago and St. Louis, and its origins involve being a big train depot. It has a smaller twin city, Normal, that's built around a university and a slightly different story. Both towns together are like 110,000.

As Midwest cities go, the only remarkable thing about Bloomington is its prosperity. It's recession-proof. Some of this is due to the county's land, which is world-class fertile and so expensive you can't even find out how much it costs. But Bloomington is also the national HQ for State Farm, which is the great dark god of consumer insurance and for all practical purposes owns the town, and because of which Bloomington's east side is all smoked-glass complexes and Build-To-Suit developments and a six-lane beltway of malls and franchises that's killing the old downtown, plus a large and ever-wider split between the town's two basic classes and cultures, so well and truly symbolized by the SUV and pickup truck,* respectively.

Winter here is a pitiless bitch, but in the warm months Bloomington's a little like a seaside community except the ocean here is corn, which grows steroidically and stretches to the earth's curve in all directions. The town itself in summer is intensely green - streets bathed in tree-shade and homes' explosive gardens and area-code-size parks and golf courses you almost need eye-protection to look at, and row upon row of broad weedless fertilized lawns all lined up flush to the sidewalk with special edging tools. (People here are deeply into lawn-care; my neighbors tend to mow about as often as they shave.) To be honest, it can be a little creepy, especially in high summer when nobody's out and all that green just sits in the heat and seethes.

None of this has anything to do with baseball, and that's okay, too.  Here's why:

We're 6-2, and people are getting a little tense.

For the better part of my adult life, my friends have come to me when they feel like freaking out.  As such, I've received more "What's going on with the baseball team?" and "How far do you think we'll fall in the rankings?" texts after each of our two losses - especially after the Turd got flushed for the second time this past weekend against the Indiana State Fightin' Larry Birds - than I can count.

I don't think we'll fall.  I also don't care if we do.

Despite my criticism of Corbin pinch running for Karl Ellison (which led to a few Jason Delay muffs of Hayden Stone spiked sliders and a loss to Santa Clara), I completely approve of what he's doing with this team thus far.  With Walker Buehler out, we've got 2/3 of our CWS rotation from last year not heading to the mound.  We've got three to four (if you count catcher, and I do) open battles for spots in the order/field, as well.  As such, Corbin's going to use these OOC games to meddle with the order, defensive alignment, and get young bats and arms some playing time to see what we've got in them.

In short, we may be defending National Champs, but every year is a different animal, and even last year's team didn't fully settle into their roles until tournament time.  Need I remind you that Walker Buehler was the mid-week starter for most of the year?  That Carson Fulmer was the closer for the bulk of it?  That CWS hero John Norwood was in a platoon until deep into conference play?  That Dansby Swanson was... well, he was awesome from the get-go and I like to type that.

The point is... we want this team to grow, and to experience some growing pains.  At least until Buehler gets back and we can start to write our rotation in in pen.  At least until Jeren Kendall, Penn Murfee, and Will Toffey give us enough observable data to get a good idea of who they are (hint: I really like all three).  At least until Hayden Stone puts his first two outings past him, and is able to remove the Stone of Shame, and attach the Stone of Triumph.  At least until Turd Ferguson's wearing his over-sized hat in the bullpen.

At least until it warms up.

Okay.  Onto this weekend's series:

Hitter to Watch Out For:

#14 RS Junior INF/C Paul "Mustard" DeJong

This sumbitch has been, in a word, dangerous.

In many more words, the fancy mustard magnate has hit 4 - count 'em, 4 - HRs in ISU's first 6 games.  Fucker's hitting .423/.483/.962.  Of his 11 hits, 6 have gone for extra bases, which is just silly.  Hey Fulmer... time to dial up a little chin-music?  Time to dial up a little chin music.

Pitcher to Watch Out For:

#5 Junior LHP Will "Wheaton" Headean

While we ought to be nicer to Hwil Hwheaton...

...I'd prefer we kick him in the teeth.  The big lefty is sporting a 0.90 ERA in two starts (1-0) and is holding opposing hitters to a .125 opponents BA.

Let's ask Mr. Horse what he thinks about those numbers...

Our offense has exploded for 16 and 10 runs in the last two games against Tennessee-Martin and Western Kentucky, respectively.  Hwil Hwheaton, I'd enjoy your powdered toast while you still can, as I have a feeling you're in for a rough night.

On the Mound:

Friday - RHP Carson "The Florida Flamethrower" Fulmer (1-0, 1.80) vs. LHP Will "Wheaton" Headean (1-0, 0.90)

Saturday - LHP John "K-Chow: Bat Poison" Kilichowski (0-0, 5.40) vs. RHP Jack "Wagon" Landwehr (1-1, 6.75)

Sunday - RHP Kyle "Brothers" Wright (1-0, 0.00) vs. LHP Jacob "Tippi" Hendren (1-0, 6.55)