Last year's College World Series Finals saw the emergence of Mr. June, Tyler "Soup" Campbell - then a little used utility player batting around the Mendoza line, who was pressed into action after Xavier Turner failed a drug test we're not supposed to talk about for some reason, and was suspended for a year, immediately - Adam Ravenelle turn into the closer we'd been lacking since moving Carson Fulmer into the rotation mid-year, and John Norwood blasted a home-run that not only served as the championship winning run, but the Commodores' only home run in Omaha, and prompted the Marlins to offer the undrafted junior a contract pretty much on the spot.
It also had a Snidely Whiplash-ian villain repeatedly trying to tie Mr. June to the train tracks in Mike Papi:
This year's defending National Champion Vanderbilt Commodores have already had their fair share of unlikely heroes this College World Series. For those looking to find the sublime in baseball, I submit the following moments (in chronological order):
- The rain delay that knocked out Thomas Eshelman and his Greg Maddox routine in game 1.
- Zander Wiel lining an opposite field gapper to plate Rhett Wiseman in his one pitch, game delayed at bat that started at 3-2, 2 outs.
- Jeren Kendall's walk off:
Vandy walk off against Cal St Fullerton pic.twitter.com/aVRFqUpoNa— Michael Shamburger (@mshamburger1) June 15, 2015
- Zander Wiel's no-hit breaking homer to beat Alex Young and TCU 1-0.
- Rhett Wiseman's Neck:
- Rhett Wiseman's Neck-Based Revenge Home Run hit halfway to Lincoln, Nebraska:
There have also been amazing pitching performances which are much harder to distill into moments, but you can't discount the job Phil Pfeifer did against TCU, Kyle Wright becoming a shut-down closer (specifically bailing our asses out against CSF with the bases loaded to allow Kendall to his his walk-off HR, and the two inning save against TCU the next day), and Walker Buehler destroying the confidence of TCU.
Further, there have been some likely villains, such as the third base umpire in the 2nd TCU game who erroneously overturned Zander Wiel's tag-up score on a sac fly, LHP Tyler Alexander quite literally going for the jugular when Rhett Wiseman squared to bunt, and the Florida Gators' continued existence on this planet.
Though I have no crystal ball, and all my tea leaves just look like dirt at the bottom of my mug, I'm going to try my hand and predicting the unpredictable. In other words, here are my Unlikely Heroes and Likely Villains of the 2015 CWS Finals:
Nominees for a Mr. June Performance (no out of nowhere suspensions to prompt this, please and thank you)
1. DH Ronell "Ro" Coleman. In short, Ro has had a terrible couple of weeks in Omaha. The feisty lead-off hitter has gone 0-9 at TD Ameritrade Park, and though he has been occasionally making solid contact, it's always been right where the defense is positioned. All we need from Ro this week is patience at the plate and proficiency at small ball, but Ro has "unlikely hero" in his DNA, and if ever there was a candidate for a few unlikely doubles to win a game (like Campbell gave us last year), it's this guy.
2. 2B Tyler Campbell. Hitting at the bottom of the lineup? Check. Will have outfielders scooching in when at the plate? Check. Is actually Tyler "Mr. June" Campbell? Big time check.
3. C Jason Delay. This is a gut feeling thing, but I've loved the little I've seen of Delay's swing this postseason. He won't start game 1 (Ellison is Fulmer's personal catcher) and likely won't start game 2 with Pfeifer on the mound, but if this series goes to game 3, he could be a difference maker.
Nominees for the John Norwood Tower of Power Award
1. 1B Zander "Awesome X" Wiel. On the surface, this seems pretty simple. Wiel, like Norwood, is a power-hitting righty who is, to put it lightly, a bit of a streaky hitter. His leg kick, when timed right, and strong base allows him to drive the ball over whatever fencing they have set up on any given day. However, his "Hulk Smash" mindset often allows for boom or bust potential at every at bat. Then again, Wiel can also be a patient hitter who stays back on the ball and drives it to the opposite field power alley (see both ABs in the resumed rain delay game against CSF). Last but not least, though Wiel was drafted, he was overlooked by many, and fell to the 12th round where he was selected by the Minnesota Twins. Whereas Norwood was playing to get noticed, Wiel might just be playing his way into a larger signing bonus, or at the very least, into being able to use his potential redshirt senior year as leverage.
2. RF Rhett Wiseman's Neck. The neck is angry, my friends... like an old man sending back soup at a deli. Rhett's entire season has been a John Norwood style resurgence, especially in terms of power. He has hero written all over him... at least that's what I think that neck welt says.
3. LF Jeren Kendall. Though Kendall will likely not be overlooked or undervalued in the draft in two years, there is a Norwood-esque quality to his late season surge. Like Norwood, Kendall was not always listed in the starting line-up this year, and had to get hot and prove he belonged. Since the 3/4 mark of this season, Kendall has been arguably our most dangerous hitter - combining unexpected long ball power with otherworldly speed. Scroll on up and see his walk-off against CSF's lefty closer. That's a tough pitch to hit, and an unfavorable match-up, and yet Kendall made it look effortless.
4. CF Bryan "The Aluminum Foil" Kendall. Hitting .500 (6-12) in Omaha is going to get you recognized. The Foil had to overcome a late season slump in which we saw a pretty clear hole in his swing on fastballs and sliders down and in. That he has been able to correct for that and thrive against the most difficult competition of the year is ridiculously commendable, and speaks to his dedication to his craft. Though the Foil is heating up at the right time, the power has yet to come. Might it surface against Virginia?
5. 3B Will "Youth Hockey" Toffey. Reynolds has deservedly jumped him in the line-up, but Youth Hockey's putting on the foil. Eddie Shore! Old time hockey! Against sophomore RHP Connor Jones, especially, I expect Toffey's bat to play. Jones will bring some low 90s heat, but if he leaves one middle to middle in and waist high, Toffey's going to crush it.
6. SS Dansby "The Mansby" Swanson. Swanson is far from an unlikely hero, but he has been kept quiet since being drafted #1 overall by the Diamondbacks. This weekend has given Swanson the time to breathe, hit the cages, and regain focus. He's going to break out, and we're not going to have to wait too long tonight to see it.
The Adam Ravenelle Award for Excellence in Closing Games
1. RHP Kyle Wright. Lights. Out. No debate here.
The Mike Papi Award For Excellence In Villainy
Believe it or not, Virginia doesn't have a lot of obvious candidates to fill the team asshole role vacated by the human garbage that is Mike Papi. However, the circumstances of the CWS finals has the tendency to produce heightened emotion, and heightened emotion is known to produce excellence in douchebaggery. Here is my best guess at who will bring our collective blood to a boil:
1. The ESPN Broadcasting Crew. This is the biggest no doubter of all. Rather than send Kyle Peterson out there, who while he may talk of his glory days a bit too much, at least knows the game and has a pretty good handle on the players on both teams, ESPN will doubtless send out Karl Ravech to mispronounce names, harp on meaningless stats - yes, Karl, Walker Buehler did not go deep against Radford, but we were up 21-0 at the time - and fill three hours with anecdotes and asking his color guy how his day has been. Come to think of it, they'll likely make Peterson his color guy, and all he'll do is respond to nonsense Ravech questions about Peterson's glory days pitching at Stanford and/or what he had for lunch. This will infuriate you. Mute it and sync up Joe Fisher.
Blood Boiling Potential: 100% (or 0% if you do what I suggest and put on Joe).
2. C Matt Thaiss. Thaiss is, without a doubt, UVA's best player. The sophomore catcher from South Jersey is a .337/.427/.535 hitter with 10 HR. He handles their pitching staff well, frames pitches on the corners, and blocks pretty much every pitch in the dirt. Further, from what I've seen of him, he's never been the type of guy to go in cleats up or truck a guy Mike Papi style. Why is he #2 on this list, then? Two words: New Jersey. Like VandyTigerPhD and yours truly, Thaiss comes from the Garden State. Know this: every single person from NJ, no matter how much they actively suppress it, has it in them to completely see red and fly off the handle at any perceived slight. Now I'm not saying Thaiss will follow you home, wait till your family goes to sleep, and burn your house down. I'm just saying he has that in him. On a cellular level. And add in the perception that his team is a huge underdog to the heightened emotion of the CWS Finals, and it's a little like giving a tinder box to an arsonist.
Blood Boiling Potential: 75%.
3. OF Joe McCarthy. The name alone.
Blood Boiling Potential: 74%.
4. INF Kenny Towns. Towns is a pretty good player with a borderline ridiculous ability to do nothing all game, but come through in the most tense of situations. No sir, I don't like him.
Blood Boiling Potential: 50%.
5. Last year's Mike Papi Award Winner: Mike Papi. You just know this asshole is going to find his way into the booth, where he will pretend trucking Campbell was purely accidental and he is nothing but sunshine and rainbows. Do not believe his lies.
Blood Boiling Potential: 100% (but I'm still holding out hope this doesn't happen).