A trial run was held for the University of Louisville baseball team at Slugger Field on Wednesday, giving the Cardinals and their fans a chance to get used to the venue before the ACC tournament in late May.
Good idea. There are many differences between Jim Patterson Stadium and the home base for the Louisville Bats. A taste of a professional baseball venue for UofL players. So much commercialism at Slugger Field, over the top, actually, with advertising on almost every conceivable surface, including the outfield fences and the video boards.
Some stadium enhancements would be nice before the ACC tournament rolls around, including the sound system. The stadium announcer could barely be heard on the second level and Al Greener’s portable keyboard was nowhere near as robust as the organ at Jim Patterson Stadium.
On any day when the University of Louisville baseball team is in action at Jim Patterson Stadium, one will find Donald Hairston pacing the concrete deck on the first base side of the field.
Hairston, who hails from Lexington, is the father of Devin Hairston, the Cardinals’ starting shortstop. His wife, Valerie, is at the stadium, too, but she is usually watching with a friend in the seats.
Hairston says he prefers to stand during games, especially when games are close and the outcome is still on the line. “Too much nervous energy,” he says.
Hairston is a retired information technology specialist and Valerie is a retired teacher from the Fayette County Public School System. They travel to Louisville for every home game, as well as to other games within driving distance.
The Hairstons had two sons playing baseball up until last year, including Dorian, the younger son, who was an outfielder at the University of Kentucky. They had no problem cheering for either program, according to mom who told the Courier-Journal last year, “It’s not stressful for me. I look at it positively: I win either way. One of my kids wins.”
Devin actually was committed to UK at one point but changed his mind after a meeting with UofL Coach Dan McDonnell. “Devin said Louisville was just the better fit for him,” said his dad. “He wanted to play for Coach McDonnell.”
Donald Hairston is elated that Devin is having a successful junior season, recalling that his son had to battle back from a collision with a University of Cincinnati player during his freshman season. “That was tough on everybody, and it took a while to recover,” he explained. “He is playing some of his best baseball right now.”
Devin is currently hitting at a .328 clip, with eight doubles, three triples, two home runs and 37 runs batted in after 38 games. Defensively, at shortstop, he has a fielding percentage of 99.2%.
When both players had games on the same day the past two seasons, one parent would go to the UK game, the other to the UofL game. No problem this year with Dorian enrolled in grad school in Lexington.
Brendan McKay is so methodical and so businesslike in his approach to baseball that he doesn’t attract much notice when he’s having a great day at the plate. So much is expected of him.
On the other hand, McKay probably gets more than his share of attention in games when he’s popping up or not getting the ball out of the infield. Or when he’s not driving in the lion’s share of his team’s runs.
Such is the life of a college super star, never quite able to live up to expectations. Baseball is like that, with even the best players having their share of challenging games. Two hits in eight at-bats making for a long weekend against a tough Wake Forest team.
McKay found his hitting eye again Tuesday, leading the second-ranked University of Louisville baseball team to a 13-2 win over visiting Purdue before a crowd estimated at 1,569 at Jim Patterson Stadium.
Making his presence felt early in this one, following a walk to Colby Fitch and an error putting Devin Hairston on base in the first inning. McKay would drive a 2-and-1 pitch 340 feet over the right centerfield wall, his sixth home run of the season putting his team up 3-0.
McKay would follow that up with another drive to right centerfield in the third inning, sending Logan Taylor and Hairston across the plate. Louisville was up 8-0, and on its way to its 28th win in 32 games this season.
Nothing flashy, just two extra base hits, scoring twice and batting in five runs in two trips to the plate. Going about his business, getting the job done again.
“When the lights are on, Devin Hairston’s the guy you want at the plate.”
The word coming from Dan McDonnell, coach of the University of Louisville baseball team following a 7-5 win in a game that clinched two out of three in a series against Wake Forest over the weekend.
That’s saying something when your team has players like Brendan McKay, with a hefty .388 batting average, and Drew Ellis, currently hitting .364. They get the attention of the professional scouts. Hairston gets the job done with runners on base.
Hairston is leading the team in runs batted in with 36 of them through 31 games. He is followed by Colby Fitch with 27, Ellis with 25, McKay with 22, Devin Mann and Logan Taylor with 21, and Colin Lyman with 16.
“Devin is just very even keel,” said McDonnell. “He just very confident in his ability as he should be. He’s just competing, he’s grinding out, he’s very consistent. When the lights are on, he has those very good at-bats.”
Hairston, who is currently batting .325, had three hits and drove in four runs, including a game-clinching two-run double in the eighth inning before a crowd of 4,056 at Jim Patterson Stadium. It was UofL’s 31st consecutive series win at home, including 13 straight against Atlantic Coast Conference foes.
“I’m really happy for him, and I’m happy for our guys,” said McDonnell. “We showed a lot of toughness today.”
The Cardinals are now 27-4 overall and 12-3 in the ACC. Clemson, meanwhile, moved into first place in the Atlantic Division with a 13-2 mark following a weekend sweep of Virginia Tech.
Jim Patterson Stadium was so packed Tuesday that the University of Louisville reportedly had to close the gates for the first time ever, with a record crowd of 6,210 people on hand for the game against Kentucky.
The outfield berm was a sea of red with a smattering of blue sprinkles, extending all the way past the children’s playground to the backup screen in center field. Evidence aplenty that another expansion is needed. The only question is when the official announcement will be forthcoming.
UofL and UK fans in close proximity for more than four hours, with few hints of the animus that exists between the fan bases. Could have been because Louisville was so convincing early, jumping out to a 5-0 lead after three innings and would hold UK scoreless through eight innings.
It wasn’t supposed to be that easy and it wasn’t. When the Wildcats rallied in the top of the ninth, many of their partisans had already departed. They would score three runs courtesy of three hits, a walk and three runs off of Louisville reliever Rabon Martin.
Fortunately, right hander Lincoln Henzman lived up his closer billing, shutting down the Wildcats for the 5-3 victory and his eighth save of the season. The win gave the Cardinals their sixth straight win over Kentucky over the last four seasons.
Drew Ellis and Devin Hairston wielding the big bats again. Ellis, with two hits, broke the ice with a two-run double in the first inning. Hairston, who had three hits, would drive in two more runs in the second inning.
Right hander Shane Hummel would get credit for his third win without a loss. But give tons of credit to freshman lefty Adam Elliott from St. X who would shut down Kentucky with runners on second and third in the fourth inning. He would limit them to two hits over the next two innings.
The win improved UofL’s record to 25-3. Kentucky is 21-9.