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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Jayhawks will be affected by WSU coach’s decision

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Kansas University baseball coach Ritch Price was one of many surprised to hear of Wichita State coach Gene Stephenson's decision to take the coaching job at Oklahoma this past weekend.

Stephenson, though, topped even himself with shocking news. Stephenson took back his decision and announced through a statement late Monday his intentions to stay at WSU - several hours after putting on an Oklahoma jersey at a news conference in Norman, Okla.

The move - and reversal - came with the KU baseball program watching closely. Stephenson's final resting point had quite an impact on KU. If he went to OU, his renowned staff suddenly was a Big 12 Conference rival. If he stayed at WSU, it still was a gorilla for Price to face head-to-head during in-state recruiting - not that Price feels he's not getting the job done in that area.

"I feel like we've made phenomenal strides, and we've done a good job recruiting against him," Price said Monday afternoon before Stephenson changed his mind. "We're going to keep going at it like we've always done."

Of course, that makes sense now that nothing is changing.

In all, the Shockers have appeared in the College World Series seven times under Stephenson's watch - although it's been nine years since the last appearance. Stephenson has said that the changing times in college athletics have made it harder for schools from smaller conferences like the Missouri Valley to compete on a national stage, one of his reasons for his interest in the big-budget Oklahoma job.

But the Wichita State job has its perks, too. The facilities - including Eck Stadium - are among college baseball's best, and the Missouri Valley Conference doesn't come close to the all-around power of the Big 12, making WSU's opportunities at NCAA Tournament berths that much easier.

"It's a winnable league," Price said. "You've got to be a national power to win the Big 12 Conference. But I think the most attractive thing about that job is that it's a winnable league and you can be in regionals every year."

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Blistering it: The professional career of former Jayhawk A.J. Van Slyke only is a few weeks old, but it's off to a heck of a start.

Van Slyke, who was drafted in the 23rd round by the St. Louis Cardinals last month, is hitting .380 in rookie ball with two home runs and 14 RBIs in 13 games for the Johnson City Cardinals of the Appalachian League.

"I actually thought he'd get off to a good start," Price said. "He did well with wood (bats) last summer. He's in a league where they throw a lot of fastballs, and he's a good fastball hitter."

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Other ex-Jayhawks: A few other former Jayhawks are having good seasons in the minor leagues.

Travis Metcalf, who last played for KU in 2004, is hitting .294 with 12 home runs and 57 RBIs for the Bakersfield Blaze, a Class A-advanced affiliate of the Texas Rangers. He's among the team's best in nearly all offensive categories.

Elsewhere, 2001 grad John Nelson has made his way to Triple-A Memphis for the St. Louis organization. He's hitting .271 with 12 home runs and 40 RBIs for the Redbirds.

Mike Zagurski, who just started his professional career after pitching for KU this spring, is 1-1 with a 3.12 ERA in four starts for the Batavia Muckdogs, a rookie-league team in the Philadelphia Phillies organization.

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