Originally created 06/09/01

Southern California pitcher gets Player of the Year Award



OMAHA, Neb. -- Southern California right-hander Mark Prior, who was taken second overall by the Chicago Cubs in this week's draft, was awarded the Dick Howser Trophy Friday as college baseball's player of the year.

"It's been an unbelievable week, starting with the draft and now this," Prior said. "It's mindboggling."

His busy week's not over. Prior will start the Trojans' College World Series game against Georgia Saturday.

Prior also was selected the American Baseball Coaches Association Division I Player of the Year Thursday, and Collegiate Baseball's Player of the Year.

Prior is 14-1 with a 1.50 ERA and a school and Pac-10 single-season record 189 strikeouts in 131 2-3 innings. He's walked only 17.

"He's had a fantastic season," coach Mike Gillespie said. "He's looked a little more mortal in recent weeks, but from Game 1 he's been special."

The trophy, created in 1987 after Howser's death from brain cancer, is voted on by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.

EL PRESIDENTE: Stanford catcher Ryan Garko probably never was so nervous before a pitch.

The Cardinal sophomore was the battery mate for President George W. Bush as he threw out the ceremonial first pitch before Stanford's game against Tulane Friday.

Bush, who didn't reach the plate when he threw out a pitch at Milwaukee's Miller Park in April, threw one down the middle to Garko.

The president then shook hands with the Cardinal and the Green Wave along with the umpires for Friday's opener. He met the other six series teams inside the stadium clubhouse.

MR. COMPETETIVE: Don't challenge Tennessee shortstop Chris Burke - to anything.

The Southeastern Conference player of the year is very competitive. Volunteers coach Rod Delmonico remembers a team pingpong tournament during Burke's freshman year.

"He had his mom and dad Fed-Ex his pingpong paddle," Delmonico said. "That's the kind of guy he is. I don't care what it is, he's going to compete."

Whatever drives Burke, it's working.

The only Tennessee player to ever hit for the cycle, Burke broke Todd Helton's school records for hits, runs, doubles, total bases and extra-base hits. Burke (.439, 19, 59) also is the Vols career leader in singles and triples.

Helton won the NL batting title last year.

PEER PRESSURE: Nebraska grew on them.

John Cravero and Norm Ralph of Moline, Ill., changed their minds Thursday night as they camped out near the general admission gate at Rosenblatt Stadium.

The Augustana College students had planned to root for Cal State-Fullerton against Nebraska Friday night, but surrounded by a sea of red all night, they switched.

"Nebraska starts to grow on you," Cravero said.

Rosenblatt has about 5,000 general admission seats in the outfield bleachers, but 12,000 all-event pass books are sold annually. With Nebraska in the College World Series for the first time, space is at a premium and people camped out in order to get into Friday's early game.

THE GOOD LIFE: After 37 years as the public address announcer at the College World Series, Jack Payne is enjoying life in the stands this year.

Payne, a former Omaha broadcaster, retired from his role in the College World Series last year. Since Omaha became home of the tournament, Payne has either covered the event or been at the P.A. microphone every year except the first.

"It's exciting. It's quite an attraction," Payne said from his seat just down the third base line from home plate.

Bill Jensen, a longtime Omaha radio newsman, had mixed emotions as he prepared to replace Payne.

"A bit nervous, a bit excited and very, very honored," he said.