Babb has Johns Hopkins baseball playing razor-sharp

Blue Jays enter regional ranked No. 1 in Division III

May 19, 2010|By Mike Klingaman, The Baltimore Sun

Maybe it's the mustache. He had it 31 years ago, when he grabbed the baseball reins at Johns Hopkins. Now, nearly 900 victories later, there's still a trace of fuzz above coach Bob Babb's lip. And Hopkins keeps rolling along.

The Blue Jays (39-4), top-ranked in NCAA Division III, start their march toward the College World Series today at 1:15 p.m. against Moravian (Pa.) (26-13) in the Mid-Atlantic Regionals in Trenton, N.J. It's the 17th trip to the playoffs for Babb's team, which has never had a losing season under the 55-year-old coach.

Though the mustache seldom twitches, Babb's calm demeanor belies a ferocity within.

"His rule is: Act classy and respectful on the field, but play with a killer mentality," pitcher Sam Eagleson said.

It's a mind-set embraced by the players.

"He [Babb] is laid-back but intense in the sense that you know he wants to win every ... single ... game," outfielder Dave Kahn said. "With that attitude coming from the top, it's easy to play for him."

Babb, a Hopkins grad himself, has coached the Jays to 895 victories and could claim No.900 in the playoffs.

"Obviously, we have bigger goals than that right now," Babb said. One is to win the regional and return to the World Series, an eight-team, double-elimination tournament where Hopkins finished second in 2008 and third in 1989.

Babb said a national title is within reach of this year's Jays, who rose from a No.30 preseason ranking to the top of the polls. En route, they won 32 straight games — one shy of a school record — before losing the regular-season finale to Salisbury, which also made the playoffs.

"When these guys play well, they're as good as any team I've had," said Babb, whose winning percentage at Hopkins is a heady .742. "We've had faster teams and better starting pitchers, but never a bullpen this deep — or as much power from guys who hit for high average."

A World Series championship is all that has eluded the coach who calls himself "old school" and who doesn't own a cell phone. During games, he scribbles thoughts and strategies in a notepad, which he shares with the team.

"After every game, we get to see inside his head," second baseman Brian Youchak said. "How cool is that?"

Babb said his notebook also serves another purpose.

"On days when we're not scoring runs, I'll move the pad around — to the roof of the dugout, or in the helmet rack — until I find a place where we start to score," he said.

"Most players don't know that I do that, but my [assistant] coaches do. They think I'm an idiot."

Coincidentally, Hopkins leads the nation in runs scored, averaging 11.4 per game.

Also today, Salisbury (27-11), the No. 2 seed in the South Regional, plays LaGrange (Ga.) (25-18) at 2:30 p.m. in Fayetteville, N.C. It's the 11th straight postseason appearance for Salisbury, which reached the World Series in 2001 and 2004 but failed to make the finals. The Sea Gulls are ranked 17th nationally.

"This hasn't been one of our better years," said coach Doug Fleetwood, whose team won 38 games in 2009 and 41 the year before.

"A lot of people would be tickled with our record, but that's not the standard we set for ourselves. But we're here, where anybody can win it — so it might as well be us."

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