Thursday, February 22, 2024

Blood boils as rivals set to do battle

April 30, 2004
Freshman infielder Troy Krider prepares to throw home to catch a runner in a pickle Wednesday versus Central Michigan. The Spartans defeated the Chippewas 9-4. —

Troy Krider is about to enter the rivalry danger zone.

As the Spartans' freshman shortstop, the Indiana native doesn't know much about the state battle between Michigan and MSU. But as the Spartans prepare for a four-game series against the Wolverines this weekend, Krider is sure to find out.

"We'll make sure he knows the importance of this weekend," said senior third baseman James Moreno, a Holt native. "We'll open his eyes."

Krider admits his teammates, mostly upperclassmen, are "more hyped than I am," but even he feels that once the sun rises Friday morning, his feelings will change.

"All the upperclassmen hate Michigan," Krider said. "I had football and basketball tickets when we played U-M, so I got a taste of the rivalry."

Sean Walker, a freshman catcher and first baseman from Illinois, said even he's going to make sure Krider understands the fire between the teams. One of the first things he realized when he joined the Spartans' squad was the disgust for anything maize and blue - especially Wolverines.

"You don't hear the name Michigan around here, you just hear Ann Arbor," said Walker, who brings a seven-game hitting streak, the longest current streak on the team, into the weekend. "The other guys, they're passionate about it. You want to beat Michigan.

"You see the hatred in their eyes. You want to beat them. You get pretty pumped. As a team, there is going to be a lot of adrenaline going."

Senior right-handed pitcher Bryan Gale will experience his last U-M-MSU series this weekend. Gale will get the ball on Friday, hoping to give MSU a 1-0 series lead before the teams head back to East Lansing for a Saturday doubleheader.

As he stood on the field at Oldsmobile Park after his team's 12-8 win over Eastern Michigan on Wednesday, Gale couldn't hold back how much he wanted to beat the Wolverines, especially in his last go around.

"My first two years, we took three out of four from then. And then last year, they took three out of four from us, so it's kind of a get-back-at-them type thing," said Gale, who carries a 3-2 record and a 3.14 ERA. "It's always special when it's your last (MSU-Michigan series). It's always the biggest weekend of the year, no matter what the records are."

What is Gale going to do to make sure the underclassmen, especially freshman make his final clash with the Wolverines memorable?

"You don't have to do anything," he said. "Once the first pitch is thrown Friday, they'll know. The atmosphere is so different in those games than any other. They hate us; we hate them. Everyone in the dugout is yelling at each other. Things tend to get overheated sometimes - people throw at somebody and the other team is shouting stuff at the pitcher.

"You don't have to say anything. Once you are in there, in the moment, you say to yourself, 'Wow, this is completely different than anything else I've ever done.'"

Despite college baseball not being as mainstream as football, basketball or hockey, the intrastate pride battle looms large on the diamond. This season is providing another incentive - a possible conference crown.

The Wolverines (22-15 overall, 10-6 Big Ten) currently are tied atop the conference, two games ahead of MSU (21-18, 8-8). And, with the logjam of teams capable of taking the title (three games separate the first place team from the eighth-place team), this series plays an important role in both teams' seasons.

Ted Mahan, who is in his ninth season as head coach and 13th overall season in the Spartans dugout was a player and an assistant for U-M before exchanging his maize and blue uniform for a green and white one.

In his time at U-M, the Wolverines captured the Big Ten title twice and made five trips to the NCAA Tournament. Mahan knows this weekend will help in his bid to guide MSU to a conference championship.

"We're halfway through the Big Ten season and we have 16 games left, 10 at home," Mahan said. "We like our chances, but we have to win some games, especially this weekend.

"They'll know. They'll be ready."

Even Krider?

"I'm looking to get out there and get it done," Krider said. "After this weekend, I'm sure I'll hate them, too."

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