by Chris Plank
The second season of Skip Johnson’s head coaching tenure will have a much different look than his inaugural season. While much has changed for Sooner baseball, the foundational pieces remain in place as the team works toward a return to Omaha.
Six top hitters and nearly 60 percent of OU’s pitching staff graduated or were drafted into Major League Baseball. After a 38-25 season that ended in an NCAA regional championship game, OU is now without top draft picks Kyler Murray, drafted ninth, and Steele Walker, drafted 46th.
Of the 47 home runs last year, this season’s returning players accounted for just 11.
“We had a tremendous first year, ended up in a regional championship against a lot of odds, and the attitude of the team was really good,” Johnson said. “We’re really looking forward to the opportunity in front of us.”
The Sooners also lost pitcher Braidyn Fink to an arm injury.
Despite losing so many key pieces, Johnson is encouraged by the amount of talent that has stepped up.
“Depth is going to be one of our strengths. We have a lot of young depth,” Johnson said. “There will be bumps and bruises and adversity, but guys gain experience as we go through. We got better as the year went last year. What we talk about day in and day out is winning the last game of the season. That’s what we talk about as our vision for the program.”
While depth is a strength, Johnson is charged with finding leaders and personalities to replace the experience that left for the next level. From rally babies to eccentric personalities, the Sooner clubhouse has been loaded with character, over the last few seasons.
“We’ve still got the characters in the locker room,” senior Brylie Ware said. “Blake Brewster’s probably our biggest character. That’s what we love about Brew.”
While many faces and names have changed on the field and in the clubhouse, a few things have remained the same. SportsTalk 1400AM and 99.3 FM will continue as the play-by-play radio home of Sooner baseball, providing coverage of all 56 regular season and all post-season games on both the terrestrial radio signals and on-line at SportsTalk1400.com.
“Being in the Norman community, we try and bring the best coverage of OU that we can, even broadcasting some things outside the box like soccer and volleyball,” said TJ Perry, SportsTalk’s program director and morning show co-host. “But for me, baseball works on the radio better than any other sport. You can have it on in the office, working around the house, etc. Plus, it comes at a time of the year when people are getting out enjoying the weather. OU baseball has also been extremely popular with our out-of-state listeners on our app.”
Randy Laffoon took over ownership of SportsTalk 99.3FM and 1400AM in April of 2009, and the partnership with Sooner baseball has been a key piece of the relationship the station has within the community and with Oklahoma Sooner athletics.
“I felt as loyal as Sooner fans are, our location in Norman and with me being an alumnus, baseball broadcasts are a perfect fit,” Laffoon said. “Every year, we carry every game. It’s a commitment to OU, to the community and, of course, to the fans.”
In fact, SportsTalk 99.3FM and 1400AM is branded as the home of Sooner fans. In addition to baseball broadcasts, the station carries women’s basketball, football coaches’ shows, soccer, volleyball and more.
“Home of the Sooners tells exactly who we are. All of our hosts cover OU year-round,” Laffoon said. “Toby Rowland, Chris Plank, James Hale and Teddy Lehman are all pros and are well respected. We’re able to cover all sports, but we lean toward the Sooners.”
Toby Rowland enters his eighth season calling Sooner baseball. Rowland also co-hosts the T-Row in the Morning show every weekday with Perry from 6 to 9 a.m. For a die-hard baseball fan like Perry, preparing for the season is a lot of work, but also a labor of love.
“Preparing for the season, I work closely with several people at Sooner sports, Learfield and OU,” Perry said. “Over the years, we’ve developed a pretty good system to make sure everything is good to go for the start of the season since we produce nonconference games in house. It takes a lot of work to coordinate making sure everything runs smoothly.”
For Laffoon, it’s an opportunity to not only showcase his alma mater, but also one of his favorite sports.
“Baseball has always been a favorite sport of mine,” Laffoon said. “We’re committed to giving Sooner baseball the coverage it deserves for its fans and the university. That’s why we’re there every game home and away, any time of day.”
In addition to hearing the game on SportsTalk 99.3FM and 1400AM, Sooner baseball broadcasts also stream at SportsTalk1400.com and on the SportsTalk app. You can find the SportsTalk app by searching SportsTalk 1400 in your app store. – BSM