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Chambers off to admirable start in building empire

If there’s one thing to be learned from the ancient Romans, it’s that building an empire takes time. One must first build aqueducts and such.

If there’s a second thing to be learned from the ancient Romans, it’s that when the Rhine freezes over, be wary of Vandals, Ostrogoths and Visigoths.

One month into his first season as UNLV baseball coach, Tim Chambers has built aqueducts.

Blending holdovers and newcomers into diamond smoothies, he has guided the Rebels to a 16-4 record. Three of the losses have come on Tuesday. In college baseball, Tuesday games are pretty much meaningless, because that’s when the pitchers with batting-practice fastballs normally get to play.

It should be noted that last year at this time, before Chambers was building aqueducts and raising money to restore the shine to Wilson Stadium, the UNLV baseball team was 13-5. Most of the wins came against Southern Utah, Northwestern and Columbia.

Last year’s team split two games against Arizona, as has this year’s. But this year’s 16-4 feels different than last year’s 13-5.

It could be a reflection of the new coach, or the reflection Wilson Stadium makes in his sunglasses. Everything is emerald green or brilliant, like a high-definition television on the day you bring it home from the electronics store.

Under Buddy Gouldsmith, the program was like the TV that gets relegated to the rec room or the garage. Wilson Stadium had withered into a drab yellow-brown swatch, like tundra before it freezes.

This is why you need aqueducts.

Plus, there was 17 years of trash under the grandstand.

This is why you need a hole in the wall.

Chambers got somebody to drill one, in the back of the grandstand. Then he got somebody else to get in there and literally take out the trash. 

It’s all part of building a baseball empire.

Chambers is like Augustus or Theodosius the Great, if those guys swung fungo bats and recruited local talent. Perhaps he should wear a toga instead of a baseball uniform.

Ah, but beware the Ides of March. Isn’t that what they told Caesar?

It’s a good thing this weekend’s Mountain West Conference season-opening series against mighty Texas Christian begins on March 18, instead of March 15.

TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle was once UNLV coach, before he started building aqueducts in Fort Worth.

Last year, Schlossnagle directed the Horned Frogs to their first College World Series. They began this year ranked No. 1. Now they’re No. 9. They’re 10-6, with three of the losses coming against Baptists (Houston and Dallas) and an Arlington (University of Texas).

These are not the type of defeats for which one receives style points. But two happened on Tuesday, so cut "Schloss" some slack.

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, TCU is the measuring stick by which aspiring aqueduct builders chart their progress. The Rebels and Frogs will play night games at 6:05 Friday and Saturday and close out the first of their two 2011 series at 11:05 a.m. Sunday.

If the 335 Club — Chambers has also brought back the unofficial booster club of old coach Fred Dallimore — is raising its can cozies in victory from its new perch atop the right-field fence after any of these games, it will have been a productive weekend.

If it happens on Friday, it’ll also be a minor miracle. That’s the day left-hander Matt Purke normally pitches for TCU. Last year, Purke was 16-0, winning two games in the College World Series. This year, he’s 2-1 with an ERA of 0.66. There’s a reason the Texas Rangers drafted him in the first round out of high school, even if he does look like Harry Potter.

And yet, Chambers says of the weekend challenge, "You gotta get excited. Those guys were really close to winning a national championship last year."

Chambers said he has a healthy respect for Schlossnagle, too, for what he has accomplished in eight seasons at TCU, and maybe even more for what he accomplished in just two seasons at UNLV.

"His clubs, that’s really the last time they won here," Chambers said. "We want to try to achieve some of the things he did when he was here."

In that way, Chambers is like another Roman emperor, Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, or Nero for short.

He’s fiddling on the roof of the first-base dugout, eager to see how far his Rebels have come, and just as eager to see how far they still have to go.

Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

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