By Sean Stires
After spending good chunks of the month of June in Omaha for five straight years, I’ve spent the better part of the past two years on a personal and professional odyssey. Pete LaFleur and I founded CB360 with college baseball in our blood and I’ll be jumping back into the game again with this post.
No Leaving The Yard – It has been a fantastically competitive College World Series so far. Heading into Tuesday’s elimination game between Texas Tech and Ole Miss, three runs have been the biggest margin of victory through the first six games in Omaha.
Pitching has been stellar to date, but the fourth playing of the CWS at TD Ameritrade Park has also made something else more than obvious – it’s time to move the fences in.TD Ameritrade is the place where anything in the air goes to die. Nary has a home run been hit in Omaha this year, and overall extra base hits have been virtually non-existent since the series moved to TDA
Wind helped push balls out on top of the hill at Rosenblatt Stadium, but those same big currents don’t carry in downtown Omaha. It’s 408 to dead center and 335 down the lines. The dimensions are meant to be an equalizer of sorts for college baseball’s top eight teams, but it has also made for some tediously boring games at times for casual fans trying to follow along.
Bottom line – move the fences in 10 feet and add some excitement to an exciting event.
Playing Small – Just because long balls have been lacking doesn’t mean small ball isn’t any fun. The first inning of Monday’s 6-4 win by Vanderbilt over UC Irvine was small ball and college ball at its best. The Commodores used a pair of sacrifice bunts, including a squeeze, to take an early 2-0 lead over the Anteaters.
Not to be outdone, Irvine used a squeeze of its own by Adam Alcantara in the bottom of the second en route to a four-run inning of its own.
It’s not a coincidence that Irvine (No. 2), Texas (No. 1) and Virginia (No. 9) are among the nation’s leaders in Sac bunts this season and are also among the final eight teams still playing college baseball. They know how to manufacture runs when they need to.
Last year’s national champion, UCLA, finished seventh in the nation with 76 sacrifices. They used the formula of dominant pitching and just enough runs to claim the title.
Team Game – The grind it out formula is maddening to some, but it’s a college baseball trademark that increased even more since the implementation of BBCOR bats. It’s really what good college baseball is all about though – doing what it takes to win.
Texas Tech alum and former MLB pitcher Dallas Braden had a great line on Baseball Tonight last week when he said current athletes are playing in an era that hands out 12th-place participation ribbons. Little League games where no score is kept have bred high school players whose main goal is to say they were on the team rather than compete to win.
There is no question what a college baseball player is on the field to do though. Major League players jog or walk down the line after drawing a walk, but you won’t see many college players jogging anywhere.
Pro guys, by definition, play for their pay checks. Winning isn’t really important until September, October and early November. However, college guys, especially the ones in Omaha, play for those Ws and for their teammates. It’s no more apparent than watching a UC Irvine celebration or a Vanderbilt stretch routine.
Anyone watching the World Cup instead of the CWS (ok, except for maybe when the USA plays) should get in line for their participation ribbon.
Pro Jaw – The decision ESPN made a couple years ago to move Kyle Peterson from the field to the booth could be the best decision the network has made for its coverage of the College World Series. Peterson did a nice job when he was working as a sideline reporter, but his knowledge was completely wasted in that capacity.
Orel Hershiser and Nomar Garciaparra are among the former college baseball/MLB players ESPN used in the booth prior to Peterson’s promotion. Both did a good job offering their analysis in Omaha and both know the game extremely well, but Peterson knows the college game and the players who play it.
The Stanford alum doesn’t have the same household name recognition as Hershiser or Garciaparra or even Aaron “Bleeping” Boone, but he follows the college game throughout the year and his expertise is on display now that he is finally providing game color analysis. It was on display immediately when he mentioned Vanderbilt reliever Walker Buehler was the midweek starter for the Commodore’s for a good chunk of the season. Even the term “midweek” is foreign to most casual fans.
Peterson is always clear, concise and fairly no-nonsense (the polar opposite of Eric Byrnes, whom ESPN once paired with Peterson) and he just knows the college game. He’s hands down the best color analyst to work a CWS game.