The King of Ping

By on May 27, 2013

Go Cocks!  Fans wave their sign during their game against the Arizona Wildcats in the fifth inning of the championship finals game two of the 2012 College World Series                                                                         (photo USA TODAY Sports Images / Matt Ryerson)

 

 

There used to be a beautiful marriage in this country between baseball, America’s pastime, and collegiate athletics, the intersection of top-notch athletic performance and pure passion for the game. College baseball was fun and people throughout the country loved to watch the game. There’s still some goofiness out there like the postgame antics caught on the University of Cincinnati’s TV network and some talent from the number of major leaguers coming from the college ranks. But the passion around the country for college baseball seems to have disappeared.

Today you still have the same enjoyment in the year-round baseball places like South Carolina, Louisiana, Texas, Florida, Arizona and California. But there used to be a day when guys wouldn’t immediately jump to professional baseball when drafted (unless, of course, they were drafted in the first few rounds). There were days when Ohio State’s Nick Swisher brought his uncanny passion to Columbus and when Vanderbilt’s David Price was a veteran ace. When Florida State’s Buster Posey was playing several positions in one game and when everyone knew San Diego State’s Stephen Strasburg was a prodigy from day one.

Today college baseball is a lost art in many places. Part of that may be attributed to the change around amateur baseball from composite bats. Composite aluminum bats were the ones that made that sweet “tink” sound when hit off the barrel. The metal sound is still there, but those composite bats were deemed to be such a weapon and competitive edge that college baseball has gone to bats with less of a “trampoline effect” that makes balls come of the bat a bit slower. In short: the bats have less “pop” and there has been a decrease in homers since the change was made in college baseball after the 2010 season. The Associated Press ran a story on the change in 2011 which appeared on ESPN.com.

As tough as it was for the places that normally embrace college baseball to adjust it’s been that much tougher in the North. Ohio State used to be a 40 to 50 win team and hosted several regionals in the past 20 years, but now struggles to make the NCAA tournament. There used to be a day when Northern collegiate baseball teams had just as good a chance to win as Southern teams, but no school as far north as Omaha, Nebraska, the home of the College World Series, has even made the championship round since Fresno State won in 2008. The last Midwestern team in the CWS championship was Wichita State when it lost to LSU in 1993. But for this years’ NCAA Baseball Tournament there are some great stories to look forward to.

The Indiana Hoosiers won their conference regular season outright (Big Ten) for the first time since 1932. Back in 1932 the Big Ten actually had 10 teams, which included the University of Chicago. They beat the three-seeded Nebraska, who actually had an overall record below .500 in the regular season. The win for the Hoosiers means they are pretty much a lock to host an NCAA Regional and may even host a Super Regional should they advance through the first round. The Hoosiers, who have only made the tournament twice, have a brand new stadium ready to host tournament action.

                While the SEC has dominated college football’s championship in the past several years it’s been much of the same in baseball. There hasn’t been a CWS championship without an SEC team in the final since 2007, which included an all-SEC final in 2011. In fact, Arizona beating South Carolina last year broke up a run of three straight SEC titles with LSU winning in 2009 and those Gamecocks going back-to-back in 2010 and 2011. The Vanderbilt Commodores, who have never won the CWS, finished the regular season as the No.1 team in college baseball for the second time (based on the Collegiate Baseball Writers Association rankings) and look to earn their second trip to Ohama. Vandy is joined by LSU (No.2), Mississippi State (No.13), South Carolina (No.14), Arkansas (No.18), Ole Miss (No.21) and Alabama as teams that should definitely be in the NCAA field of 64.

Another dynamic to look at is the possibility of the two big Oregon schools meeting deep in the tournament. No.3 Oregon State and No.8 Oregon played at the end of the season with the Beavers taking two of three in Eugene to end Oregon’s hopes of winning the Pac-12. Those two programs may have another Civil War in the NCAA tournament, possibly with a spot for a CWS berth on the line.

To bring some of the attention to Florida baseball, the Seminoles are looking to add on to their illustrious baseball history. Florida State finished the regular season No.7 in the country with a 44-11 record and is looking for CWS appearance number 22. Although FSU is tied for fourth in college baseball history with its 21 trips to Omaha, the Seminoles have NEVER won the Series. FSU is certainly looking to change that this year. Along with FSU, four other ACC teams are in the top-25 and looking to bring home the trophy.

                College baseball may have taken a back seat to hockey, soccer and racing, but don’t sleep on college baseball. You’ll not only see some of the next big time major leaguers, but you’ll see some really good baseball. I, for one, am tremendously excited for a summer of baseball and that sweet sound of “ping” when the ball comes off that metal bat.

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