College baseball just getting to its prime
Posted June 7, 2013
Current South Carolina head baseball coach Chad Holbrook remembers life playing in Chapel Hill well.
"When I played there, the cages were all dirt," he said laughing. "Coach (Mike Roberts) would run us, and it was so dusty, we would spit up dirt. It would come through my nose."
A fine illustration of what college baseball used to be back in the day. Way back in 1990, that is, when Holbrook played for the Heels. Not that long ago by normal standards, but it is a different world for the sport these days.
"I went to a regional my freshman year and we played on a football field. In a regional," Holbrook said.
Now every regional game is broadcast online and many on TV. Most coaches are very quick to thank ESPN for the growth of college baseball. The network certainly deserves a bulk of the credit, but I think it goes way deeper than that.
Take Boshamer stadium for example. UNC spent a bunch of money in 2008 to renovate. The capacity is now up to 5,000. The park includes a suite level. It has a lot of the comforts of a major league park. The players have access to a state-of-the-art clubhouse. They have indoor batting cages and a player's lounge. Needless to say, these guys won't be telling stories of coughing up dirt when they reflect on their glory days in 20 years.
The sport also owes some of the boom the last few years to the change in bats. The NCAA changed to a more "wood-like" bat in 2011. Some thought this would hurt popularity at the time of the change, but it's made the game much more watchable. You see fewer 16-14 games and more strategy. You see more high-level pitchers giving the sport a try thanks to the new bats. They know their development will be more like the minor leagues. That wasn't the case in the "ping-era".
"It's made a lot of big strides and improvements," said UNC head coach Mike Fox. "Just sitting (in front of a bunch of media) is new. It's exciting."
And it just continues to get bigger. It's one sport where the "good ol' days" may be now.