New ball, better game as college baseball looks to bring excitement back
Posted November 14, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — It came up just a few feet short of the fence, but NC State’s Trea Turner knew he had connected on one of the best swings of his career.
“That’s about as good as I can hit a ball right now,” a disappointed Turner said of the potential go-ahead three-run homer in the 2nd game of the Wolfpack’s first trip to the College World Series since 1968.
Turner wasn’t the only hitter to come up short last year in Omaha’s new state-of-the-art TD Ameritrade Park - and he wasn’t the only who noticed. Multiple coaches, some not even in the tournament, saw at least four balls hit that they thought should have cleared the fence. Even the New York Times felt the need to comment, writing a story centered on Turner’s home-run-that-wasn’t and the call for a rules change from several head coaches.
In two years at the new stadium, the CWS has seen just 19 home runs. In the final season at the old Rosenblatt Staduium alone it surrendered 32.
Power replenishing solutions are on the horizon, however.
Last week, the NCAA Division I Baseball Committee approved a new “flat-seamed” ball that carries about 20-feet farther. The new ball, similar to what is used currently at the minor league level, will be used starting in 2015 in the D-I playoffs.
North Carolina head coach Mike Fox, whose high-powered offense produced only one HR in Omaha last season, said it’s been discussed among the coaches and the coaches association for the last two off-seasons - and he supported the change.
“It’s a win-win for everyone,” said Fox. “The new ball doesn’t come off the bat any faster, it just carries farther. So once they approved it for player safety, I was on board.”
It might not be a coincidence that the quick change came on the heels of UCLA’s 2013 national title in light of the Bruins’ effective small-ball strategy. In one particular stretch in Omaha, UCLA won four consecutive games with a combined 11 runs, playing a defensive game perfect for the larger stadium.
The Bruins put the Wolfpack in the losers bracket in Omaha, and eliminated the No. 1 seeded Tar Heels soon thereafter, scoring just six runs in both games combined.
Wolfpack head coach Elliott Avent said he didn’t think the change was so much about UCLA as it was about more offense and home runs.
“Offense sells tickets. No sport wants to impede scoring, yet that’s exactly what college baseball has done in the past,” Avent said. “This is a great step forward, and basically everyone was behind it.”
The quick adjustment came because it technically isn’t a rules change. The ball can be modified without the formal process of, say, changing the bat, or the expensive process of altering the stadium.
“The new stadium [in Omaha] might be the most beautiful I’ve ever stepped foot in,” said Avent. “There’s no way they’re changing that. So the ball was the easiest way to do it.”
Fox reiterated Avent’s comments saying, “It would take an Act of Congress to change the rules, so this was the quickest way.”
Both coaches see the move as a positive for their programs - each known for their potent offenses that once again look to be two of the best teams in the nation next season.
“What isn’t fair, is for players to train one way all year, then come to Omaha and it’s a different game,” Avent added. “I’m not an emotional guy, but you could have fit a stick of quarters in my mouth I was so shocked when Trea’s hit fell short. And that isn’t fair to him or the work he’s put in all year. What’s most important is uniformity for the players.”
Fox also felt that standardizing the ball to what the minor leagues uses is a benefit for his players’ long-term development.
“They said the ball might make it harder on pitchers, but we’ve had guys come back from the minor leagues and say they love throwing new ball,” Fox said. “And of course batters love it.”
Neither coach thinks a simple rules change is why their teams will make it back to Omaha, but it certainly can’t hurt. Fox said, “The human element will always be more important than rules, but there aren’t really any losers here with the change.”
Ultimately, both area coaches simply seem happy to be at the helm of programs that need to be worried about what type of ball is being used in Omaha — since both plan to be back, often. UNC has been to six of the last eight College World Series’, and with returning national player of the year Carlos Rodon, the Wolfpack are looking to make repeat trips for the first time in school history.