New baseball likely to be a hit with fans, batters at College World Series - Omaha.com
Published Tuesday, November 5, 2013 at 4:32 pm / Updated at 12:54 pm
BASEBALL
New baseball likely to be a hit with fans, batters at College World Series

A memorable moment from the 2013 College World Series came when Mississippi State's Wes Rea squared up a baseball about as well as any 270-pound human being possibly could, only to see it wind up in Oregon State left fielder Michael Conforto's glove on the warning track.

Instead of a possible momentum-creating home run, Rea's swing produced just another long out and added to TD Ameritrade Park's reputation as a stadium where homers go to die.

While the NCAA's decision Tuesday to adopt a flat-seam baseball in 2015 wasn't specifically designed to put the home run back into the CWS, Creighton coach Ed Servais said it can't hurt.

“I'm not in favor of going back eight or 10 years and having 45 homers hit in a series,'' said Servais, whose team plays its home games at TD Ameritrade Park. “But if the flat-seam ball adds another 10 to 15 feet to the flight of the ball, as studies have shown, then I'm a big fan of it.

“I think there's a general feeling around college baseball that something has to be done to get some more excitement into the game.''

The Division I baseball committee unanimously approved the use of the flat-seam baseball for the 2015 NCAA tournament. Conferences can vote to adopt the new ball for regular-season play beginning in 2015.

Flat-seam balls are used in professional baseball, and NCAA tests have shown that they actually travel 20 feet farther than the raised-seam ball currently used by Division I teams.

The move was seen as a way to put more punch into a game whose offensive numbers have declined drastically since the NCAA adopted new bat standards in 2011. The change made the metal bats used in college perform more like wood bats used by professionals.

Prior to the 2013 CWS, the batting average of .274 by all Division I teams was the lowest since 1974 (.273). Team scoring of 5.28 runs per game was the lowest since 1973 (5.07), while team home runs of 0.42 was the lowest since 1973 (0.42).

The decline in numbers has been especially stark at the CWS, the game's premier event.

The adoption of the new bat standards coincided with the series' move from Rosenblatt Stadium to Omaha's new downtown ballpark.

While the playing dimensions remained almost identical, the home run numbers dropped dramatically. During the final 10 years at Rosenblatt, the average CWS had 33 home runs.

There have been a total of 22 homers hit in three years of CWS games at TD Ameritrade Park. The three home runs hit in the 2013 event were the fewest since two were hit in 1966.

The teams' collective batting average was .239 in 2011, .234 in 2012 and .237 in 2013. The eight teams combined to score 86 runs in 14 games in the 2013 CWS, the lowest output since the NCAA adopted the eight-team format in 1950.

Dave Keilitz, executive director of the American Baseball Coaches Association, said 87 percent of Division I coaches indicated in an offseason survey that they would favor adopting a flat-seam baseball. That was up from the 55 percent who favored it in 2012.

“When a guy nails a ball really good and squares up on it,” Keilitz said, “a ball that should be a home run should be a home run and not wind up on the warning track.”

Other factors than the bat might be contributing to the drop in offense in the CWS. TD Ameritrade Park's orientation is to the southeast, which means batters are hitting into the southerly winds that used to help balls fly out of Rosenblatt, which had a northeastern orientation.

The new downtown park also sits lower than Rosenblatt, which was atop a hill in South Omaha.

Dennis Farrell, commissioner of the Big West Conference and chairman of the Division I committee, said it's uncertain what impact the new ball might have on CWS home runs.

“It's somewhat hard to predict at this point because we are dealing with a new baseball stadium that has only been used for three years,'' Farrell said. “We recognize that it has different dynamics than Rosenblatt had.

“We do believe that balls projected to carry an additional 20 feet will create more offense. It will force players to play deeper in the outfield and open up more gaps. How many more home runs that will lead to? We have no way of knowing, but that wasn't the prevailing reason we did this.''

The NCAA had Washington State's Sport Science Laboratory conduct its tests. Rawlings, which supplies baseballs to the NCAA, conducted similar tests at its own laboratory and came up with similar results.

Creighton's Servais builds his team around pitching and defense, so TD Ameritrade plays to the Bluejays' strengths. Still, after watching his team struggle to score runs in its 2 seasons in the stadium, Servais welcomes the ball change.

“People want more action,'' he said. “I think this has the potential to be a win-win for everybody.''

Contact the writer: Steven Pivovar

stevepivovar@hotmail.com    |   402-679-2298    |  

Steven Pivovar is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and primarily covers Creighton athletics and the College World Series.

CWS SCHEDULE »
Friday, June 14
Opening Celebration

Saturday, June 15
Game 1: Mississippi State 5, Oregon State 4
Game 2: Indiana 2, Louisville 0

Sunday, June 16
Game 3: N.C. State 8, North Carolina 1
Game 4: UCLA 2, Louisiana State 1

Monday, June 17
Game 5: Oregon State 11, Louisville 4
Game 6: Mississippi State 5, Indiana 4

Tuesday, June 18
Game 7: North Carolina 4, LSU 2
Game 8: UCLA 2, N.C. State 1

Wednesday, June 19
Game 9: Oregon State 1, Indiana 0

Thursday, June 20
Game 10: North Carolina 7, N.C. State 0

Friday, June 21
Game 11: Mississippi State 4, Oregon State 1
Game 12: UCLA 4, North Carolina 1

Championship Series

Monday, June 24
Finals Game 1: UCLA 3, Mississippi State 1

Tuesday, June 25
Finals Game 2: UCLA 8, Mississippi State 0
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