Like it or not, 2015 will go down as the Year of The Ball.
It started with Deflategate and the New England Patriots, who because of the overinflated ego of Pete Carroll are now going to Disney World.
It continues this week with the start of college baseball season and the game’s redesigned spheroid.
You won’t be able to tell much of a difference in the ball from the stands. They haven’t painted it orange or anything.
The change is subtle and much less fashionable. The NCAA has flattened the seams on the ball, the result being the ball is supposed to fly farther — and perhaps use less gas.
College baseball — the game, not the actual ball we’re talking about now, please try to keep up — needs this. Offense in college baseball has, at the risk of being indelicate, gone in the toilet the past few years. Batting averages, home runs and runs per game are at their lowest levels since baseball players used stone clubs for bats. Home runs per game (0.39) have never been lower than they were in 2014, going back to the first year the NCAA kept stats on such things in 1970. So the new ball is a welcomed change.
No one wants to go back to the days of the supercharged baseball bats, days that reached ridiculous heights when USC beat Arizona State 21-14 in the 1998 College World Series championship game. If you’re an LSU fan, there’s the added bonus in knowing that the Tigers’ record of 188 home runs in 1997 remains as safe as if it were tucked away in a Swiss bank vault.
But the game — and the ball — needed some oomph. Pizzazz. Fireworks. College baseball has become, well, dull compared to its racier, juicier self in the go-go 1990s.
This isn’t, and never will be, the major leagues. If you go to a major league game and see a 2-1 final score, you know it’s because you saw the best pitchers in the world win the day against the best hitters in the world. The skill levels are at the top of the baseball mountain.
That’s not what you have in the college game. It’s where old school passion stirs the masses, but only so far. They want to be entertained. They want to see numbers on the scoreboard other than zeroes.
Years ago, when the NCAA first decided to water down the bats to pull back from the football scores of the 1990s, former LSU coach Skip Bertman told me it was a needless exercise.
“All you have to do is change the ball,” he said. “You can make the ball do whatever you want.”
Finally, baseball’s power meter is tilting back the other way. LSU coach Paul Mainieri said home runs in fall practice were up about 50 percent. He thinks his Tigers (who hit 41 home runs in 63 games last season) could touch ’em all 60 or 70 times this season.
You have to hope so. Not for LSU, but for the game. Just imagine how crazy things would be if top teams like LSU could average one home run per game — one.
It would draw more fans to the games, more TV viewers. It would help the game grow.
Unfortunately, the same defensive standoffs we’ve seen in the last couple of years at the College World Series are likely to continue. TD Ameritrade Park Omaha is a very nice pit dug into the Nebraska earth where few home runs can escape (a grand total of three were hit the last time the Tigers were there in 2013).
The NCAA is taking a wait-and-see approach for now. The purists still have the political clout in college ball. But if offense remains watered down in the CWS this year, there will be increased pressure from coaches, fans and most importantly ESPN, to bring in the fences in Omaha.
But for now, everyone can have a ball. A new ball.
It’s about time.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twtter: @RabalaisAdv.