OMAHA, Neb. — Four years ago at TD Ameritrade Park, the entire College World Series field managed to hit three home runs in 14 games.
The next year? Three home runs again, this time in 16 games.
College baseball had a problem. Restrictions on the aluminum bats, put in place before the 2011 season, had gone too far, virtually taking the home run out of the equation. Deadened bats in a spacious park led to a two-week snoozefest.
So the NCAA proposed and adopted a simple solution before the 2015 season: Lower the seams on the baseballs, leading to less drag in the air and, theoretically, improving the distance baseballs traveled in the air.
Perhaps it’s not entirely that simple. But three seasons after the change, it appears the theory has played out as the theorists hoped.
Three home runs by eight teams in more than a dozen games? Child’s play. This year, LSU catcher Michael Papierski has three home runs all by himself in five games.
He became the first player to hit two long balls in one CWS game at TD Ameritrade Park, and the first in CWS history to homer from both sides of the plate in the same game.
Papierski seems best suited to illustrate the larger point: The home run is once again part of the college baseball experience.
“I’m happy to see more home runs being hit,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “I think the game’s more interesting, a little more fun to watch, certainly more fun to manage.”
Prior to this summer — the seventh season since the CWS moved to TD Ameritrade Park — the most home runs ever hit in the event was 15. That was in 2015, the first season with the new baseballs.
That number has already been eclipsed by a healthy margin this year, with 22 long balls in 14 games.
Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said some of the homer display can be chalked up to a healthy wind blowing out for much of the tournament this season.
“The wind has been blowing out, 18 to 20 miles per hour every game,” O’Sullivan said. “So I think that’s aided and helped.”
But Omaha is not the only place to see increased home run figures.
The Southeastern Conference tournament home run record was challenged this season, when the 12 participating teams combined to hit 35 homers, falling three shy of matching the record set in 1997 — the height of the Geauxrilla Ball era.
Balls were leaving the yard with increased regularity all season.
In 2010, the year before the change in bats was implemented, Auburn led the nation with 131 home runs. It was one of 10 teams to tally at least 100 home runs on the year.
In the first year with the new bats, East Tennessee State led the country with 86. That was the high watermark for three years before the new baseballs were put into play in 2015.
From 2011-16, only two teams — Coastal Carolina (96) and Mercer (93), both last year — cracked 90 home runs. Only 11 teams in those six seasons managed to top 80. In the last year with the old bats, 37 teams managed to hit at least 80 home runs.
This season, Wake Forest became the first school to hit 100 home runs with the new bats, with 106. Three more — Tennessee Tech, Dallas Baptist and Southern Miss — hit at least 90. Twelve teams hit at least 80.
What’s behind all this? Mainieri said the ball has certainly played a role — the numbers prove that. But there are plenty of other factors beyond the ball and some prevailing wind.
“When they brought the seams down on the ball, you could tell the ball was coming off a little harder,” LSU hitting coach Micah Gibbs said. “I think that might be a little bit to it, but I think it’s a little bit of everything.”
Mainieri and O’Sullivan both pointed at the pitchers they see on a regular basis, humming fastballs at the plate well in excess of 90 mph.
“Pitchers are throwing harder,” O’Sullivan said. “They’re applying more power from that side of it.”
Mainieri added: “Maybe the power supplies the power, if you’re able to make decent contact.”
O’Sullivan also mentioned the investment in strength training as a possible culprit.
For Greg Deichmann, who has a team-leading 19 home runs for LSU this season, the increased home run totals are just a sign that the game is naturally cycling back to the way it can be, without using the bats as a crutch to play a different style.
“I think it’s just the game evolving,” Deichmann said. “I think when they changed the bats, everybody believed that it had to be a small-ball game. You’ve still got strong guys who can hit it out of the yard, and even some little guys can get a little thump in their bat, too.”