Southern has been thrown a curveball as it prepares to start the season with the NCAA’s new baseball.
The Jaguars have yet to receive the new “flat-seam” balls from Spalding, so the Jaguars have been practicing with the baseballs that were used last season.
Southern coach Roger Cador said he was assured last month that the new baseballs would arrive in time for the start of the season. The Jaguars play an exhibition game against Baton Rouge Community College on Feb. 13 and visit Nicholls State to start the season four days later.
But for now, Cador has yet to see or touch any of the new baseballs.
“I certainly would prefer to have the baseballs to practice with before we use them in a game,” Cador said. “It would be easier on the pitchers if they knew what they’re throwing with.”
Cador’s Friday night starter, Santos Saldivar, took a proactive approach to adjusting to the new baseballs, which are more like the ones used in Major League Baseball than the old ones were.
“I started working out with Major League baseballs during the offseason,” Saldivar said.
Saldivar said he has used the major league baseballs when working out on his own and during offseason workouts with his high school coach and former teammates at Sam Rayburn High in Pasadena, Texas. He also warms up with them before practice at Southern.
The biggest difference with the flat seams, Saldivar said, is breaking balls “are much sharper.”
That requires utilizing a different release point in order to throw the sharper breaking ball to its intended target.
The new baseballs are estimated to travel off the bat about 20 feet farther than the old ones. Saldivar said that’s not a major concern for him “because I’m a groundball pitcher.”
The added distance is expected to generate more offense in the wake of a dramatic drop-off since new bats were instituted in 2011.
“From the information we’ve received,” Cador said, “(the NCAA) is trying to create a little more offense.”
The added distance that the balls travel are likely to adversely affect pitchers’ earned run averages, but Saldivar said that should be offset by increased run support from their teammates.
Southern outfielder D.J. Wallace is looking forward to seeing for himself how the new baseballs come off the bat.
“I’m excited about the change,” Wallace said. “As a hitter I’m definitely eager to see what it’s like, but as a defensive player I don’t want to see the other team hit it that far.”
Wallace said the Jaguars left fielders — Tyler Kirksey and Gavin Webster — will have a bigger adjustment than he’ll have in right field where the fence is 320 feet from home plate, 40 fewer feet than the left-field fence location.
“They’re used to having a little cushion,” Wallace said. “Now they’re going to have to play deeper. It’s going to be a huge adjustment. We have to see how the chips fall.
“I’m most definitely a firm believer in getting used to something new ahead of time. Ideally I wish we would have gotten the new balls a while ago.”
But Wallace looked on the bright side, which is that the weather during preseason has been relatively mild compared to the rainy, cold and icy winter conditions that disrupted preseason preparations last season.
“I’m just glad that we’ve been able to get practice in,” he said.
The next step is to get in practices with the new baseballs and see just what all the hoopla is about.
“We just have to wait and see,” Cador said. “I think it’s fair to say the jury is still out for us.”
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.