OMAHA, Neb. — The top NCAA administrator who oversees the College World Series isn’t as anxious about the dearth of home runs at the CWS as others in the baseball community.
NCAA managing director for championships and alliances Damani Leech told The Associated Press on Wednesday that a variety of factors came together to keep the ball from leaving TD Ameritrade Park before C.J. Hinojosa of Texas went deep Wednesday night in the seventh inning of the CWS’ ninth game.
At the same time, Leech said, he’s hopeful the move from a raised-seam to flat-seam ball in 2015 will nudge offensive numbers upward. Leech said it will take two years to know if the ball has the intended effect.
“Until you get 295 teams using that ball throughout the year, you don’t really know for sure what’s going to happen,” Leech said.
Since the CWS moved to TD Ameritrade Park from Rosenblatt Stadium, a total of 23 home runs have been hit — nine in 2011, 10 in 2012, three in 2013 and one this year.
Homers across Division I have declined to rates not seen since the wooden-bat era because of dialed-back bats that entered the game in 2011.
UC Irvine coach Mike Gillespie has called the bat change a “nightmare,” and TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said “it’s just a travesty what we’ve done to college baseball.”
Leech said this year’s CWS shouldn’t be defined by the lack of home runs.
“I think this can turn into a runaway train from a dialogue standpoint and really take away from the great performances of the student-athletes we’ve had,” he said. “Just because there aren’t any home runs doesn’t mean it’s not great baseball.”
On paper, this year’s CWS didn’t figure to be a homer fest. Among the top 200 draft picks here, eight are pitchers and four are hitters. Mississippi, with 42, is among four teams here that have hit 29 homers this season. There were six such teams each of the previous three years, including Florida squads that hit 69 in 2011 and 75 in 2012.
Another factor has been weather. South winds prevail in Omaha this time of year, but they’ve been unusually gusty the last week, blowing up to 30 mph.
“You look at the Big Ten tournament here, and they had eight (homers) in a span of 13 games,” Leech said. “So same ballpark, roughly same time of year, a different set of teams, but a completely different set of results in terms of home runs.”
Before Hinojosa’s homer, 115 innings had passed since Mississippi State’s Hunter Renfroe hit the last CWS home run, on June 21, 2013.
Leech said if the flat-seam ball doesn’t have the desired effect, it’s possible the ball could be changed to have a harder core or bats could be tweaked again to make them more lively.
“The ball coming off the bat at increased speed,” Leech said, “there are safety concerns everybody needs to be aware of if we move down that path.”
Moving in the fences at TD Ameritrade, he said, would be a massive undertaking because it would affect angles of outfield seats and could require changes to the concourse.
Minnesota coach John Anderson, a former member of the NCAA baseball committee who worked on the design of TD Ameritrade Park, said the stadium probably would have been built differently if the impact of the new bat standards had been known during the planning stages.
Leech, who also worked on the stadium design, didn’t respond to Anderson’s comment directly. “What I will say is there was nothing at that time that gave us any indication that the winds, which we think is the predominant factor, were going to play as significant a role in the nature of the game at this ballpark vs. Rosenblatt.”