It’s hard to judge from one round of batting practice, but the early returns were positive.
“The ball jumped off the bat for us today,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I would think you’ll probably see more home runs this weekend and more runs scored. It’s good for everybody.”
In four seasons with the College World Series being held at TD Ameritrade Park, there have been 25 home runs in 59 games. However, the new baseball with lower seams looks like it has changed the game. The NCAA average for homers per game was 0.39 last season and is up to 0.55 this year with the new baseball.
But home runs are just a part of the mix in Omaha.
Arkansas coach Dave van Horn said that the new baseball makes outfielders to respect the long ball, forcing the outfielders to play deeper. Last season, van Horn watched on television and recognized how shallow outfielders were playing. That made it more difficult for base runners to go from first to third or score from second base on a single.
“The baseball is going to back these outfielders up,” van Horn said. “It’s going to make a difference on being able to run the bases. You’re going to play a little deeper because you don’t want to take a chance having a ball hit over your head.”
Miami coach Jim Morris has his team back in Omaha for the first time since 2008. The last time the Hurricanes made the trip, the games were held at Rosenblatt Stadium, where the ball had a reputation for flying out of the ballpark. Morris heard the talk of how little the ball carried at the new stadium in Omaha, and he saw on television how few home runs were hit.
When the Hurricanes took the field for practice on Friday, Morris was cautiously optimistic with what he saw. The ball traveled further than he expected, which is important since his team is 11th in the country with 62 home runs.
“It’s a big park,” Morris said. “To me, the ball was carrying better than I expected and the weather was not very good. It’ll probably carry better when the weather is good. It should be a well-balanced game.”
van Horn also pointed to thicker grass at TD Ameritrade Park than at most collegiate ballparks across the country, which can slow the ball down and steal some singles. The environment of the ballpark, including winds usually blowing in, does everything possible to sap offense out of the games.
Virginia played in the championship series last season and saw the frustrations of hitting a ball well only to see it caught at the warning track. However, many of those same players noticed the change on Friday.
“At the end of our 50-minute batting practice today, we had a home run derby,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said. “We had a few guys hit balls out that I didn’t think could hit balls out. Maybe that’s encouraging. Guys were surprised, and I think hit balls that maybe didn’t get out last year. Hopefully with the new ball it plays a little bit truer.”