The college baseball regular season ended on Sunday, but for me it was just beginning. Conference tournaments start today, which marks the beginning of the Road to Omaha, the host of the NCAA College World Series.
I had known of college baseball for years, I mean, its not like every player drafted by Major League clubs is drafted straight out of high school. Thanks to my curiosity being peaked by Michael Baumann of The Ringer (Bill Simmons website), I started to check out some college baseball games on the weekend. There were a few things that I really enjoyed.
The first thing was the stadiums. This might seem trivial, but the smaller more intimate ballparks gave the game a different feel than what you get with 40-45 thousand-seat MLB parks that are often half empty for the first couple months because of the weather, and the fact that kids are still in school.
Secondly, the games are made a little more exciting because there’s greater chance of mistakes being made. Throws being air-mailed past the intended target, balls in the dirt getting away from a catcher, balls being misread in the outfield; These things happen in MLB but aren’t that common. In NCAA because the vast majority of the players won’t make it to the Majors these are mistakes that are a little more common. The result is a little more offense and excitement than what you get from MLB. The hitters also use aluminium bats instead of wooden bats. I’m not sure how much difference that makes in terms of offense; whether the balls carries farther off the bat, or not, but the sound of the ball off the bat reminds me of playing softball growing up.
Third, and maybe the biggest thing is the season is shorter. I’m a huge fan of the MLB regular season being 162 games. Its the perfect length for regular season baseball. Its just long enough that you go through all the ebbs and flows you would normally expect to occur so that by the end you pretty well know who the best teams are. That said, the shorter season for college baseball makes sense given you have conference tournaments and the College World Series to fit into a finite school year season. It forces you to stop and pause for a minute before judging the stat lines on players because the sample size for a given season is so much smaller. The season also starts in February as opposed to April which means that meaningful baseball can be seen possibly before pitchers and catchers report for MLB Spring Training. I find that really exciting given how tired I am of winter and non-baseball sports by that point in the calendar. It makes the baseball off-season much shorter.
I have only one complaint about college baseball. The games are too long. The game shouldn’t take four hours to play. The Umpires need to be empowered to move the game along, and mound visits by pitching coaches needs to be curtailed. The dead space in the middle of baseball games is a significant reason why young people have a hard time watching baseball. MLB along with its amateur affiliates needs to address this problem. Keep the action going and the game will hold people’s attention better.
So, thank you to Michael Baumann for peaking my curiosity. My calendar will be marked next year for the start of college season in February. I’ll be doing my best to catch some of the tournament action as well as the College World Series over the next few weeks.