In 1974, the first aluminum bats were introduced to college baseball. And a loud, tradition-shattering ping was heard throughout the sport.
In 2011, citing safety concerns, the NCAA rules committee removed whatever fun was left in the college bat.
And most coaches haven’t stopped cussing under their breaths since.
TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle made no secret of his disdain for the new BBCOR bat. By dampening the “trampoline effect” of the old bats — Schlossnagle argued — the rules makers had made college baseball an entirely different game.
The numbers upheld the coaches’ argument. In 2010, the year that the TCU Horned Frogs went to the College World Series, there were 32 home runs hit in Omaha.
In last year’s College World Series, there were only three. UCLA dinked, dunked and pitched its way to the NCAA championship with an 0.80 team ERA — and a slugging percentage on offense of .193.
In his post-championship remarks, Bruins coach John Savage didn’t offer any apologies.
Instead, he said, “We did it the right way. We played good baseball. We pitched. We defended. We had opportunistic offense.”
In so many words, Savage was giving his fellow coaches a credo for college baseball’s new generation.
And Schlossnagle, it seems, was listening. His TCU team that will host the Pepperdine Waves this weekend in the NCAA super regional earned its way on the strength of its pitching, fielding and opportunistic baseball.
“This is exactly the way we want to play baseball,” Schlossnagle said, after the Frogs’ regional-clinching victory Sunday night.
The most famous home run in TCU history? That’s easy — it was Matt Curry’s grand slam in Omaha against Florida State.
But that was with the old, livelier bats. The homer was Curry’s 18th of the 2010 season. This year’s entire TCU team has only 12.
Yet, the Frogs have won 45 games. They grind out at-bats. They steal bases. They bunt runners along. And they make plays in the field.
Which is where the other pivotal part of the TCU story figures in. Last summer Schlossnagle served as the head coach of the USA national collegiate team, many of whose members were drafted in the first round by major league teams Thursday night.
Three members of this year’s Horned Frogs pitching staff got to wear the USA uniform — Preston Morrison, reliever Riley Ferrell and Saturday’s starter, Brandon Finnegan.
“I’ve never had a player have a Team USA experience who didn’t come back more confident and more poised,” Schlossnagle said. “It was a phenomenal life experience for them, and they represented us well.”
The USA threesome, along with freshman lefty Tyler Alexander, have become the rock of this season’s TCU pitching staff. Finnegan, Morrison and Alexander have made 45 of the Frogs’ 60 starts.
The Schlossnagle mantra has emphasized, “Make the other team swing the bat,” and they’ve done exactly that.
Finnegan is the strikeout artist with 122 strikeouts in 91 innings. Morrison, meanwhile, has pitched 115 innings and walked only 17. Freshman Alexander has pitched 92 innings and walked 11.
Two college pitchers, with 28 walks allowed in 207 innings? Impressive.
The Frogs, it seems, have cracked the code — college baseball’s new algebra. They throw strikes. They catch the ball. They scratch for runs.
So far it’s working.