Gil LeBreton

June 17, 2014

Frogs find frustrating finish at College World Series’ new ballpark

Sacrifice bunts have replaced the long ball in Omaha.

In the third inning Tuesday night, amidst a persistent Midwest summer gale, TCU’s resident Viking, first baseman Kevin Cron, muscled a Brandon Waddell fastball toward parts unknown.

The College World Series crowd gasped. The spectators in the left-field bleachers rose in stunned anticipation.

Could it be? Might it be? … a home run?

Nope. They don’t do home runs here. Virginia’s Derek Fisher sprinted back, recalibrated the suddenly sinking trajectory of Cron’s missile, and made the catch easily about two steps shy of the left-center field warning track.

And so it goes at TD Ameritrade Park, the place where fly balls come to die.

They say it’s the wind. Locals lament that the new ballpark’s compass was flip-flopped when it replaced venerable Rosenblatt Stadium, sacrificing an assisting wind for a scenic downtown view.

Evidence also points to the new college bat, adopted four years ago for safety reasons but, as it turns out, suffocating NCAA offenses in the process.

Whatever. Let’s just say that the new home of the collegiate baseball finals plays a little large.

Eight games have been played at TD Ameritrade Park in this College World Series, and not a single ball has cleared the wall yet.

Long into the night Tuesday, one more came tellingly close. Catcher Nate Irving led off the Virginia 15th inning with a line drive that one-hopped into the home bullpen for a double. After a sacrifice bunt, David Pinero’s long sacrifice fly to center sent the winning run home.

It ended one minute before midnight -- Virginia 3, TCU 2.

It must be nice to pitch in a ballpark where the home run is not on the day’s menu. Virginia’s Waddell and TCU starter Brandon Finnegan certainly reveled Tuesday in the offense-challenged surroundings.

Waddell went the first seven innings for the Cavaliers, allowing the Horned Frogs just a double and five singles. TCU’s Finnegan, a recent first-round pick of the Kansas City Royals, scattered nine hits over his eight innings of work.

A purist might suggest that dominating pitching has abounded in this World Series. Stout pitching got most of the eight teams here. The stoutest pitching seems destined to win it.

But when the runs are scarce, the slightest mistakes seem amplified. Take Texas Tech, for example, which lost Tuesday afternoon’s elimination game to Ole Miss on a throwing error and the bloopiest of bloop hits over a drawn-in infield.

This is the game, however, that the NCAA rules committee has handed us, for now. If you want higher scores and blinding offense, watch soccer.

While giving credit to both teams’ pitching, TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle had to bite his tongue.

"I've got to be careful here before I say some things about this ballpark that I'll regret," he said. "It's just a travesty what we've done to college baseball."

TCU’s second run Tuesday came when Virginia shortstop Pinero, with a runner flashing in front of him, bobbled Cody Jones’ grounder.

Virginia’s second run, meanwhile, featured a Branden Cogswell double, followed by the now-industry standard sacrifice bunt and fielder’s choice grounder.

The closest after that that anyone came to home plate until the 15th inning was in the Virginia half of the eighth, when Kenny Towns was tagged out at home after a lively rundown

In the hallway outside of the interview room, Schlossnagle was given the chance to expand on his earlier remark. Not that we media scoundrels were trying to get him into trouble or anything.

"I don’t know who I’d get in trouble with," Schlossnagle reflected. "The Ameritrade police?

"But it’s frustrating. I don’t want it to sound like sour grapes, because if we had won the game, I’d be saying even more. It’s just disappointing what we’ve done to college baseball, with the bats and all."

Ho-hum. It quickly evolved into another close College World Series game.

If you’re scoring – or snoring – along at home, in five of the eight games played so far, the winning team has amassed three runs or less. The losing teams have scored two runs or fewer in six of the eight games.

Through eight games, there have been no homers but hey! – 20 sacrifice bunts!

Yet, 17 of the series’ 39 runs have been scored in the seventh inning or later. Which suggests a lot of exciting finishes.

Just don’t expect any walk-off homers.

They don’t do home runs here, it seems.

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