As a player, Aaron Boone never made it to Omaha. His USC teams his sophomore and junior years both fell one game short of the College World Series.
So when ESPN management approached Boone about covering college baseball’s premier event last year, he couldn’t turn down the offer. Now the Baseball Tonight analyst is back in the CWS booth again, starting Sunday, when he’ll work TCU’s opening round game against LSU at 2 p.m. on ESPN.
“I kind of beat on my boss’ desk here at ESPN, saying I want to go back again,” Boone said Thursday. “It’s like a festival with a little world class baseball sprinkled in.”
Boone, 42, retired from the majors 2009 and joined ESPN in 2010. He started his pro career in 1997 with Cincinnati, where he played seven years. His brother (Bret), father (Bob) and grandfather (Ray) all played in the major leagues. He might be best remembered for his brief stint with the Yankees in 2003 when his 11th inning walk-off homer in Game 7 of the ALCS against Boston lifted New York into the World Series.
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We caught up with Boone to get his thoughts on this year’s series, TCU and coach Jim Schlossnagle and the state of the college game.
What were your initial impressions of this year’s CWS field? I think it’s the best field there’s been in a few years. I think the [new, lower-seamed] ball has made a huge difference in bringing a lot of offense back in the game. ... Offense has been so depressed by the ball and the bat combination. I think there were more chances for — I hate to use the word fluke — but more of a chance for fluke teams to make it here, because scoring was so low. ... I think now, if you have a quality roster, more often than not that’s going to win out.
What do you think about this TCU team? And as a follower of college baseball, what are your thoughts on the rise of the Horned Frogs’ program? They’ve continued to cement themselves as one of the premier programs now. ... And now they’ve got it rolling, and there’s no reason to think that they’re not — for the forseeable future — going to be one of those elite programs. ... I think they’ve got that foundation built. I think about the talent base in Texas they’re going to be able to pull from, and I think it’s only going to get better.
What have you seen in Jim Schlossnagle that makes him unique? He’s not like some of these college coaches who just automatically bunt all the time and sacrifice. He lets his really good players be really good players in big spots. ... He just feels like to me a really, really good leader. Just a calm presence about him, completely been impressed with him and it’s been fun to get to know him these last couple years.
How do you think TCU center fielder Cody Jones (sixth-round pick of the Royals) projects at the next level? Because I think he can legitimately play center field, I think that bodes very well for him. The speed, the athleticism element, which has become such a premium in baseball right now. We’re seeing, as offenses come back down to earth as we come out of the steroid era, and pitching is so dominant that teams are really putting a premium on athletic players, and Cody Jones certainly falls into that mix. I think he has a chance to be a very good pro.
Ryan Osborne, 817-390-7760