Gil LeBreton

Horned Frogs find new baseball to their liking

TCU’s Keaton Jones, right, celebrates with Nolan Brown after Jones hit his first career home run, which may be evidence the flatter-seam baseball is having an immediate impact.
TCU’s Keaton Jones, right, celebrates with Nolan Brown after Jones hit his first career home run, which may be evidence the flatter-seam baseball is having an immediate impact. Special to the Star-Telegram

The scientists were right. Cue the Frankenstein music.

College baseball ... it’s alive!

Miami scored 25 runs Sunday. Alabama put up 19. Even UCLA, college baseball’s version of death by a thousand paper cuts, scored 11 runs Sunday against Hofstra.

Meanwhile, the TCU Horned Frogs completed a three-game weekend sweep of Southern Illinois in which they banged out 39 hits and outscored the Salukis 32-4.

We’ve got runs, people. Line drives into the gaps that are actually sailing to the walls. Baseballs — new baseballs with flatter seams — that are soaring over fences.

And while you wouldn’t exactly describe the Frogs’ 11-0 defeat of SIU on Sunday as breathless, it had a certain flair. It looked like real baseball.

Just as the scientists promised.

Litigation-fearful rules makers all but bludgeoned the life out of the college game four years ago when they mandated BBCOR (Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution) bats. Home runs at the College World Series instantly decreased from 32 in 2010 to nine.

Only three were hit at Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park at last year’s Series, as the Frogs well remember. But it wasn’t just the headwinds in Omaha. College baseball’s overall .270 batting average and 0.39 home runs per game were the lowest totals in 40 years.

“It’s just a travesty what we’ve done to college baseball,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle infamously said while he had the College World Series pulpit.

Nobody disagreed. A survey by the American Baseball Coaches Association revealed that 87 percent wanted something changed to regenerate offense.

At the Washington State University Sport Science Laboratory, technicians tested baseballs with lower seams and determined that balls with a 95 mph exit speed, launched at a 25-degree angle and with a 1,400 rpm spin rate would travel about 20 feet farther.

Teams have been using the new baseball, which is similar to the one used in the minor leagues, since fall workouts, and they like what they’ve seen.

“Balls in the gap are carrying to the wall,” Schlossnagle said, “which is exactly what the scientists said they would do.

“It’s already had an impact. The biggest thing it’s going to do is push the outfielders back. The ball that was hit in the gap that used to hang up so that you could catch it now takes off a little bit more, and you have to respect that.”

Outfielders are having to play some 15-20 feet deeper because of the new baseball.

“You’ll be able to score a runner from second base on a single, which is a new concept,” Schlossnagle said, only half-exaggerating.

“There are going to be more home runs.”

That’s not the Frogs’ game, of course. But if the long ball will indeed be reintroduced into the TCU arsenal, it can’t hurt.

The Frogs hit two homers over the weekend — one by Keaton Jones, the other by freshman catcher Evan Skoug (an opposite-field line drive) — and they could have had two more by Skoug if the wind had been kinder.

Poor Skoug. He ripped the ball four times Sunday and had nothing to show for it. Two soaring drives were tracked down at the wall by the SIU center fielder.

Schlossnagle agreed that it might have been the best 0 for 5 he ever saw.

“It just wasn’t my luck today with the wind,” Skoug said. “But I’m still happy about those, because I put two great swings on balls and squared the last two up. First time I’ve been happy with an 0 for 5.”

Skoug and the Frogs were pleased just to get the three-game sweep, the first time TCU has been able to open the season in such fashion in five years.

“This ballpark is tough,” said Jones, who went 6 for 12 over the weekend and was the Frogs’ hitting star. “But we’re not worried about the long ball. We know who we are. We’ve just got to play well at what we do.”

In the meantime, college baseball seems very much alive.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram

  Comments