There is no CRACK. There are no broken bats or even splinters. No multi-million dollar deals, and certainly no steroid juicing.
The crowds are smaller, but tend to have just as much excitement, even more in some cases, at ball games.
The players are younger, full of raw talent. They celebrate every home run as if it were their first.
I'm talking, of course, about college baseball. Less popular among many campuses around the country, but just as exciting at times as watching a Michigan-Ohio State football game.
Sure, the rules are different. Runners can't intentionally break up double plays by sliding into a fielder and they can't railroad catchers in an attempt to reach home safely.
Wooden bats are replaced with aluminum at this level, and the DH is used across the board for every conference.
Maybe this does take a little bit from the game, but for me it's a small subtraction in a college sport which has yielded some of the greatest games I have ever seen.
What other major NCAA sport has the Rice Owls as a national champion? In what other sport is the Big West Conference a national powerhouse?
Players are inclined to give everything they have and then some in an attempt to make the June Draft and sign that six-figure contract. They are not concerned with endorsements or contract extensions, and certainly not with covering up any type of illegal substance use.
You might say these players have a true love for the game seemingly less present in some major leaguers.
"Quit" isn't a word any are used to. It's Omaha or die.
And "bust" is an unsuitable word for players who long to share the same spotlight that Will Clark, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and Jeff Brantley did in the College World Series.
What about the College World Series?
It's a double-elimination bracket format with a best-of-three series for the final two teams standing (which my Gamecocks could have taken perhaps with their amazing pitching staff of 2002).
Not quite the MLB format, but just as exciting. Omaha comes alive once a year as teams duke it out, often in extra-inning thrillers, to earn the right to be called "Champion."
So which eight teams have a shot at making it to Omaha this season? Any number of teams really can make it, but here are my eight as we begin to reach the mid-point of the season.
1. Arizona State (22-1)
2. North Carolina (18-4)
3. UC Irvine (16-2)
4. Vanderbilt (14-6)
5. Texas (16-6)
6. South Carolina (15-5)
7. Miami (FL) (17-2)
8. Wichita State (14-3)
These rankings are not based on any type of ability. By season's end they should all have very similar records. All eight are close in ability and could easily make it to Omaha should they avoid the early round upset (i.e. No. 1 Vanderbilt's Regional loss to Michigan last year).
Other teams with a shot to make it to the College World Series include Florida State, Long Beach State, Rice, Kentucky, Arizona, Nebraska, Georgia Tech, California, Florida, and Mississippi.
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