Rosenblatt Stadium serves mostly as the home of Omaha Royals of the Pacific Coast League, and soon will be the home of Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League.
For a few weeks in June, however, Rosenblatt Stadium becomes the home of college baseball, and an exciting display of eight great collegiate baseball teams.
This years edition features a traditional power (Arizona State), another former champion in Oklahoma, four more teams with five or more world series trips (Clemson, Florida, Florida State, South Carolina), and a few upsets in the Texas Christian and UCLA programs.
While the College World Series garners nowhere near the fanfare in which football bowl games, the basketball tournament, or the MLB playoffs get, the event clearly has its strengths unseen in these tournaments. Here are five reasons why the College World Series provide excitement that these other tournaments (in particular, the MLB playoffs) do not provide:
1) More match-ups in a shorter time period.
The 2009 College World Series featured 10 different individual match ups (or games between different teams), and has the potential of featuring up to 11. Also, these 10 unique contests occurred in just 15 games. The MLB postseason, on the other hand, features seven unique pairings, spread over a longer period of time. The quick turnaround and short time frame of the tournament provides another reason why the College World Series is exciting:
2) The stakes are higher.
When major league baseball reduces its playing field to eight teams, a team can theoretically lose eight games and still become the champions.
Not the case in the College World Series. A team can only lose one game in their initial grouping of four (as opposing to winning three, or even four, games), and then win two out of three in the best of seven final to win the whole thing. That is a minimum win percentage of 71.4%, as opposed to a minimum of 57.9% in the MLB postseason.
3) Diminishing levels of competition breeds more styles.
In Major League Baseball, statistical analysis is now king, and there are many "ultimate truths" that most people who take a serious look at run production and prevention know. Among them are such truths as pitchers who throw a lot of strikeouts without many walks tend to be the best over the long run, that there is a "break even" point for stolen base success rate which determines if running is worthwhile, and that sacrifice bunting, outside of special situations, is a poor idea.
Let's reflect on that last one, however. Sac bunting is generally a stupid idea in the majors, as third basemen are too good defensively for major gains to be had, and most of the time are just a loss of an out for base-path advancement that just is not worth it. However, an article by David Wade at baseballdailydigest.com highlights a good point at the college level:
"As an aside, I’ll say that as much as I abhor the bunt in MLB, I don’t really believe it is the devil at every baseball level. I had an interesting discussion with the University of Arkansas’ beat writers on the subject during a college baseball game this spring. They made the the valid point that in MLB, defenders are so good that they rarely botch bunts, almost always get the out that’s given to them, and that yes, the sac bunt is arguably asinine at that level. However, even though college baseball features metal bats and big offenses, the bunt doesn’t seem like such a bad idea because it’s not the near-automatic out in college that you see at the highest level of the game."
So, this brings up a question: if the sacrifice bunt can be an effective strategy at the college level, what else can be, given the generally lesser abilities of the players? We see such offenses as the spread, triple option, and fun & gun succeed at the college football level, where it would fail at the NFL level, due to the lesser abilities of college players.
For this reason, the college game is open to styles of play that, while less productive than the ability to go station to station with walks and extra base hits like most of the best hitting MLB teams are able to do, is extremely exciting.
4) Collegiate passion.
As a New Englander, I grew up in my little bubble of college nothingness. While other kids across the country grew to cheer on their favorite college team passionately, and dreaming of attending that college, I spent most of my time watching the Red Sox, Celtics, and Patriots, with a fleeting interest in Notre Dame football that never really caught steam until college.
I also attended Bentley University, and while it was a good school, most students enrolled for the same reason I did: to graduate, and not really care about things like collegiate sports (outside of the basketball team). It is the one thing I envy most about people who grew up in other parts of the country, as the pure passion surrounding a major college sporting event and its fans is something I could never hope to experience as a Bostonian.
Even after the 2004 ALCS win, much of the excitement was more related to the monkey off my proverbial back. I take no issue with the pay structure of professional sports, and often times argue for it, but there is something to be said between cheering on a player who wants to play for that team, versus cheering one on who is handsomely paid for it.
5) A "first chance" to see some of professional baseball's future.
Last year's tournament introduced to America multiple first round picks in the 2009 MLB Draft.
Dustin Ackley was drafted second, behind Strasburg, in the 2009 draft, and has already shown MLB promise in AA with a .390 OBP. An increase in power and a continued growth as a second baseman should help see him to the majors in relatively short order.
Mike Leake famously skipped the minors, and the Reds are sure not regretting this decision. Leake already has a 140 ERA+ as a rookie, and looks to be a future star.
Speaking of pitching, Alex White of UNC was drafted 15th by the Indians, and currently sports a 2.52 ERA and a 7.0 K/9 so far in his first professional season (splitting time between A+ Kinston and AA Akron), and also looks primed to make the majors in short order.
The champions of Louisiana State were represented in the 2009 first round by Jared Mitchell, drafted by the White Sox, who is off to an excellent start in Single A Kannapolis with a .417 OBP and a real propensity for doubles.
All four of these men, as well as many others in the tournament, are likely to receive time in the majors in their career.
The 2010 draft saw two college world series participants, Seth Blair of Arizona State, and Kyle Parker of Clemson, drafted in the first round. The excitement of seeing a star prospect perform is enough to make any true MLB fan attracted to this event.
The 2010 College World Series is off to an excellent start, with upstarts TCU and UCLA shocking Florida and Florida State, respectively, as well as a tense match up between Oklahoma and South Carolina ending in favor of the Sooners.
How much excitement will this year's edition provide?
Well, we will be sure to find out by June 30th.