Sorry if this offends the true college baseball fans, but give me professional baseball -- played with wooden bats -- anytime.
Love baseball, have since I was 9, so that's 60 years. Love it more than any other sport -- yes, even more than soccer (unless the Dutch national team is playing well).
Love one baseball team in particular, have since I was 9. If you know much about me, you know what team that is (hint: 40 American League pennants, 27 World Series titles). And ... none since 2009.)
Loved keeping a scorebook, keeping stats, watching a thousand-plus games, and baseball always was my favorite sportswriting subject.
But my love affair with college ball -- and high school and kids' ball, and softball -- ended when the use of metal bats began.
That's not the only reason (if you care to read on, I will give you other reasons below). But the sound of the ball coming off those aluminum bats -- Ping! -- makes me shudder. It's not the real thing.
Give me the crack of the (wood) bat. That's real. One of the most majestic moments in sports is the ball flying off that bat and going, going, going ... out of sight. Especially nice if it's hit by the home team at Yankee Stadium.
But, but, but ...
I have waited a little too far into this to say this: College baseball still beats a heckuva lot of other sports. Because it's still baseball.
And don't get the wrong idea that I don't want anything to do with it. I will follow LSU and Louisiana Tech baseball because those are the schools I care about.
LSU because it has had one of the best programs in the country for 30-plus years now, six times the best. And because the (old and new) Alex Box Stadium experience might be the best in the country.
(LSU has the best fans in the country and one of them is the "K Lady." This is a personal note; she is extended family. And her husband once was a catcher for Fair Park -- Shreveport -- High School and in American League baseball for Royal Crown Cola, and I wrote about some of those games.)
Strange as it might seem to some, I have never seen an LSU baseball game at Alex Box. Really should try it some time, right?
Louisiana Tech because a darned long time ago I kept score and stats there and because last season it came out of the college baseball wilderness to reach postseason play for the first time in 30 years.
|Kramer Robertson (photo from nola.com)|
The Tigers' senior shortstop, one of their best players, is Kramer Robertson -- whose mother (Kim Mulkey) and father (Randy Robertson) a long time ago were Louisiana Tech athletes a young sportswriter mentioned a time or two.
You might know that Kim has had a fairly good women's basketball coaching career.
It was a personal treat to cover a football playoff game in which Kramer -- a tough little athlete with a big right arm -- was the quarterback for Midway High School outside of Waco, Texas.
The Tigers' freshman first baseman, a promising prospect, is Jake Slaughter -- star high school athlete at Ouachita Christian (Monroe).
His father, Michael, played football at Louisiana Tech; so did his uncle, Bobby, one of the many standout receivers in Tech history; and so -- most notably -- did his grandfather. Mickey Slaughter played quarterback at Tech (1959-62), then in the pros, and then was one of the best-known and most popular assistant football coaches in Tech history.
So, yes, we will be rooting hard for Kramer and Jake, and the rest of the Tigers.
But because I am now a jaded old sports fan with a diminishing attention span for games, I will read about the teams and the players, and I will limit my TV game-watching time. (That's true even for Major League Baseball.)
And, since you asked (?), here are some of my issues with baseball in general, and college baseball in particular. I know I am terribly old-school about this, about how the game should be played ...
-- The games are too damn long (oops, sorry, bad-language word). Can't do 3- or 4-hour games. Yes, that certainly means Yankees-Red Sox.
-- Especially true in college baseball: too many player-coach conferences; too many meetings on the mound (and the infielders all have to join in).
-- My sportswriting cohort, Orville K. "Buddy" Davis of Ruston, La., pointed this out in a Facebook post Wednesday: Too many players stepping out of the batter's box between every pitch to adjust their (bad language) wristbands/batting gloves. Yes, even the now-retired Derek Jeter did that. So did Mr. A-Rod. And so does one of the (few) Red Sox players I really like: Dustin Pedroia.
As Buddy said, and several people agreed: Change the rules, make the batter stay in the box, unless there is a dire emergency. And stop the pitchers from taking their sweet time between every pitch. Don't you love pitchers who are ready for the next pitch as soon as they get the ball back?
-- Buddy also pointed out: too many pitching changes. Too busy, makes me dizzy. True in college and pro ball. (I have not forgiven LSU coach Paul Mainieri and pitching coach Alan Dunn for the eight-pitcher fiasco vs. TCU in the College World Series opener two years ago. A j-o-k-e.)
-- Cold weather: Don't like it for baseball. I'm a fair-weather fan. Unfortunately, the first month and a half of the college season, it's often too cold for the games in these parts. Certainly too cold for major-league games in many cities. Same is true for MLB's postseason.
-- Players' comportment: This goes across the spectrum of sports today -- but the gesturing, the celebrating, the trash-talking, the chest-bumping ... it is all too much. College baseball teams, it seems, are always jumping around and on the top step of the dugout or hanging over the railing. Enthusiasm is great, I suppose, but so is a bit of humility.
In college baseball, for instance, why after a home run, does the whole team have to run up to home plate to greet the home-run hitter? (I'm sounding old here.)
-- Here is my experience the last few times I attended a college baseball game, or covered one for a newspaper: The coaches' "gamesmanship" or what I call one-upness -- conferring, lobbying, cajoling, arguing with umpires about so many nuisances, rules, calls -- took up so much time it was aggravating.
They were so busy trying to get that little edge for their teams. One coach would come out on the field to make a point; then the other coach would follow. I am not making this up.
-- Bench jockeying: It used to be a huge part of the game; the jawing from the dugout toward the other dugout or the players on the field. A long time ago, I saw a powerful University of Texas team that might have been No. 1 in the college baseball rankings, but definitely was No. 1 in bench jockeying. I thought it was unbecoming of a big-time program. I think the NCAA put in rules to stop a lot of that crap.
-- Rally caps. It is so amateurish, so kid-like, so -- dare I say it? -- juvenile. I know: They are kids.
(It is almost like they were working in a newspaper sports department and, between editing stories or whatever, playing with wiffle-ball bat and a "ball" made up of wadded paper wrapped in tape and someone hit one that knocked a clock off the wall, and shattered the clock. That couldn't
happen, could it?)
I could think of other things, but this is getting too long. Did I mention the ping of metal bats?
If I wanted to watch college baseball, I could so right here in Fort Worth about a mile from our apartment. TCU has one of the nation's best programs; four College World Series appearances in the last seven years, including the last three consecutively.
One of my TCU friends offers ticket to games at Lupton Stadium. I pass. Not my team.
However, TCU -- never before a serious college baseball contender -- is an example of what's great about the sport. Given the right coach and recruiter, a national-contending program can be built.
And, as a friend pointed out, college baseball provides more parity than college football or men's basketball. The three seasons prior to this one have proven that.
When you consider that Vanderbilt and Virginia -- known a lot more for academics than athletics -- reached the College World Series championship round two years in a row, and that last year Coastal Carolina -- who? -- was the "Cinderella" national champion, and eliminated LSU and then TCU on the way, you have parity.
Coastal Carolina was known more for its team nickname -- Chanticleers (?) -- than anything else. But what a team it had in 2016.
Here is another piece of parity: LSU will play many of the state schools this season, and every season, and even play them on the road, instead of at Alex Box Stadium. That would never happen in football, rarely in men's basketball.
Back to the previous point: A friend said, "There is no way Louisiana Tech could ever win the national championship in football or (men's) basketball. But Coastal Carolina shows that in baseball, it could happen for a school like Louisiana Tech."
It could happen, even with metal bats. One more time: Ping! Enjoy the college baseball season, and the pros' spring training. For me, the real season begins April 2.