Rabalais: The ballpark is killing the CWS

Virginia’s Brandon Waddell fell behind TCU first baseman Kevin Cron 3-0, so on a 3-1 count, he had little choice but to try to groove a fastball past him.

Naturally, Cron wasn’t fooled. The strapping right-hander turned on Waddell’s wishful pitch, his muscular arms fully extended, and nailed the ball right on the barrel of his bat, yanking it toward left-center field at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha.

It looked like a home run. It sounded like a home run, college version, with a loud ringing bell-like tone. It should have cleared the fence with yards to spare.

The ball didn’t even reach the warning track. Virginia left fielder Derek Fisher easily tracked it down still on the grass for the second out of the third inning.

“He hammered that,” said ESPN’s Karl Ravech, calling play-by-play in Tuesday night’s College World Series game. “Welcome to TD Ameritrade.”

People will tell you there are no turning points in a baseball game, but Cron’s F7 in the third inning was a game changer. TCU and Virginia played on and on and on, 15 innings worth before the Cavaliers finally prevailed 3-2 to move to a critical 2-0 in their half of the CWS bracket.

Cron is only the latest victim of the offensive wasteland that is TDAPO.

Former LSU third baseman Christian Ibarra can relate. He launched fly ball after fly ball in last year’s CWS only to watch them turn into an assembly line filled with cans of Nebraska corn.

There were only three home runs in last year’s entire CWS, one of them by former Tiger Mason Katz. Care to guess how many there were this year through eight games?

Zero. Nada. Zip. In fact, through the first three College World Series played at TD Ameritrade, plus the eight games through Tuesday night in this year’s event, there were just 22 balls that left the yard. Twenty-two.

Where have you gone, Johnny Rosenblatt? The college baseball nation turns a lonely eye to you — or at least your old ballpark.

The last year the CWS was played at Rosenblatt Stadium there were 32 home runs, or nearly 50 percent as many as there have been at TD Ameritrade. What a trade.

And not just home runs are down. Teams were batting a combined .214 though Tuesday, with each of the first eight games providing just 5.4 runs per contest. This CWS is making the World Cup look like Arena Football by comparison.

TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle knew any comments about offense would make him look like a sore loser after Tuesday night’s marathon. But the former Tulane assistant simply had enough.

“I’ve got to be careful here before I say some things about this ballpark that I’ll regret,” he said. “But it’s just a travesty what we’ve done to college baseball.”

There are several reasons for the death of offense at the CWS, the biggest one being the bats. The NCAA mandated several years ago that they more closely approximate wood in their ability to launch a baseball.

Another reason is geography. Rosenblatt sat up on a hill south of downtown Omaha with home plate pointing northeast. That meant the hitters benefited from the spring wind that typically blows from the south in Omaha.

TD Ameritrade’s field is dug into the ground on the north side of downtown pretty much at the same level as the nearby Missouri River. More importantly, home plate faces southeast, giving fans a view of the Omaha skyline but rarely the sight of a home run using that skyline as a backdrop.

Change is coming. A minor league-styled ball with flat seams instead of raised ones is supposed to give the ball more carry, maybe 20 feet worth.

To ESPN analyst and Omaha native Kyle Peterson, that isn’t enough for the CWS. He said flatly Tuesday night that the NCAA and CWS organizers need to move the fences in 10 to 15 feet. It’s worth noting that TD Ameritrade has the same dimensions as Rosenblatt — 335 feet down the lines, 375 feet in the power alleys and 408 to center field with a slightly higher wall — but so much else is different.

“You can’t have a ballpark play differently from every place the rest of the year,” said Peterson, a former Stanford pitcher who once gave up a few rocket shots to LSU in the CWS. “The fences have got to come in 10 to 15 feet. We’ve seen enough data.

“You need to be rewarded if you hit the ball that far. You can’t take the home run out of the game the most important two weeks of the season. That’s what’s happened.”

The drumbeat of criticism is getting louder, though the NCAA has given no indication anything about TD Ameritrade is about to change.

To that, though, Ravech added a telling line about the CWS:

“It’s not what fans, and viewers, want to see.”

From ESPN’s lips to the NCAA’s ears.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.