The first pitch of the 2011 college baseball season has not been released and already the game has changed considerably since the South Carolina Gamecocks partied in Omaha.
Starting on opening day, composite metal bats must perform more like wood bats.
South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner prepared with lots of hit-and-run drills during fall practice.
Clemson's Jack Leggett, miffed at the whole thing, anticipates an outbreak of bunting.
The College of Charleston's Monte Lee, like most head coaches, has altered his recruiting strategy. Not as popular: Bigger, stronger, slower guys.
"Teams are filling up on athletic shortstops," Lee said.
Everyone in college baseball knew new bat legislation was coming when Southern Cal outslugged Arizona State, 21-14, to win the 1998 College World Series. To combat comparisons to beer league softball, and for safety reasons, the NCAA adopted a BESR (Ball Exit Speed Ratio) bat standard for 1999.
But South Carolina's 2010 national championship-clinching victory over UCLA last June lasted 11 innings and was a 2-1 chess match.
Yet here comes the most significant college baseball change in 12 years: bat restrictions sure to slash power numbers. Promoting safer play and aiming for shorter games, the NCAA demands teams use bats that have passed batted ball coefficient of resolution (BBCOR) testing.
"It still remains to be seen how it will affect the game," Tanner said. "But the anticipation among college coaches in the country is that fewer runs will be scored. We don't know yet -- that's the anticipation. But I think you may see the hit-and-run a little more prevalent."
Players and coaches nationwide were stunned at the difference during fall intrasquad games. It made a few teams ask out of contracts with manufacturers not as quick to produce state-of-the-art BBCOR bats.
High schools, too
BBCOR rules apply to high schools in South Carolina starting in January of 2012, said Bruce Hulion, commissioner of officials for the South Carolina High School League. The new rules and confusion already have taken an economic toll on parents of players trying to keep up (see the National Federation of State High School Associations web site at www.nfhs.org for more info on approved bats).
Buy a $300 BESR-approved bat and it's only good for a year.
Buy a $400 BBCOR-tested bat and you're all set for the future. Just don't try using it in 2011 or you are at a competitive disadvantage.
The new bat standards already have filtered into some youth league organizations and are expected to get widespread travel league approval soon.
"In high school, you go with the players you get," said longtime Stratford High School head coach John Chalus. "But I think you will see high school programs look more at speed and pitching and fundamentals. Or maybe put more emphasis on the weight room."
Lee said the BBCOR bats "play a lot like a maple wood bat, or maybe just a little better."
Pitchers are the primary beneficiary, he said.
"There are things I like about this and things I don't like," Lee said. "The good thing is it allows pitchers to pitch off their fastball more, resulting in fewer arm injuries. The ball isn't going to jump off the bat handle as much."
Sweating small stuff
LSU home runs slipped from 36 in fall practices of 2009 to six in 2010. Tigers head coach Paul Mainieri pans the BBCOR restrictions.
Texas head coach Augie Garrido loves the way the new bats bond with his expansive ballpark.
Auburn led the nation in homers last season, but head coach John
Pawlowski showed when he was at the College of Charleston that he could advance to NCAA tournaments playing "small ball."
"It won't necessarily affect us that much because we work a lot on bunting, hit-and-run and moving runners over and those types of things," Leggett said. "(But) I do like a little bit of the power game in college baseball. I like the excitement of the home run, and I hope it doesn't take too much of that away.
"The toughest part of the whole situation was that (coaches) weren't really involved in the changeover or the decision-making process, so it was kind of thrown at us, and we're going to have to make an adjustment. Everyone will have to make the same adjustment."
"If I knew what the bat situation was last year, I would have a good predictor of what we might be able to accomplish offensively this year. But now it's a little bit of a different story, so we'll have to feel it out as the season goes along."
But smaller and safer.
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