OMAHA—Eight games into the College World Series isn't a large enough sample size to draw definitive conclusions about new TD Ameritrade Park, but it does provide an opportunity for a mid-Series assessment of the new venue.
Among the upgrades at the new ballpark is a wider concourse that circles the ballpark from home plate to the outfield and back again, giving fans elbow—and breathing—room not afforded at 63-year-old Rosenblatt Stadium.
The concourse received a big thumbs up from fans Monday night when they took refuge there after a tornado siren sounded in the sixth inning of the Vanderbilt-Florida game.
It was actually for a high-wind warning. No more than 15 minutes later a big swirling wind came in from right field and stirred up paper and other debris unlike anything even the locals had seen here.
A driving rain followed and stuck around long enough that the game was eventually suspended until Tuesday morning.
Extreme weather is nothing new this time of year in Omaha. Its effect is among the influences to be noted at the new ballpark, however.
The dimensions at Rosenblatt and TD Ameritrade are exactly the same—335 feet down the lines, 375 in the gaps and 408 to center. But while home plate at Rosenblatt had a traditional southwest orientation, it has been rotated 90 degrees at TD Ameritrade. This was done because city fathers wanted the view out to center field to include the Omaha skyline as opposed to open space out in Iowa.
What this has done, however, is change the way prevailing winds come into play. At Rosenblatt the wind usually blew out to center field. At TD Ameritrade, the wind has been blowing in from center for most of the eight games played so far.
Now add in the bat restrictions, which reduced scoring nearly two runs a game in NCAA Division I contests this season while home runs were cut roughly in half. Scoring has dropped similarly this year at the CWS—from 9.5 runs a game to 7.63—highlighted Monday by the first shutout here in five years when North Carolina’s Kent Emanuel beat Texas 3-0. The drop in homers has been even more drastic.
South Carolina’s Brady Thomas hit one of the deepest drives of the series in the first inning of Tuesday night’s game against Virginia and it went off the base of the wall.
“Last year it’s probably out of the park,” said Thomas. “Not this year.
“It’s a big park, so you have to hit it to get it out of here. With the bats being changed, you’re not going to see as many home runs as you have.”
There were 32 homers hit in 16 games at Rosenblatt last year. When Virginia’s John Hicks homered to left-center in the fourth inning Tuesday night against South Carolina, it was just the fourth ball to leave the park in eight CWS games. It is a pace not seen since eight were hit (in 15 games) in 1974.
Actually, an asterisk should be added.
On Saturday, Florida’s Brian Johnson hit a ball to right-center that should have been a home run but was ruled a double by the umpires. Replays showed the ball hit above the yellow home run line atop the outfield wall and bounced back on the field after striking a protective railing that is supposed to limit fan interference.
The play put a grimace on the face of Dennis Poppe, vice president of NCAA Division I football and baseball.
Poppe made two visits to Omaha this spring, during which 12 games were played by Creighton (which plays its home games here) and 15 others were contested when the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament was played here.
Feedback resulted in, among other things, lights being readjusted, the batter’s eye being repainted flat green instead of glossy and smoothing of the infield surface along the third-base line.
“I got caught off guard with the home run/no home run,” said Poppe. “We intentionally put the fence back because we wanted less fan interference.”
Poppe said they will monitor the situation and consider a remedy, perhaps with netting, padding or some other kind of filler between the top of the wall and the fence.
“We’re not going to do anything at this time during the Series,” said Poppe. “I say that right now, but if we get a couple more of those things, then, dammit, we’re going to fix it.
“Our whole purpose is nothing in this park should influence the outcome of a game.”
The disputed play brought up another issue — the use of replay in games. Here’s what Poppe had to say on the matter:
“We’re looking at it because we want to use all of the technology that we can. This is the only (venue) that has this many cameras. We have televised games from the Super Regionals, but we have fewer cameras. And we don’t have all of our regionals televised. So how far do you go?”
Poppe believes it would be reasonable to try replay at the CWS and also Super Regionals. Part of the discussion will include cost, personnel required to do it and making sure the umpires remain part of the process.
“I would prefer the umpire to make the call as opposed to another official,” Poppe said. “I don’t want to take the human element out of this. But I don’t want to lose something if it’s something we can correct.
“There’s all kinds of stuff I’ve got to think about before we make such a major change in the game. Something so traditional. In major league baseball, it’s mostly for foul lines—home runs, fouls, that kind of stuff. They’re never going to do that close play at first.”