CWS Notebook: Georgia, Attendance Down

OMAHA—Georgia coach David Perno knew what was at stake. For everything his team accomplished in 2008, Perno acknowledged heading into the College World Series finals that his team needed to win the national championship to secure its place in history alongside Georgia’s 1990 national title team, for whom Perno was a player.

“No one’s going to remember who loses this series,” Perno said the day before the finals began.

“Everybody’s going to remember who wins. That’s life. It may be cold. North Carolina’s done a phenomenal job the last two years, but everybody’s going to remember Oregon State; that’s just the way it is.”

That bitter reality already started to sink in following Georgia’s 6-1 loss Wednesday to Fresno State in the national championship game.

“This is a lonely place,” Perno said. “As hard as we fought, as much as we accomplished, we didn’t get it done. So obviously it’s still behind the ’90 team. If we would have pushed through last night or tonight, it would be the best team Georgia’s ever had. But it’s not.”

Georgia shortstop Gordon Beckham had a magical, memorable CWS to cap his magical, memorable 2008 season. He batted .522 with two homers and five RBIs in Omaha, finishing the year with a .411 average (the highest by a Georgia player since 1981), 28 home runs (a school record and tied for the national lead with Louisiana State’s Matt Clark), and 113 hits (another school record). But those remarkable accomplishments were small consolation after UGa. fell one game short of a national title.

“They played better than us tonight,” said Beckham, one of the most colorful, quotable, candid players at the 2008 CWS. “Maybe we’d win the next game, who knows? But there is no next game. Tip your cap to them. I’m happy for them. Not really happy, but I’m happy for them.”

Still, there was a silver lining, and leave it to senior third baseman Ryan Peisel—one of Georgia’s primary leaders all season long—to find it.

“This one game isn’t going to define our season as a failure at all,” Peisel said. “It’s been a pleasure, been an honor to work with these coaches, players, staff. There’s no judgment on this season tonight.”

Noting The Series

• Under the new CWS format, play started on Saturday instead of Friday, and the schedule was spaced out over more days, eliminating double sessions on elimination days in the first week. More days with single games meant more sessions overall, allowing the 2008 CWS to draw a record 330,099 fans, eclipsing the previous record of 310,609 set in 2006. But that figure is misleading, because average attendance was down markedly. Just 20,631 fans per session attended the 2008 Series, the lowest average since 1998. The 2007 CWS averaged 23,131 fans per session. The low point this year came in Game 11, a Saturday afternoon contest between Georgia and Stanford that drew just 15,581 fans, the fewest at a CWS game since 2004. The championship game drew just 18,932, down from 25,046 a year ago.

There was plenty of grumbling about the format change from fans, especially locals who relished the traditional Friday start. But the bigger reason for the attendance dip might be the sluggish economy.

“Maybe if tickets were available to the average fan for face value instead of in the hands of scalpers going for twice that, then there would be more fans,” said Omaha native Brian Bodner. “It’s hard to blame local interest when games are sold out. The problem is that the tickets are mostly in the hands of season ticket holders and scalpers. Not everybody has $40 a ticket for multiple CWS games. I’m well over $250 for three games for two people after taking into account paying for parking, water, sodas, etc. Imagine the effect on a family of four? It’s a poor economy to have the same expectations of years past when the cost to attend games keeps going up.”

Whatever the reason, attendance was not as robust as it has been in recent years, and UNC coach Mike Fox said he noticed a little bit of a difference in the atmosphere from his team’s previous two trips to Omaha the last two years.

“Maybe just not quite as many folks when we came into the park,” Fox said. “We kind of noticed riding the bus a little bit. I don’t know the reason for that. But there are still enough people out there, and this is still the greatest place ever to come play. I don’t care, it doesn’t get much better than this. I’m sure people will look and try to figure out why (attendance is down). I’m sure there’s a reason—I don’t know that it has anything to do with the teams that are out here and the caliber of baseball. It’s still a very special place.”

• It figured to be high-scoring College World Series thanks to a host of potent offenses and a lack of power arms, and it was just that. The 206 combined runs scored in the Series are the most since 1998, when 225 runs were scored at the apex of the “Gorilla Ball” era. This year was just the fourth time ever that the eight CWS teams combined to score more than 200 runs. The 341 combined hits set an all-time record, breaking the previous mark of 327 set in 1998, back when there was only a winner-take-all championship game. The collective batting average of .303 is the highest since 2001, marking just the fourth time ever the eight teams have combined to hit better than .300. The eight triples were the most since 1991. The combination of underwhelming pitching and fearsome hitters capable of punishing offerings left over the plate also resulted in a record for most wild pitches in a CWS (26).

But it wasn’t all grip-it-and-rip-it. There was plenty of quality defense on display at the 2008 CWS, which saw just 33 total errors—the fourth-fewest ever.

• The West continued its recent Omaha dominance by producing another unlikely national champion. The last seven champions have come from west of the Mississippi River, including the last three (and four of the last five) from states that border the Pacific Ocean.

That designation includes Louisiana State as west of the Mississippi, though clearly LSU is not a “Western” school. Georgia in 1990 and Miami in 1982, ’85, ’99 and 2001 are the only national champions east of the Mississippi since Ohio State won it all in 1966.

But like Oregon State a year ago, Fresno came from out of the blue to take home the hardware. The Bulldogs are the lowest seed ever to win a championship (they were seeded fourth in the Long Beach regional), and the title is just the second in school history in any sport (the other was in softball in 1998). Fresno coach Mike Batesole is the first coach to win the title in his first CWS appearance since Pepperdine’s Andy Lopez did it in 1992. And the Bulldogs are the fifth straight national champion that was not a national seed.

“Obviously I think it’s good, the parity in college baseball,” Perno said. “It gives teams hope that they can get here, they can live a dream and make something special happen. Because (Fresno) did it, and they did it without their ace (Tanner Scheppers). And that’s even a stronger message. Obviously they’re around to stay. Coach Batesole does a tremendous job. I wish it hadn’t happened to us, but it’s great for college baseball.”