Once a week, SEC Digital Media Director Eric SanInocencio will share insights on the inner-workings of the conference office.
Birmingham, Ala. -- I'll admit it. I love baseball. I'm a baseball junkie. Baseball is my favorite sport of any in the world. Perhaps it is because I have played the game for my entire life. I still do, even as I reach the ripe age of 30. I love the game. No matter how old I get, or how slow my bat speed becomes, my passion for our national pastime won't change.
However, starting this season, something is
changing. For the better? Sure. Safety is of the utmost importance, and what is taking place in terms of legislation is a great thing. But, the sound that every college baseball fan in the world lives to hear will be silently absent this spring. There will be no more "PING"!
You know the sound. You can hear it for miles. It lets you know the game of baseball is being played nearby. I remember during my college playing days hearing it all afternoon. Even on days when I wasn't practicing, I'd be in my room and would know the exact moment the team was done. I could hear it
That sound might have disappeared forever. For those of you who don't know, the "metal" bats being used in the college game this season have undergone significant changes. The composition, materials and reaction of the bats have moved toward the wooden bat model, used by professional baseball organizations. The goal in mind is safety, and giving players in the field, and more importantly pitchers on the mound, more reaction time from the point of contact. While a millisecond might not seem like much, it can save a life.
What does this mean for the game? The sound is different, but what else? No one can know for sure. I'll share my opinions later, but I wanted to get the thoughts of someone who has been following the game for a long time.
So, while I was doing a "Q and A" with Baseball America's Aaron Fitt last week, I asked him this question.
SEC Digital Network:
Discuss the impact of new bats being used in college baseball. How will this change the offensive landscape and which SEC team will benefit the most from this rule change?
The new bats will have a much greater impact on the pace of play than the clock. The bats will really diminish offense significantly, and that will make the games go much more quickly. You'll still see home runs, but players will have to square balls up to hit them out, rather than missing the sweet spot and still getting metal-bat homers. Pitching and defense will be crucial, and I think Florida and Vanderbilt are constructed to benefit most, because both are loaded with quality arms and good defenders.
This change is greater than you think. Metal bats and their abilities to increase offensive numbers are well documented. The mid-1990's saw college baseball referred to as "Gorilla Ball", with final scores often reaching double-digits. Who can forget Southern California's 21-14 College World Series Championship Game win over Arizona State in 1998?
Those days could be long gone. As Aaron mentioned, game speed and the ability to score will be affected to some degree. Metal bats have always given hitters the ability to succeed while making mistakes in their swing (trust me, I got a scholarship because of it
), due to the sheer power harnessed in the aluminum they were swinging.
One full weekend into the 2011 season, changes are already evident. Although it is a small sample size, the ratio in which home runs have been hit is down by over a half from a year ago.
In 2010, 954 home runs where hit in 371 games played by schools in the SEC. The averages out of 2.57 home runs per game, on par with the amount of long balls we've seen enter the stands in the past few years. This year, through 19 games, only 22 round trippers have been hit. That average of 1.15 is a significant drop, and if it continues it will fundamentally change the way each program in the SEC goes about scoring runs.
One year won't tell the full answer, but 2011 will be fun to follow in many ways. College baseball may start to resemble the Major League product more, with low scoring affairs dominating the national landscape. Coaches perhaps will steal more bases, sacrifice more runners and re-arrange lineups to try and get on the board. They are learning this game just as we are, one day a time as we discover just how much the bats of the past influenced the scoreboard.
So, as you take in a baseball game in the SEC this season, take a minute to realize that you are watching the national pastime evolve right before your eyes. That doesn't happen very often, so be glad you get to witness it. Even if it means our beloved "PING" is gone.