When college baseball adopted the use of a less lively bat a couple of seasons back, it began a small-ball culture that has dramatically reduced the frequency of home runs, and in Clemson coach Jack Leggett’s view, too much of the game’s natural excitement.
Accepting that the bats aren’t currently negotiable, and desiring through simple physics to inject some variety and voltage back into the college game, Leggett is spearheading a campaign to incorporate the minor league baseball as the replacement for the raised-seam ball that the NCAA is currently using.
“I’m trying to lead a push to get the minor league baseball,” Leggett confirmed. “The major league baseball is the tightest-wound with the hardest core. It has low seams and it’s such a hard baseball, they haven’t even put the specs out on it. So the next one down is the minor league ball, and the minor league ball is a little harder core than our ball that we use in the NCAA, but less than the major league ball.
“We play with a raised seam, right now, and it would be like using a third-tier ball in college football or basketball, and it doesn’t make any sense to me. We could use a better baseball. It’s not going to be like balls are flying out, but with a little less resistance, it would be like hitting a golf ball without seams. A golf ball with seams is not going to go anywhere. If the wind’s blowing in, those seams kind of grab the air a little bit and it’s almost like a parachute effect.”
Leggett pointed out that a new baseball – which could be in use as early as next year - is a more economical alternative to renovating ballparks by bringing the fences closer in.
“It’s something that could be financially feasible for college baseball,” he said. “I’ve talked with the people at Rawlings about it, and I think it would be good for our game, instead of spending all the money on people bringing their fences in, which they’re doing throughout the country. They’re not going to change the bats, but I think the ball could be an advantage because the seams are lower.”
Noting how the long-ball is such an important and exciting part of the game, Leggett sees college baseball somewhat counter-intuitively resisting the accelerated trends of other sports.
“I think the home run’s part of the game,” said Leggett. “In the major leagues, it’s a big deal to hit a ball to center-field or opposite-field. I’m not sure I can count on one hand any home runs I saw to center-field in any ballpark we played at, or to the opposite-field, all last year. So I think the new ball is something we need to move to, and something I’ve been pushing.
“I don’t know why we went backwards to begin with. I have trouble understanding that, and a lot of the coaches I’ve reached out to feel the same way. Other sports are going to the opposite side of things. There’s no huddle anymore, the hash-marks are in the middle. Everything’s predicated around trying to score more points and having more excitement.
"In basketball you have a shot-clock for a reason. You have the three-point line, and you’re allowed to dunk for a reason. They’re trying to bring more people into the stands and have some excitement. I know that baseball’s a traditional game, and I like to bunt and I like to run the bases, and pitching and defense are great. But at the same time, there’s an excitement factor that we could get back to a little bit more.”
While Leggett understands that safety issues are the basis of the changes to the college game, he favors a more measured approach that won’t sacrifice such a key part of baseball’s appeal.
“It’s about the exit-velocity, and doing these studies and making sure everybody’s safe, and that kind of thing,” he explained. “But the exit-velocity I’ve seen off the major league bat with the major league ball, for them to be able to hit the ball as far as they do to center-field and right-field, they’re not worried about exit-velocity.
“I would never want to diminish what college baseball’s all about, because it’s an awesome game. But I will say there’s less emphasis on the home run and the excitement, and it becomes a little different way of coaching, as well as watching.
"They only had nine home runs in Omaha last year in the sixteen games they played. That’s unusual. Somebody needs to analyze that and figure out what we can do. You have a home run hitting contest out there, and nobody can hit one out.”