NCAA officials inspects bats
Bats get inspected amid concerns some too lively
OMAHA, Neb. – NCAA officials spent Friday inspecting bats to be used in the College World Series to make sure they meet specifications amid concerns they are being tampered with to make them more lively.
NCAA Baseball Committee chairman Tim Weiser said it has become stylish this season for bats to be “rolled,” a process that flattens the bat barrel so the ball propels 10 mph to 15 mph faster.
There are a number of Web sites offering the service, usually for about $30 a bat. Rolling a bat hastens the break-in time and is not illegal unless it causes the bat to fall out of compliance.
Dennis Poppe, NCAA vice president of football and baseball, said any bat that doesn’t meet specs will be taken out of play. A sticker will be placed on each bat that passes muster, and umpires will be directed to check each bat for the sticker.
To test the bats, a ring is slipped over the barrel to make sure its shape is uniform.
College baseball saw a boost in scoring after the introduction of metal bats in 1975. In 1998, Southern California outscored Arizona State 21-14 in the CWS championship game, which led to new standards reducing the “trampoline effect” of the bats.
Bat standards were put in place not just to tone down the offense, Poppe said, but also to reduce the risk of injury to fielders, particularly pitchers.
SET IN STONE: It might be a stretch to say the folks in Virginia will build statues to coach Brian O’Connor for bringing the Cavaliers to the CWS for the first time. But a reasonable likeness of him is already on the “Road to Omaha” statue outside the entrance to Rosenblatt Stadium.
Omaha sculptor John Lajba (LY’-buh) used a photograph of O’Connor as inspiration for part of the statue, which portrays a group of players celebrating victory. Lajba is a friend of O’Connor’s father, John.
Poppe said the statue will move to the downtown stadium that will be the new CWS home starting in 2011.
The NCAA commissioned Lajba in 1997 to design the statue that commemorates the 50th anniversary of the CWS in Omaha in 1999.
Brian O’Connor has a connection to the CWS that’s stronger than most. He grew up in Council Bluffs, Iowa, which is a few minutes away from Rosenblatt, and pitched in the CWS for Creighton in 1991. He was pitching coach for the 2002 Notre Dame team that made it to Omaha, then took over at Virginia six years ago.
Lajba said O’Connor is not represented individually on the statue.
“I tried to portray his attitude,” Lajba said. “What I used him for is his youthfulness, his attitude and his love of the game. Like all the models I used, they inspired me to create an idea of college baseball.”
A common misnomer is that the statue portrays LSU’s celebration of Warren Morris’ improbable national title-clinching home run against Miami in 1996. Lajba said Morris’ home run was the inspiration, but that the statue represents the magic of college baseball and human potential.
“I didn’t want the sculpture to be about just a single event,” Lajba said. “It’s about all the players who come to Omaha. When players stand in front of Rosenblatt and see that statue, I want them to think it’s them. It represents the height of their careers at that point.”
REMEMBERING ROSENBLATT: Rosenblatt Stadium, synonomous with the College World Series for 60 years, will become a memory when the event moves to the new downtown stadium in 2011. The stadium will be demolished to make way for expansion at the adjacent Omaha zoo.
The NCAA will attempt to preserve the venerable ballpark’s history with a documentary that will be filmed during this year’s CWS.
The NCAA hopes to make the documentary available to the public next year, Poppe said.
SHORT HOPS: All-time CWS attendance in Omaha is projected to surpass 7 million on Monday night. The first 3,500 fans at the game will receive an NCAA keychain, and seven fans will be picked to watch the game from a luxury suite. … During his state-of-the-game presentation Friday, Poppe said college baseball has never been better. He noted that ESPN’s telecast of Game 3 of last year’s CWS finals was viewed in an estimated 1.9 million U.S. households, making it the second-most viewed college game on the cable network. Game 3 in 2006 drew 2.1 million viewers. Poppe said the NCAA baseball tournament netted $2 million last year and that only 1 percent of the 3,000 CWS season-ticket holders did not renew their seats this year. … Rain put a damper on Friday’s practices. Only Cal State-Fullerton, Arkansas and LSU got onto the field before showers forced other teams to use indoor batting cages.