The Case for College Baseball
Don’t cry my friends. I know football season is coming to a close. The bowl games are over, and the NFL playoffs are here and will be done soon. It’ll be a long ways until summer camps start again. In the meantime, we’ve got you covered with baseball! And college baseball at that!
If you haven’t checked it out, college baseball is some of the best time you can have with your clothes on. Well, in the heat of summer, the guys in the stands may even be taking their shirts off. But I digress…
The Joys of College Baseball
First, almost every college has a baseball team, even those that don’t field football teams. Fewer players mean fewer scholarships. And stadiums are smaller. The schools can field these teams on a much smaller budget.
Smaller budgets generally mean cheaper tickets! I can get season tickets for Georgia Tech baseball starting at $125 a seat for a 31 game home schedule – that’s just over $4 per game! Plus concession prices are a lot cheaper than those major league prices that you have become so accustomed to. And parking – even if you can’t find a free space and have to park, it’ll probably only be about $5 a game. Again, a lot cheaper than the major league stadiums.
At $4 a seat, you probably won’t mind taking the kids to a ballgame. It’s not nearly the major outlay of cash to take the young ones to a game. Or if you work near a college stadium, like say in midtown Atlanta, it is a great way to spend a late afternoon instead of fighting traffic to get home.
Smaller College Baseball Stadiums
You would think in the era of 100,000 seat college football stadiums that a smaller stadium wouldn’t be a “joy of college baseball” but I’m here to tell you otherwise. When you seat only a few thousand fans, you get to know all the regulars. These people are some real die-hard fans.
Many of my “tailgating family” I met originally when I was a student and got to know them at the baseball games. You can sit together with all your friends, much different than at the football stadiums where everyone is spread out to the four winds.
You are also closer to the action. This means you are more likely to catch a foul ball. This also means that you are more likely to be hit by a fast moving foul ball or a stray bat, so keep your eyes open and pay attention to the action on the field!
Perfect Tailgating Setup
The college baseball regular season typically consists of one or two weekday games, on Tuesday and/or Wednesday, and then three weekend games. The weekend series, unless it is a special tournament, are three games against the same team. At the beginning of the season, you’ll often see the northern schools are trips across the south, where it is already warm enough to play ball (you know, without snow on the ground and what not). As the weather turns warmer across the country, the weekend series are typically reserved for conference matchups.
These conference weekend series are perfect for RV tailgating. You should up on a Friday, get parked and don’t have to go anywhere until Sunday, after the last game. And the Sunday games are typically at 1:00 to allow the visiting teams to travel home. With the good matchups against historically strong programs, you may even get a bunch of opposing team fans in town to help the tailgate.
Unlike a college football tailgate, the college baseball tailgates are typically more subdued affairs. You’ve got three games in a weekend series, after all. So the tailgate becomes more of a marathon and not a sprint. There just seems to be more time to get everything done.
College Baseball Postseason
In college baseball, you basically have two sets of postseason, the conference tournaments and then the NCAA tournament. The conference (ACC, SEC, Big12, etc) tournaments take the majority of the week ending on Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. The format may change depending on the number of teams, but each tournament typically has the top 8 teams from each conference.
When things are going good for your school, you can bet there will be some tailgating going on before and after the games. One of the great things about the conference tournaments is that you can watch the other teams or you can sit back and enjoy the tailgate. In any case, the fans win!
Selection Show Monday
In recent years, college baseball has found a mainstream sports fanbase. ESPN and others have taken notice and made the NCAA tournament selection process into a made-for-TV Selection Show. It’s similar to the March Madness or College Football Playoff selection show. There will be some package features on top teams and announcements on the matchups for the tournament. They also announce the host teams for the Regionals and Super Regionals.
Regionals and Super Regionals
Like the basketball tournament, the Division I NCAA tournament has 64 teams. These teams are broken into 16 groups of 4 teams each to play in the Regionals. Regionals are then double elimination between the four teams, typically with the host team being the #1 ranked team in the Regional. Sometimes though, the Regional is hosted by the #2 team.
Each of the Regionals are paired with another Regional. The winner of the two Regionals will meet in the Super Regionals for a best of three weekend matchup. The winners of the 8 Super Regionals will all meet in the Mecca of College Baseball, Omaha.
Omaha, Nebraska: Home of the CWS
As a sports fan, there are few places like the College World Series. Omaha, Nebraska, definitely knows how to lay out the welcome mat to college baseball fans. This is two weeks of RV tailgating, high quality sports, and lots of fun. It’s so much fun, you are likely to see fans of teams not even playing in the CWS. (*cough* LSU *cough*) The current contract keeps the College World Series in Omaha through 2035.
Again, the 8 teams are split into two brackets with double elimination being the name of the game. The winner of each bracket will meet for a Championship Series, best of three. The new championship series was put into place beginning with the 2003 season. Before that it was a made for TV one-game event. But of course, that lead to some odd results where both teams had one loss in the CWS. So the three game series was born.
College Baseball Fans Are Passionate
It’s not just that Omaha throws a great party that brings the college baseball fans back to the CWS even if their team isn’t playing. There’s some great baseball going on, with the Major League stars of tomorrow. Plus, there is a simple joy in college baseball that is often missing in the major leagues.
These kids are not getting paid to play. Most of them are not even on a full scholarship. Each school gets 11.7 baseball scholarships, to split up between up to 30 players. As a result, the players want to be there, often adding to their school workload at their own expense. You know many of them won’t be “going pro” in baseball either.
Like in college football, college baseball enjoys a special connection with its fans. While both are big business, there is still something simpler about enjoying the college atmosphere than the big leagues.
Know Thy Team
Since the fans are passionate and closer to the field, college baseball fans often get to know the players and coaches better than they could at the major league level. I’m talking about in-game interactions here. Want to let the head coach you disagree with his handling of the pitchers? Not only can you yell at him, he’ll hear you too.
My little group behind the dugout has also been known to cause chaos on the field with the yelling of “mine” – yes, that has really worked. And whoa be the pitcher that lets on that we have “gotten” to him.
True story: we rattled a Miami (Florida) pitcher so bad with “get a haircut” chants at the last series of the regular season and first game of the postseason conference tournament that when he came back out for the second tournament game, he… wait for it… had gotten a haircut. We all know how baseball players are superstitious and doubly so come postseason play. Cutting the hair is like the hockey playoff beard – you just don’t do it. Let’s just say that he didn’t live it down until he graduated, with our group re-visiting that little episode every meeting thereafter.
And Then… Know Thy Umpires
Want to criticize the home plate umpire for his handling of balls and strikes? Be careful what you ask for or you may get a good look at the ump’s backside. Be careful what you ask for or you may get a good look at the ump’s backside. Another true story: we were criticizing an extremely overweight umpire who did not appear to be bending over to be level with the strike zone. When we called him out (no pun intended) on it, he began bending over and well, that was a sight no one behind home plate wanted to see. Quickly, we all told him to stand back up.
And Finally… Know Thy Family
Ever wonder how sports parents do it? Well, here’s your chance to find out. In the small stadiums, there’s no avoiding the players’ parents. Sometimes, you’ll get some inside information from them. But more likely than not, you’ll be there to celebrate the game’s great moments and be there to give an encouraging word after the disappointments. For the parents and families that are far away, many will come to rely on the regulars to give them the true scoop about what is going on with the teams, unfiltered by the players and coaches.
Just Give College Baseball a Chance
If you are still sticking around here, you should probably go ahead and give college baseball a chance. If you like college football, you’ll probably fall in love with college baseball! Or love-hate since only one team can win it all in Omaha, Nebraska.