By Parrish Alford
OMAHA, Neb. – Sikes Orvis could feel Kevin Cron’s pain.
As opposing power-hitting first basemen, Orvis would be OK with a little more misfortune for Cron and TCU when Ole Miss and the Horned Frogs meet tonight at 7 in a College World Series elimination game.
TCU dropped into the loser’s bracket after its 3-2 loss to Virginia late Tuesday night, a 15-inning affair between the last two remaining national seeds.
There was one late play that pulled a little sympathy from Orvis. Cron barreled up a pitch in that at its beginning looked like it might be the first home run in this year’s CWS. Like so many others it came up short.
“I felt bad for him. I know how that is for a big guy, you get the barrel on the ball, you’re used to it going and it not going anywhere. It’s very frustrating,” Orvis said.
Cron, at 6-foot-5, 245 pounds, has three inches and 20 pounds on Orvis, who is more athletic fielding his position.
Their reputations have been built not on defense but on their offensive power, and there just hasn’t been that much power from any player at TD Ameritrade Park.
“I have to be careful here before I say some things about this ballpark that I’ll regret, but it’s just a travesty what we’ve done to college baseball,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “The pitching has been smothering, but you add in the park and the conditions, and it’s just not a good recipe for scoring.”
The TCU-Virginia game came after Ole Miss nipped Texas Tech 2-1, the same score by which the Rebels dropped their CWS opener against Virginia.
Going into Wednesday’s elimination game between Texas and UC-Irvine only one game – Vanderbilt’s 6-4 second-round win over UC-Irvine – had seen the winning team score more than five runs. In all but two of those games, the winning team has scored four runs or fewer.
TD Ameritrade Park became home to the CWS when it opened in 2011. From its massive video board and other amenities to its various tributes to previous CWS heroes starting with the statue at its main entrance it’s a park praised by many.
Until you want to see some offense.
With foul poles 335 feet down the line, power alleys 375 feet away and straight-away center at 408, it’s bigger than most college parks. Then consider the steady southeast winds blowing toward home plate, and it’s hard for would-be home runs to leave without a connecting flight.
In a 16-game tournament, there were three home runs hit at TD Ameritrade in 2013 – the last by Mississippi State’s Hunter Renfroe. There have been only 23 hit since the park opened, an average of less than eight per CWS.
It was also in 2011 that the NCAA introduced its BBCOR bats designed to reduce the ball’s initial jump off the bat.
“We knew it was big, but we’ve been having a hurricane come straight from center field. It’s been tough. Personally it’s knocked me off my game a little bit,” Orvis said.
He’s responded by altering his approach at the plate.
“When I get in hitter’s counts I usually try to pull something, drive something, but if I do that, I know it’s going to get knocked down,” he said. “So I’m trying to go the other way, hit line drives. We’ll adjust. Everybody’s having to deal with this, it’s not just us.”
While the park certainly plays a large role, the lack of power with this year’s field is due in part to the make-up of most of the teams.
Ole Miss is the leading home-run hitting team still playing baseball. The Rebels are tied for 16th nationally with 42 home runs.
No other team here is in the top 50.
Ole Miss defeated Texas Tech and competed until the end with Virginia primarily because of its pitching and defense. The Rebels have produced just three runs and six hits in their two CWS games.
“I think it’s a combination of the park and the pitching, but in parks like this when you’re not going to have many opportunities, it comes back to you don’t have the chance to get the extra-base hit or home run,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said.