Great crowds graced TD Ameritrade Park once again in 2019.

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Sorenson: 2019’s Best In Omaha

College World Series

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OMAHA — After a week in this Midwest baseball wonderland, it’s always fun to look back and see what was good and bad about the College World Series, the atmosphere and the city of Omaha itself. So as I like to do from time to time, here are a few observations I made while there. Until the next 355 days pass as soon as possible and we can all make it back to the Mecca of college baseball, enjoy… 

The Best Aspect of This Year’s CWS:
– The return of the Big 10.

For a conference that over the past 10 to 15 years seen nearly every program make improvements in facilities (or build a completely new stadium altogether), it was good to see a Monster of the Midway team back in our venerable Field of Eight. It shows that the conference is making ground from it’s commitment to our sport.

Best Game:
– Mississippi State’s manic comeback vs. Auburn

The Tigers seem to be a snakebitten team. Remember last season’s ending where a home run bounced off a players’ glove, giving the Florida Gators the berth to Omaha in jog-off fashion? Then the SEC tournament where the catcher lost track of a wild pitch allowing two LSU runs to score to win an elimination game? And now, the Tigers held a 4-1 lead going into the ninth inning vs. the Bulldogs, only to see a pair of errors help the Hail Staters to score four runs in the bottom of the ninth to win the game 5-4. That was nuts. 

Best Game Runner-Up:
– Vanderbilt’s 3-2 win over Louisville

This game had it all. A mouthy pitcher. A near-brawl. Rising tensions. A big comeback. A humble pie eaten. VU scored two runs in the top of the ninth after Louisville pitcher Luke Smith had pitched eight brilliant innings and started shooting off his mouth at the Vandy dugout. Great theater. To Smith’s credit in the post-game press conference, he shrugged his shoulders and explained, “That’s baseball. That’s what I love about this sport. I have to live with the fact that they got me.” 

Best Players to Watch:
– All-CWS pitchers Kumar Rocker and Tommy Henry. Dominant and effective, respectively.
– Michigan’s SS/2B combo of Jack Blomgren and Ako Thomas. So many quick-twitch plays.
– Louisville OF Drew Campbell. Always took a diving chance, usually came up aces.
– Vanderbilt slugger JJ Bleday. He could explode at any moment and change a game.

Biggest Bummer:
– Florida State’s elimination

It was great that Mike Martin made his final push to Omaha. But yes, it was also a drag that he didn’t win a national title. Still, his presence at the final eight and in his final post-game press conference was great and something us college baseball fans will always remember.

Legendary FSU head coach Mike Martin seems like he wishes he had some eligibility left after what he saw on the field.

Best Pitching Showdown:
– The Florida State-Arkansas game

What a great first round game this was. FSU’s Drew Parrish went 8.0 innings with nine strikeouts and held the Razorback batting order to just five hits. On the other side, Isaiah Campbell went one better, striking out 10 Seminoles and also giving up just five hits in his 7.0 innings of work. The Noles tallied the lone marker in the game in the ninth inning off reliever Cody Scroggins to pull out the win.

Best Over-Achieving Team:
– Michigan.

It could be argued that Florida State fits this role as well, since both teams were No. 3 seeds entering the NCAA Tournament. But again, to beat a dead horse to a moist spot in the dirt, having a Big Ten team play for the national title is nearly unthinkable in this day and age. Well, that is, for now. That is a conference that has shown an emphasis on this sport… well, except for that whole third paid assistant thing. (Head scratch)

Worst Under-Achieving Team:
– Arkansas 

This was a bummer. After last season’s epic shortcoming where the Razorbacks should’ve won the national title, I think we all figured they would be hell-bent to make amends and make a run to a championship. But going 0-and-2 in Omaha was a surprise. But again, worry not, Dave Van Horn and company will be back. 

Recurring Theme:
– National seeds winning national titles.

This marked the third straight year where a top eight seed won the big brass ring, as the Commodores were the No. 2 national seed. This is starting to become a trend since from 2012 to 2016 a non-top eight national seed had won the title. 

Non-Reoccurring Theme:
– Field Intrusions

For the second time in three seasons, there were no instances of drunken 20-somethings running onto the field during one of the games. Guess we’ll have to live off the legacy of this guy from 2018… 

This was the last field intruder in the College World Series, from 2018. FYI, his buddies couldn’t pull him back up from the grounds crew and awaiting police.

Best Place To Hang Out Between Games
– The Blatt.

Great beers. Great atmosphere. Across the street from the stadium so it wasn’t too far to go. And the best part was it always seemed to be well-staffed. You didn’t have to fight a long line or wait for 10 minutes to get your next brew. Oh, and the food is pretty good too, from what I hear. 

Best Way To Describe The Weather.
– Mostly delightful. 

Man, did Mother Nature do us a favor this year. Sure there were some raindrops and last Monday saw only four innings of baseball get completed, but after catching back up to schedule on Tuesday there were no more rain problems. Plus the temperatures were mostly in the 80s the entire time. There were no potboiler days that had the heat index into the 110s or so. Lots of cloud cover as well. Mother Nature, you did us a solid. 

Best Between Innings Entertainment.
– The Home Run Challenge.

This is the one where they grab some kid from the crowd, set up a whiffle ball stand at the foul grounds warning track and let him try to hit whiffle balls into the crowd. The goal is to hit 10 “home runs” into the crowd in 20 seconds. The only problem is that if the kid doesn’t do it they let him keep swinging until he hits 10 balls over the foul area railing. Just once I want to see the stadium emcee Anthony Russo say, “Ohhhhhh, sorry kid, you couldn’t hit consistently enough to earn a free t-shirt. Sucks to be you.” 

Best Dugout Adornment:
– Texas Tech’s gorillas

These King Kongs helped the Red Raiders to a deep run in Omaha.

Biggest On-Field Issue:
– Pace of play. 

Once again the College World Series seemed to drag on a long while. I guess you could blame instant replay reviews as part of this problem which we didn’t have a few years ago. According to my unofficial count, only two games went less than three-hours long, one of which was that aforementioned FSU-Arkansas game that ended up going a breezy 2-hours, 38-minutes. Other than that, it was mostly marathon games again, capped by the Michigan-Texas Tech game back on Friday which went 4-hours, 2-minutes. 

Biggest Off-Field Issue:
– Where is the coverage for Michigan?

As I mentioned on Twitter, the fact that the Big Ten Network didn’t have any meaningful coverage other than an intern with an iPhone is a disgrace. I know they don’t cover events like the SEC Network does (especially since they are not affiliated with ESPN) but not to have a major presence for the biggest baseball game in conference history is a damn shame. How can they NOT have at least a reporter and cameraman or a desk set-up with anchors for this? Also, my former ESPN colleague Ryan McGee got into a small snark storm for chastising the coverage of Michigan from the Detroit news outlets. Other than the Detroit Free Press sending a Detroit Tigers writer and a local stringer from Nebraska, there was almost no coverage of the Wolverines from their local press. 

Best Post Game Press Conference Line:
– Michigan’s Jesse Franklin

While explaining why the Wolverines were playing so much looser in the post-season and with child-like glee, Franklin used a great turn of phrase, “Before we were pressing, playing not to lose. Now we just go out there and have fun playing at TD Ameri-playground.” 

Best Post Game Rant:
– Mississippi State’s Jake Mangum

After the Bulldogs were eliminated by Louisville, the senior centerfielder made a beautiful plea to the NCAA about the need for a third paid assistant on college baseball coaching staffs. He said, among other things, “The game has evolved. It’s time for a third paid assistant coach. There is a million people watching this game on TV. There’s 30,000 in that stadium. There’s 11.7 scholarships on each team. This game is getting way too big for that.”

Unfortunately, that great press conference moment will be quickly forgotten by those in power that could make those much-needed changes in our sport. Sigh.

Best Tactical Move on My Part:
– Renting a car from Lincoln, not Omaha

Yeah, once again I’m giving away my dirty little secret of flying into Lincoln and saving a good bit of scratch instead of getting the price gouge from Eppley Airfield in Omaha. I made my car reservation back after the brackets were announced and for two weeks in Lincoln my rental car was $328. I checked the rates for renting from Omaha for the same two week period… $582. 

Best Song Played Over the Stadium P.A.:
– Angels and Airwaves “Heaven”

Before every game at TD Ameritrade Park there was a pregame hype video played with this song as the music bed. It was pretty cool. 

Worst Song Played Over the Stadium P.A.:
– Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline”

If I never have to hear that song again it will be a blessing. Besides, you guys DO know Diamond wrote that song over his obsession with 10-year old Caroline Kennedy, right? Creepy.

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