RT Staff Note: College baseball getting better?? It's about time someone noticed!
By The Associated Press (AP)
OMAHA, Neb. — The surest sign that schools are investing more in college baseball these days can be found in the list of the most recent College World Series champions.
When UCLA and South Carolina complete their best-of-three championship series, it will mark the third time in five years that a school will be a first-time winner in Omaha. And, former LSU coach and athletic director Skip Bertman thinks that's a great thing for the sport.
"Administrators are seeing the value and the economics of baseball," Bertman said. "It may cost a million and a half to run the program, but you're eventually going to make money. Right now, there are probably 60 great programs in America. Soon, there will be 90."
Oregon State won back-to-back titles in 2006-07 and Fresno State broke through in 2008 before longtime power LSU won it all a year ago.
TCU of the Mountain West Conference made its CWS debut this year, and South Carolina and UCLA are both going for their first national titles in baseball.
"I think this year's field, as it was last year, and I'm sure the years before that, do have the surprises," said Tim Weiser, chairman of NCAA's Division I baseball committee. "Last year, Southern Miss was a surprise, certainly TCU making it this year for the first time ever.
"And the fact that we have seven teams that are in this year's field that weren't here last year also speaks to kind of the diversity of college baseball and the growth that we've seen in the game."
Dave Keilitz, executive director of the American Baseball Coaches Association, said the state of the game is better than ever.
"There's more good teams, there's more good coaches, there's more good players, there's more teams that have an opportunity to get here than any time in the history of Division I baseball."
Weiser said college baseball does have problems that need to be addressed. Among them is the 11.7 scholarship limit.
"I think the majority of our committee members would talk more about scholarship limitations," Weiser said, "and trying to find ways to increase the commitment that we make to baseball from a scholarship standpoint."
Dennis Poppe, the NCAA's director of baseball and football, doesn't see it happening and said he doubts the baseball tournament field will expand from 64.
NO THANKS, YANKS: UCLA pitcher Gerrit Cole told the New York Yankees in 2008 that he wanted to go to college and wait on pro baseball. The Yankees drafted him in the first round anyway.
Cole told the Yanks thanks, but no thanks, again.
"It was an extremely hard decision," said Cole, who grew up a Yankees fan. "When you're put in that situation with that kind of opportunity, you have to really sit down and think. And my family and I had a goal, and that was to play college baseball. And I've always dreamed about coming here to Omaha and playing in the College World Series.
"So in terms of that's what I really wanted to do, that's where my heart was."
BRUINS GO HOLLYWOOD: Even though some of the best college baseball is played in southern California, there's a dearth of media coverage because the Dodgers and Lakers, among others, dominate the sports scene.
UCLA coach John Savage says he and his players feel like they're in the big-time in Omaha, where ESPN's cameras and other national media are always around.
"We get much more attention when we leave Los Angeles," Savage said. "That's why our players are so grateful of the attention that they're getting here. We don't have an SEC tournament. We don't play a Pac-10 tournament. It's Los Angeles and there's a lot more to do than come to a college baseball game. I wish more people would pay attention to it."
STADIUM SWAN SONG: It hasn't been lost on South Carolina coach Ray Tanner that the Gamecocks and Bruins will be the last two teams to play in a CWS at Rosenblatt Stadium. The CWS will move to a new downtown stadium next year.
"Before I came here as a coach, I used to think, 'Is it everything you dream of? Is it really?' And then when I got out here a few years ago, it really was," Tanner said.
"It's got to be at the top of the list for NCAA championships. I can't imagine a bowl game or Final Four in basketball being any greater than this stage. It's wonderful. The television coverage, the city of Omaha, the people that come watch games at Rosenblatt. It just doesn't get any better."
SHORT HOPS: South Carolina players and coaches and the rest of the team's travel contingent got a rude awakening when the fire alarm at their hotel went off at about 1:30 a.m. Monday. Firefighters found no fire. Evacuated hotel guests were allowed to re-enter the downtown Embassy Suites after about 20 minutes. ... Eleven participants in the 1950 CWS championship game _ nine from Texas and two from Washington State _ were introduced before Monday's game. Texas beat the Cougars 3-0 in the first CWS final played at Rosenblatt Stadium. ... South Carolina is attempting to become the first team since Oregon State in 2006 to come back from losing its first game in Omaha to win the national championship. Southern California in 1998 is the only other team to do it since the two-bracket system started in 1988. ... If UCLA wins, it will join the school's softball team as a national champion _ the first time that has happened in NCAA history.
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