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Column: Lower seams will raise runs

LITTLE ROCK — Raised-up seams on the baseball used in college plus toned-down bats have all but extinguished the home run hope that is such a part of the game.

Personally, the preference is a pitcher’s duel over a slow-pitch softball slugfest, but every-game shutouts get old and players and fans should be able to believe that most anybody can jack one out and make up a two- or three-run deficit. In today’s game, that isn’t going to happen.

Watching the futility of hitters in the College World Series, I wondered about Dave Van Horn’s position on the bats that came into play in 2011. Turns out, the Arkansas coach is OK with elimination of the so-called trampoline effect in the name of safety, but favors a transition to the ball used by the pros. That move, he believes, would increase scoring and reduce pitchers’ blisters like the one DJ Baxendale dealt with last year.

Accompanying the word on Van Horn’s position was a link to an ESPN Sport Science show about the college baseball vs. the one used in the major leagues. Enthusiastic host John Brenkus said the seams on the college ball are higher by about the thickness of a post card. From there, he explained, the faster the ball spins, the more it breaks, spin is generated by grip; the higher the seams, the better the grip.

Pitching batting practice to 11- and 12-year-olds years ago, I needed higher seams to accentuate a dinky curve.

There is more, Brenkus said.

The seams create “drag” when the ball is hit, Brenkus explained. He said an MLB ball hit at a particular launch angle travels 395 feet while the college ball struck identically goes 376 feet. To me, that effect was even more dramatic than enhancement of the breaking pitch and the info reminded me how shallow the outfielders played in Omaha.

As a group, college pitchers are talented, but not as good as the numbers indicate.

For example, 4-0-1-1-4-4-1-2-0-0-1-1-1-0 were the runs scored by the losing team in the CWS. UCLA started 4-0 with five hits in two games and six hits in the other two. Nineteen of the 22 were singles.

During the CWS, THREE home runs were hit. In 2010, there were 32 homers in 16 games. After the bats were changed, there were nine homers in 14 games in 2011 and 10 in 15 games in 2012.

If the decline in home runs was exclusive to the CWS, I would be willing to place much of the blame on hitters fighting a prevailing wind in the new ballpark that faces in a different direction than Rosenblatt Stadium three miles to the south. But, the dearth of home runs is true throughout college baseball.

For example, Arkansas smacked a school-record 92 home runs in 2010. Reacting to the revamped bats, Van Horn has configured his teams differently, but the Razorbacks hit only 27 homers this year. In 61 games, their opponents managed 19.

The NCAA does not set standards for seams, but most conferences use the raised-seam ball during the season because it is the ball that is in play in NCAA tournament games.

Dave Keilitz, executive director of the American Baseball Coaches Association, said a couple of months ago that if all college coaches “think we need to have a flat-seam ball instead of a raised seam,” the NCAA might consider making that the rule.

The NCAA Baseball Rules Committee won’t consider rules changes until July 2014, so the raised-seam ball will be in play again next year. In light of that, get ready for another year of 3-1 and 2-0 scores, sacrifice bunts and suicide squeezes, and well-struck fly balls that die on the warning track.

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Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau.

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