The field is set and the College World Series is ready to begin Saturday, June 17. This year’s final eight is composed of perennial powers, including Oregon State, LSU, Florida, Florida State and Cal State Fullerton. But TCU, Louisville and Texas A&M have made themselves regulars at the table of late.
The unfortunate thing about this great event is the lack of attention it gets. The CWS format allows for the better team to truly prevail by requiring more than one win in a series to advance, so unknown teams from across the country can make a deep tournament run. The 2016 champion Coastal Carolina Chanticleers are an excellent example this. The Chanticleers come from the Big South conference, didn’t notch any statement wins on the season, but got hot when it came time for the tournament. Coast Carolina ran through NC State, LSU, Florida, TCU and Arizona en route to its title. That’s not the ending you’re likely to see to a Cinderella story in basketball, and the selection committee wouldn’t allow it in the College Football Playoff because the Chanticleers wouldn’t even be given a seat at the table.
Despite the excitement of the CWS, I do have a thought that might explain why interest feels considerably lower for this tournament than the two major college tournaments we watch each year. I assume the minor leagues have a lot to do with it. When you’re watching March Madness or the CFP, you’re watching the top prospects who are going to get a shot at making an impact in the pros the very next year. In the CWS, most of these prospects are at least three years from seeing time in the majors, if they even make it there at all.
A prime example of this is infielder Gordon Beckham. While with the Georgia Bulldogs in the 2008 CWS, Beckham was the eighth overall pick by the Chicago White Sox in the draft. He shot through the White Sox farm system and debuted June 4, 2009. With a .270 average his rookie season, Beckham finished fifth in the Rookie of the Year voting, but managed to hit above .250 only two more times in his eight-year career. He’s currently riding a minor league deal with the Tacoma Rainiers in the Seattle Mariners farm system.
The minor leagues also create a massive disparity in the product you’re seeing between college and the majors. Yes, there’s still an obvious difference between the NCAA and the NFL and NBA, but a metal bat isn’t helping with college baseball with the visual aspect.
Give the CWS a watch this weekend. It’s not the bigs, but March Madness isn’t the NBA and the CFP isn’t the NFL. You’re sure to see something unexpected and you never know who you’ll see emerge as a star.
Photo by Brigham Berthold