By Ryan Divish
There's nothing like the familiar ping of a ball hitting a metal bat to signify the right kind of baseball is being played.
Don't you mean the familiar crack of a ball hitting wood? Nope.
Are you sure? Positive.
Today marks the beginning of the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., with Arizona meeting Georgia at noon in the opening game of the tournament.
I know what you are thinking. College baseball? You are talking about college baseball as the right kind of baseball?
Yep. And then some.
All you have to do is watch one college game to understand that it's much different than its major league counterpart.
How different? Let's look.
Every player runs everything out like it's the last play of their lives. Ground ball right back to the pitcher - sprint to first base. Base on balls - sprint to first base. Strikeout - sprint to the dugout.
And then there is in between innings. In the major leagues, players leisurely jog out on to the field. In college, it's a maniacal dash to get to their position. My college coach once told me that sprinting in and out of the dugout is worth two runs a game.
If a college player is going somewhere on baseball field, they are sprinting. Doesn't matter where, doesn't matter why. The reason that people made a big deal about Pete Rose hustling around the field when he played is because nobody else did it. In college, everyone does it, or they don't play.
In college, baseball isn't treated like a job. It's treated like a privilege. You know, something special that everyone else doesn't get to do. Not all major leaguers treat baseball like its a mundane day-to-day experience, but far too many do. They call it their job, their profession, a way to pay the bills. The major league minimum salary is more than $1 million dollars. I'm thinking the bills get paid with some cash left over to spare. There is a lifelessness to it, particularly the regular season.
Baseball is still a game invented to be played by children. Calling it a job or profession trashes the innocence of it.
There isn't that sense of entitlement in college. Players are excited to be there. With most teams playing around a 60-game schedule at most, each game, each day at the park is cherished and treasured for what it is.
That's why when you watch a college game, you see that joy on the players' faces. Even if they're aren't playing, they are still elated to be there. Look at a dugout in a college game and count how many people are sitting on the bench. The answer? None. That's because they are all standing up at the front of the dugout, chattering and cheering on their teammates.
It's basically a word that means the spectacle of it all. College baseball is unique in its idiosyncrasies, its superstitions and its traditions. Don't believe me. Check out some of the college players' game hats. They are possibly the most disgusting, dirt-filled, sweat-lined, sunbaked pieces of wool you have ever seen. Remember that favorite hat you wore everywhere. It got good and broke in from wearing it in the sun and sweating in it. Take that times 10 and you get many college players' hats.
The filthier the hat, the better. Sweat stains on a hat are like badges of honor, representing how hard and how long you worked. Despite being nicknamed the 49ers, Long Beach State has been affectionately known as the "Dirtbags" for the last 10 years because of this mentality.
Of course, California kids being California kids have started their own style in college, wearing their hats cockeyed and straight-billed, but even that is unique, if not a little strange.
Do you like the high socks that Jim Thome and other pros wear? Yeah, college brought back that style over 10 years ago. Stanford was one of the first teams I can remember going high socks. I used to believe the reason was because their uniforms were so old that they had to because their pants wouldn't go all the way to their ankles.
Then there are the superstitions. Baseball is a game of superstitions. But college has taken to whole different levels. Teams have superstitions whether it's magic beads they wear, signs in the dugout they touch before every at-bat or different trinkets that sit in the dugout like players and are touched for luck. Take the rally cap superstition, every team has their own style of rally caps that they wear. And it isn't just a couple of players, it's the whole team
There is still the magic of the "deuces," not rubbing it after you are hit with a pitch and wearing sun glare no matter what time of day or weather conditions. All of these things may seem profoundly stupid, but what they do is make the game just a little more fun.
When I used to coach the Comets and assist the Northstars a few years back, one of the things I would make my players do is sit down and watch the College World Series.
As a coach, if you want your players to emulate players, you want them to emulate college players. There are no careless one-handed catches on pop flies and no half-hearted attempts to break up double plays. They play fundamental baseball, the way it is supposed to be played and the way you teach kids from the time they first pick up a ball, bat and glove.
Sure there are some bad parts. The use of metal bats have moved past the dangerous point and right into scary. These players are big strong kids swinging metal clubs that make the ball explode off them at contact. Consequently, there isn't a shortage of offense.
Defensively, there are more errors because most of the players are 19-and 20-year-old kids and not professionals. But that makes the whole game far from dull. It means no team is out of a game, no matter the score.
If you call yourself a baseball fan, or even a fan of sports played the right way, you need to watch ESPN and ESPN 2 over the next six days and catch some of the College World Series. For the first time, every game of the CWS will be televised and you can see the hustle, enthusiasm and pageantry that is college baseball.
Just watch it and you will see that baseball played the right way is the sweet sound of a ball hitting a metal bat.