LSU's Aaron Nola pitches against Mississippi State Wednesday in the SEC tournament. The Tigers lost 3-2. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Thursday, May 24, 2012 1:12 PM
HOOVER, Ala. — The Southeastern Conference better call in some reinforcements.
Right now the league, considered the best in America, is getting its cleats handed to it.
It’s the SEC baseball tournament, so this is all staying among family and not likely to raise many eyebrows beyond the conference footprint.
But send help anyway.
Right now Regions Park, normally the home of the Class AA Birmingham Barons, is taking names and kicking the SEC’s collective hind tails.
It’s a lovely ballpark, seemingly nestled benignly in the back of a tidy little neighborhood slice of upscale suburbia south of Birmingham.
It’s been a convenient home for this gala for 14 years now, serving mostly benevolently while showcasing the SEC’s baseball skills in relative comfort.
But right now it is overwhelming them and verily taunting them in the process.
It looks like the Bad News Bears invading the Astrodome again.
Popular events like this can often outgrow a ballpark.
Not a problem.
In this case, the ballpark may just engulf the event and spit it out.
Actually, it’s not THAT big.
Regions Park is 340 down the lines where most SEC ballyards are 325 or so. Dead away straight center is 405, which is in the ballpark for most SEC ballparks.
The power alleys are a closely guarded secret, however, covered up by SEC banners, though I would guess it’s about 81⁄2 furlongs to clear the fence there.
OK, I’m exaggerating. But that’s what it looks like when they dump the current state of college baseball into this canyon.
Actually, Regions Park is the same size it’s always been, dating to a decade ago when LSU once won consecutive games by counts of 10-0 and 13-2, both halted after seven innings.
Something else has changed. It sure looks bigger.
Honey, I shrunk the ballplayers.
Or maybe they just took away their best weapons.
These poor guys are virtually unarmed for something this big.
The NCAA has decreed that they swing aluminum foil, and it doesn’t hit a ball all that far.
It just gets multiplied in a big-boy ballpark.
Back in the glory days of Gorilla Ball, these same fences were of little defense and this same wide-open outfield little more than a flyover zone for the howitzers they could launch with a flick of the wrist.
Maybe the weaponry had gotten out of hand.
When the first downsizing came, a field this big only cut down the cheap ones.
But now … Auburn guys were high-fiving a teammate for almost reaching the warning track.
LSU, playing in the tournament’s sixth game, was the first losing team to score more than one run. There have been two shutouts — with a game still to play Wednesday night — which in the SEC used to come around just about as regularly as Halley’s Comet.
Ole Miss, which has played two games, has scored a grand total of two runs — and is still alive to play LSU shortly after dawn breaks this morning.
Arkansas went home, eliminated, just after lunch Wednesday, having played two games and with exactly one run to show for it.
Hide the kiddies and cue up Bob Uecker.
“You mean we only scored one ^$%@$ run!”
Georgia got 12 hits against Auburn — and managed two whole runs, none until the eighth inning.
It does speed things up in what used to be a time-challenged tournament trying to squeeze a month’s worth of baseball into five days.
There was a time when they used to pray for a few 10-run rule games to get the day’s games in before sunup the next day.
The 10-run rule has about as much chance of coming into play this week as does roughing the quarterback.
And the games seem to last about 15 minutes, although Mississippi State stayed at bat for seemingly a lifetime in the third inning against LSU — and got two runs out of it.
It’s a new era for college baseball. Small ball is in.
The SEC just hasn’t gotten the memo. Or, at least, it hasn’t gotten the hang of manufacturing runs with any sort of efficiency.
All year I thought LSU was the worst baserunning team I’d ever seen, but this convention proves the Tigers have plenty of company in their own conference.
And the Tigers can be comical at times with hilarious Keystone Kop antics.
In Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to Mississippi State — a veritable slugfest by this week’s standards — the Tigers had another runner thrown out trying to steal and yet another was tagged out on a foolhardy mission to go from first to third on a single, breaking the ironclad rule against making the third out in that neighborhood.
And the Tigers, mind you, won the SEC regular-season championship.
Maybe they’ll get the hang of it. Maybe the SEC bats get to more agreeable pitching as the week winds down and the aces get put on the shelf to rest up for next week’s NCAA tournament appearances.
Right now, though, as fine hitters stare off into the wide, spreading expanses, they have that look of Amity Island Police Chief Martin Brody, staring at the Great White Jaws after the monster bit a sizable chunk off his boat.
“We’re going to need some bigger bats.”
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at email@example.com