LSU coach Paul Mainieri, right, leads his players out of the tunnel during practice Friday at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb. LSU plays UCLA in the College World Series on Sunday. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Friday, June 14, 2013 9:09 PM
OMAHA, Neb. — It’s not quite true that none of LSU’s players have ever competed in the shiny, 3-year-old venue for the College World Series.
First baseman Mason Katz was here at TD Ameritrade Park last July, taking part in the made-for-TV College Baseball Home Run Derby.
“I remember that I crushed some balls,” Katz said Thursday as the Tigers got their first rehearsal in the ballpark. “Just crushed them … and they didn’t get out of the park.”
The home run is already on the endangered list in college baseball with the gentler bats. TD Ameritrade may just push it over the edge, extinct forever.
As the Tigers took batting practice Friday, brisk incoming winds had the flags in center field pointing stiff toward home plate.
That same prevailing winds would have been helping hitters over at the far friendlier confines across town at the old Rosenblatt Stadium. It was aligned in the opposite direction of the new stadium downtown. Not only that, but the old yard also sat like a fortress atop a big hill that is perhaps the highest spot in Omaha.
It wasn’t hard to tell the difference.
Even in batting practice, the Tigers managed to clear the fence on only a handful of swings Friday.
“It’s not easy, especially with the wind blowing in,” said Katz, who leads the Tigers with 15 home runs this season.
The dimensions of TD Ameritrade are the same as Rosenblatt and not totally outrageous — 335 down the lines, 375 in the power alleys and 408 to the neverland of dead center. By comparison, LSU’s Alex Box Stadium is 320 down the lines, 365 in the alleys and 405 to center.
But almost everybody who has ever played here agrees TD Ameritrade plays longer — and there have always been whispers that The Box’s actual dimensions wouldn’t withstand an audit with an honest tape measure.
But in two years since the CWS has been in new digs — 28 games — there have only been 19 home runs hit, and the next ball that clears the wall in dead center of TD Ameritrade will be the first.
In its last visit here, the Tigers hit 14 home runs in six games to win the 2009 national championship.
“It’s something every team has to adjust to,” Katz said. “It’s almost impossible.”
But the Tigers might not need to adjust that much.
LSU ranks third among the eight teams here with 46 home runs. North Carolina has 48 and Indiana, which plays in a band box, has 53.
But no team these days really relies on the home run as a staple of its offense.
“The game has changed,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “That is just the way it is. There are not a lot of home runs anymore. You have to pitch and play defense.
And LSU might be better equipped than most.
In fact, this team was kind of built for this place.
“I knew the ball park changed, the bats changed,” Mainieri said. “It became a real important thing for us to recruit even better athletes, guys that can run, that are more versatile and can make things happen.
“Also, on defense, to be fast enough able to run them down in that big outfield.”
If it’s all about pitching and defense these days, LSU brings the second-best team ERA (2.41) and the best fielding percentage (.980) with a lightning-quick outfield that routinely runs down tailor-made doubles.
The Tigers won the Southeastern Conference tournament on a similarly huge expanse at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in Alabama. They even out small-balled notoriously pesky Vanderbilt in the tournament title game.
“The plan was not to just a build a team that can win in Baton Rouge, but to build a team that can win in Omaha,” Mainieri said. “Face it, that’s our standard at LSU. We don’t want to just get to Omaha. We want to win when we get here.”