USC Aiken pitching coach Nolan Belcher, a former Greenbrier and South Carolina standout, pitched against weaker bats and in a spacious College World Series stadium during his time with the Gamecocks, earning two national titles.
But Belcher, along with many coaches and players, is welcoming a change that will boost offense in college baseball.
In an attempt to create a more balanced game, the NCAA Division I Baseball Committee recently voted in favor of changing its baseball for the 2015 postseason, and coaches and players are largely in agreement with the move.
The committee voted unanimously Nov. 5 to use a baseball with flatter seams to lessen the drag on the ball as it travels through the air. The flatter-seamed ball travels further than the raised-seam ball when hit with the same force.
“(Lower-seamed balls) go further if you hit them, but you can also make them move more and throw them harder because of the lower seam, so I like it. I think it’s a good move,” Belcher said.
College baseball universally changed to bats with weaker sweet spots in 2011, meaning a slower exit velocity when balls travel off the bat. A key reason was player safety.
The new baseball has the same core as the previous ball, meaning exit velocity won’t change. It will have a similar effect to hitting with wooden bats, meaning hitters will have to make solid contact to see the change in distance.
Many are pushing for a livelier core similar to the ball used in Minor League Baseball, but that won’t be discussed for another year.
With the Division I committee’s changes, Division II and III will likely follow. Baseball America’s Aaron Fitt said they are in the process of surveying coaches and there is currently no timetable for discussing the issue in the lower levels.
USC Aiken coach Kenny Thomas said he expects the change to be made in Division II. Belcher said as soon as the change is made, his pitchers will switch to the new balls for practice.
First-year Georgia Regents baseball coach Jason Eller, who spent the previous 11 seasons as an assistant at Georgia, also agrees with the move Division I is making.
“It should bring another level of excitement to the game that’s been missing,” he said. “Hopefully, it’ll maintain balance and things will become more uniform in the game. I’m glad they weren’t reluctant to change.”
A concern raised by some coaches is the adjustment period for college pitchers. Throwing a ball with lower seams often creates more movement, but it can also be a challenge to throw a breaking ball with the same effectiveness.
“The balls move in different ways,” USC Aiken senior left-hander Derek Beasley said. “I can throw a way better breaking ball with the high seam, because you can get a grip on it. The high seam, I feel, you can spot up more because it doesn’t move as much. For a pitcher, that’s huge.”
Eller said that similar to hitters adjusting to weaker bats, pitchers will adjust to lower seams. While it wouldn’t have the exact specifications of the minor league ball, having the same seams could help development and shorten the adjustment period after a player begins his professional career.
If Division II makes the move to lower seams, area programs could see a slight jump in offense. Eller said he wants the move for the sake of the game and players.
“When a kid squares up a ball, and he’s strong and has been working in the weight room, and the ball dies at the warning track, that’s a defeating feeling,” he said. “When a pitcher leaves a pitch over the plate and it gets hit hard but dies at the warning track, that reinforces things that shouldn’t be taught. I think it’s the right move for the game.”