OMAHA, Neb. — TD Ameritrade Park, home of the College World Series, has a reputation for playing as a pitcher’s park with a massive outfield. That reputation wasn’t lost on the LSU baseball team after its practice Friday morning.
“Being out in center was like, ‘Wow, it’s a little big bigger than the Box,’ ” freshman center fielder Zach Watson said. “But it felt a lot like Hoover. I think there’ll be a lot of room to run. Not many balls are going to get out. Any ball hit up in the air is going to be a tough catch.”
Along with left fielder Antoine Duplantis and right fielder Greg Deichmann, Watson took good care to test the depths of the outfield, learning how baseballs come off the bat and which angles to take when breaking on a ball. The easiest way to do this was by taking batting practice and seeing how hard it is to lift balls toward the fence.
It only took Watson a few swings to notice this phenomenon.
“I thought I hit one pretty good and it didn’t go anywhere,” Watson said. “Some guys hit some over. Once you get it up in the jet stream, it seemed to go pretty good.”
Duplantis agreed with Watson in that regard. Though he isn’t a power hitter, Duplantis watched as Josh Smith, Brennan Breaux, Chris Reid and, of course, Deichmann all pulled home runs into the right-field stands. That seemed to validate that it’s not impossible to get under a ball and touch all the bases.
Still, that’s not LSU’s game. Other than Deichmann and a select few others, the Tigers’ offensive strategy in 2017 has been to make contact and move runners around the bases. And as Duplantis pointed out, that strategy works in every park in America.
“We’re an athletic, speedy team,” Duplantis said. “We can put the balls in gaps as well. But the type of game we play kind of plays at any field.”
In this regard, the spacious gaps in the outfield might play to LSU’s advantage offensively. Between leadoff hitter Kramer Robertson, No. 2 hitter Cole Freeman and Duplantis in the 3-hole, any ball hit in the gap could easily turn into a double or triple. Home runs might be at a premium, but extra-base hits shouldn’t be hard to find.
Finding grass at TD Ameritrade isn’t tough to do. But, as Duplantis, Freeman and Smith pointed out, the excess of grass presents a challenge in itself. Namely, the thickness of the infield grass and the way it slows down ground balls.
“The grass is really thick,” Freeman said. “The grass [outside the Southeast] is thicker so there’s a little more drag on the ball. It’s not as fast. There’s more plays and ground balls that you can get to.”
As an example, Freeman offered the memorable stop former LSU player Alex Bregman made in Omaha in 2015. Freeman said that he doesn’t think Bregman would’ve been able to make that play if it had occurred in Baton Rouge. But thanks to the thicker infield grass and Bregman’s instinctive range, LSU turned a seeing-eye single into an out.
Freeman also pointed out that the thick grass will help bunters, since the ball is more likely to drag in the rougher terrain.
All said, the field at TD Ameritrade is different than most parks. But LSU baseball players were quick to point out that it’s not all that much different than Alex Box Stadium. It’s 330 feet to the foul lines at The Box and 335 feet at TD Ameritrade. It’s 405 feet to dead center in Baton Rouge and 408 in Omaha. The gaps are a little bit wider (365 feet versus 375 feet) but even that’s not all that noticeable in game.
The adjustment shouldn’t be too hard. And if it is, Deichmann has a good plan of how to combat it:
“It’s a little bit bigger. I think the gaps have more ground to cover. But that’s going to be Watson’s job for the week.”