If you're going to Eck Stadium today for Wichita State's baseball season-opener expecting a blood bath against Niagara, you might be disappointed.
What if the Shockers win 4-2? Or 5-3? Or 2-1?
Will that be enough for you?
In case you haven't heard — and with all the whining of coaches across the country I don't know how you couldn't have — a new kind of bat is being rolled out for the 2011 college baseball season. One that looks like aluminum but, when it strikes a baseball, sounds much more like wood.
The NCAA has dictated that this new bat be used in an effort to... well, the NCAA hasn't exactly expressed the reasoning behind the change. Safety issues are a factor, but it's clear the NCAA isn't yet happy with college baseball's balance of pitching and hitting, which has been the case since that fiasco of a College World Series in 1998.
Since that CWS, which ended with a 21-14 Southern California win over Arizona State and included 62 home runs in 14 games, the NCAA has consistently lowered the impact of bats.
The trampoline effect of aluminum bats, which by compressing upon impact adds to the distance and speed of baseballs when hit, has diminished.
I spent part of Thursday at WSU's final practice before its opener and the bat clearly produces a different sound and different results.
It's strange to listen to a big, strapping guy like first baseman Johnny Coy talk about playing small ball.
"You're going to have to try and hit the ball up the middle and go the other way,'' Coy said.
He's 6-foot-6 and close to 230 pounds. Up the middle? The other way?
There is a near-panic nationally about these new bats. Coaches of programs big and small are worried runs will dry up to the point of making games uninteresting.
But Wichita State coach Gene Stephenson is trying to accentuate the positive. He realizes that whining coaches only give their players an excuse for under-performing at the plate.
"There's less exit velocity from these bats than there's ever been,'' Stephenson said. "but if you really hit it right on the sweet spot, perfectly, and the conditions are just right, I suppose you can hit it out. But there aren't going to be any cheap shots and I think that's to our advantage.''
As always, Stephenson is emphasizing bunting, moving runners and taking extra bases. It's not an easy message to get across when players are using Bamm-Bamm Rubble bats, as WSU pitching coach Brent Kemnitz called the old-style aluminum bats.
Stephenson thinks his message is getting through now, though.
"If we have good pitching, which I believe to do, this is to our advantage,'' he said. "If we have good defense, it's even more to our advantage. And I think we have that, too. If we're able to put the ball in play, we'll manufacture runs. The key is to not strike out. We're not playing for the big inning anymore, we're playing to score every inning if we can.''
It's impossible to say how the new bats will play out, except it's a guarantee home runs will be down. They're down in practices and intra-squad games. The ball does not carry off the new bats they way it did off previous bats.
"I think it's going to be the same game, just not as much power,'' WSU junior shortstop Tyler Grimes said. "We'll have to hit gap to gap, go with pitches and overall just be good hitters. I don't think it's going to bother us that much.''
Being a baseball purist, I don't understand why the overseers of college baseball just don't go to wood bats. I know current bat contracts with coaches would be compromised, and that's probably the biggest reason why we're not seeing that change.
But to continue to mess with bats to make them more like wood seems like an exercise in futility. And although Stephenson is trying to put the best face he can on the bat situation, many coaches across America are incensed. They fear their game will become too stale, too boring. They're especially worried that a lack of home runs will keep people from buying tickets.
I'm not sure I buy into the gloom and doom, but I'm one of the rare creatures who is entertained by a 2-1 game. I think pitching and defense have long been underappreciated in the college game overall, though at Wichita State fans have gotten huge doses of both over the years.
"Everybody likes the idea of becoming more like wood,'' Stanford coach Mark Marquess told "USA Today." "But let's say all our games were 2-1 and our attendance was down 50 percent. What do we gain from that?''
Again, can't we just wait and see how the new bats play out?
"I wouldn't have changed the bats, probably, but it doesn't matter what I want,'' Stephenson said. "I thought everything was pretty fair the last couple of years, but I do think this plays well into our game if these guys will buy into what we're asking them to do.
"I'm sure it's going to cut down on home runs. Now whether it cuts down on excitement in the game depends on how you play the game.''