College World Series boasts deep, exciting field
Multi-time national champs LSU, others showcase high-round MLB Draft picks
Much like the College World Series itself, this year's field of eight CWS teams mixes legacies with younger, emerging traditions.
Some of the college game's most venerable programs return to Omaha this year, teams like Louisiana State University and Oregon State, multiple-time national champions who know their way around college baseball's biggest stage. Then there are rising powers like Indiana, Louisville, and North Carolina State, teams on the rise but without the pedigree. In between are North Carolina, Mississippi State, and UCLA, College World Series regulars that are seeking their first national title.
It's an analog for the event, in a way. The CWS as a whole is one of America's great sports competitions dating back to 1947, in Omaha since 1950. In 2011, the tournament moved from time-tested Rosenblatt Stadium to the new TD Ameritrade Park in downtown Omaha, a new home in the same city where the CWS so clearly belongs.
"Our kids have seen an awful lot of big-time college baseball and big crowds and beautiful stadiums, so this is the mecca," said LSU coach Paul Mainieri, who is taking his fourth team to the CWS. "This is the pinnacle of college baseball -- to be in Omaha now and to be at this beautiful new ballpark."
The field represents five conferences: two each from the Atlantic Coast Conference, Southeastern Conference and Pac-12, and one each from the Big East and Big Ten. Indiana is the Big Ten's first representative in Omaha since Michigan in 1984, a team that included Major League Hall of Famer Barry Larkin.
Only three of the eight national seeds entering the tournament made it to Omaha -- No. 1 North Carolina, No. 3 Oregon State and No. 4 LSU -- tied for the lowest total under the current format, which debuted in 1999. On the other hand, there's no real Cinderella, no team like Fresno State, which won a shocking national title in 2008 after being a fourth seed in its own Regional, or last year's upstart Stony Brook.
Instead, it's eight very strong, very deep teams, all of which hosted Regionals in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Six of the eight teams were ranked in the preseason Top 10 by Baseball America, and only Indiana was not in the preseason Top 25.
LSU may be the hottest team, and North Carolina the highest-rated, but not one of these eight clubs would be a shocking national champion.
"I think everybody knows it's extremely difficult to get here," said UNC coach Mike Fox. "The parity in college baseball is at the highest level that it's ever been, and all the games in the Super Regionals and the Regionals that were played throughout the country were evidence of that -- just very close, hard fought games."
For those more familiar with the Major League game, there's more than just competition for a national title to watch. There are of course plenty of high Draft picks, including a pair of first-rounders. UNC infielder Colin Moran went sixth overall to the Marlins, and Mississippi State outfielder Hunter Renfroe went 13th to the Padres.
Other high picks include LSU's Ryan Eades (second round, Twins) and JaCoby Jones (third, Pirates), UNC's Kent Emanuel (third, Astros), and Louisville's Dace Kime (third, Indians) and Jeffrey Thompson (third, Tigers). Seven of the eight teams have a player taken in the first six rounds of this year's First-Year Player Draft, with N.C. State the only exception.
The 2013 College World Series gets underway on Saturday. Mississippi State faces Oregon State at 3 p.m. ET, followed by Indiana against Louisville at 8 p.m. ET. On Sunday, N.C. State plays rival UNC at 3 p.m., while UCLA plays LSU at 8 p.m.
Saturday's teams make up Bracket 1, while Sunday's teams make up Bracket 2. Each sub-bracket plays a double-elimination tournament to determine one finalist. The two finalists play a best-of-three series for the national title, starting Monday, June 24, at 8 p.m. ET.
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.