By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Ever since TD Ameritrade Park opened in 2011, the same year the BBCOR bats were legislated into college baseball, the stadium’s spacious confines have been a central storyline going into the College World Series.
The dimensions are actually the same as old Rosenblatt Stadium, but for a cavalcade of reasons, the building has developed a reputation as a place where home runs go to die.
The park hasn’t been as kind to LSU as its predecessor, with the Tigers going just 1-4 since its opening between trips in 2013 and 2015.
So does the 2017 club plan to alter its approach before beginning its latest College World Series pilgrimage against Florida State at 7 p.m. on Saturday?
Well, it kind of depends on who you ask.
“You’ve got to keep the ball on the ground and hit low line drives,” centerfielder Zach Watson said. “You can’t really try to hit it over the fence, because it won’t go anywhere. Not even with two hands.”
All-American slugger Greg Deichmann laughed at the notion: “No, not at all.”
Both are correct in a way.
Deichmann is the only LSU position player who has actually hit at TD Ameritrade in any meaningful way. He didn’t make the postseason roster in 2015, but the recent second-round selection of the Oakland A’s participated in the College Home Run Derby last summer, mashing 13 homers in the first round.
Of his team-leading 19 home runs this season, most have been of the no-doubt variety. When he connects, there’s not a ballpark in the world that can contain him.
Next-level analytics speak to just how much harder and farther he’s hit the ball than the rest of the Tigers. Deichmann has hit 27 balls with exit velocities measured in excess of 105 mph. The rest of the team has combined for 26, with Watson placing second at eight.
“When I catch them, they go,” Deichmann said. “Stay within yourself and stay within your approach. The minute you try to change to the ballpark is the minute you stop having success.”
Deichmann pointed out that LSU plays its home games at Alex Box Stadium, the biggest park in the Southeastern Conference. TD Ameritrade is measured at five feet deeper than the Box down the lines, 10 feet deeper in the power alleys and three extra feet to straightaway center field.
The Tigers also had no problem making the spacious Hoover Met look small during its romp through the SEC Tournament.
But for Watson and Kramer Robertson, LSU’s second-leading home run hitters with eight apiece, focusing on line drives and using their considerable speed may be the more effective plan of attack.
In Watson’s case, that speed is going to be an even greater factor on defense. LSU will count on his to duplicate the awe-inspiring range he showed in Hoover last month considering the amount of real estate he’ll have to cover in the gaps.
“Watson could be a very key player for us because it’s so vast,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “That outfield is huge. You’ve got to be able to run them down in center field there, that’s for sure. Hopefully they won’t be hit too hard or too far off our pitchers, but I’m sure Zach will be a key player this week.”
It’s a thought that’s crossed the mind of the Tiger pitching staff that’ve grown accustomed to his defensive exploits.
“That really helps,” LSU ace Alex Lange added. “Watson is reminding me a little but more of (Andrew Stevenson) every day. I’m interested to see how he does out there. It’s going to be nice to have guys that can fly around out there.”
Like a gazelle, the freshman enjoys the extra room to roam. He’s already begun sizing up TD Ameritrade Park and is looking forward to the challenge.
“A lot of room to run around out there in the outfield, so I’ll go chase down some balls,” he smiled. “It should be fun. I feel like I could run around forever.”