Most Major League Baseball fans are familiar with the term “pennant race.” It’s the time of year when the 30 teams that make up baseball’s highest level of competitive play in the U. S. make their final run at a playoff berth. It usually starts in September when rosters expand from 25 to 40 and teams typically have between 25-30 games to go before the playoffs begin. For college baseball teams, that time is now.
The Horned Frogs find themselves right in the middle of the NCAA version of a pennant race. With roughly 20 games remaining, this is the final opportunity for TCU to make their plea as to why they deserve a shot in the college baseball postseason and why they deserve a shot at having home field advantage.
Who makes it in
Interestingly, just like the NCAA basketball tournament, 64 teams will participate in baseball’s tournament. Just like the other b-ball, teams winning their respective conference championships will receive “automatic bids” while the rest are divided up between “at large” teams. With 32 conferences currently participating in Division I NCAA Baseball, it means half the field will receive automatic qualification while the other half have to hope their regular season record and ranking will carry them in. However, that’s where the similarities end.
Unlike it’s counterpart, the baseball tournament consists of four rounds of “double-elimination” play. Since wins and losses reset at the end of each round of the tournament, this means a team could lose four times throughout the competition and still win the championship.
The Frogs have made six consecutive postseason appearances and seven total in school history. Their first postseason appearance came in 1994 when the Horned Frogs qualified for the Midwest Regional, which took place in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
The tournament field is broken into sixteen “regions,” which each host a “Regional” round of the tournament. Those sixteen teams are made up a combination of the eight highest-ranking teams (referred to as “national seeds”) and then eight other teams traditionally consist of teams that can promise a certain amount of fan attendance and revenue. Each Regional is made up of four teams competing in a double-elimination tournament. The sixteen winners of the Regionals move onto the Super Regionals.
TCU in the Regionals
In seven Regional appearances, the Frogs have won at least one game in every tournament and are a combined 10-12 in Regional play. Last season, TCU hosted the Fort Worth Regional and won the round for the first time in school history by taking down Wright State and then defeating Oregon State twice.
The Super Regional round consists of eight head-to-head match-ups in a “best of three” format. Unless previously eliminated in the Regionals, the National Seeds will host this round. Hosting a Super Regional has historically been a major advantage for the teams competing due to crowd support, familiarity with the facilities, and rest from not having to travel.
Unofficial “home team” designation (a cosmetic decision to decide who will bat last) will flip-flop for the first two rounds and a coin flip determines the home team for the third game (if necessary). The eight teams that win the Super Regionals will move onto the College World Series, which is played annually in Omaha, Nebraska.
TCU in the Super Regionals
The Horned Frogs made their only Super Regional appearance in team history last season when they qualified for the Austin Super Regional to take on the eventual College World Series runner-up Texas Longhorns. After losing game one by a score of 10-4, the Frogs bounced back to win the second game, 3-2. In the end though, the Longhorns proved to be too much after winning the decisive third game 5-2.
If the cards fall the right way for TCU this season, they could find themselves in a position to become a National Seed and host one of the eight Super Regionals in 2010. That makes the final stretch of the season all-the-more important for the Horned Frogs as they vie to qualify for one of those highly-coveted spots.
College World Series
Since 1950, Omaha’s Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium has hosted the final portion of college baseball’s playoffs. 2010 marks the 61st and final season that the College World Series will be played at the legendary ballpark. In 2011 the tournament will move to the nearby TD Ameritrade Park Omaha, which is sponsored by and named after the Omaha-based brokerage firm.
The College World Series consists of two double-elimination tournaments with the winner of each tournament meeting for a final best-of-three series to determine the champion. Wins and losses do reset once the final round begins, meaning a team that didn’t lose at all in the first portion of the CWS can be eliminated by simply losing two games in the final best-of-three.
This season, TCU’s primary goal is to earn a trip to Omaha for the first time in Horned Frog history. Obviously that road won’t be easy, but the Frogs have proven that they’re more than capable of it this year with their solid hitting up and down the lineup and their superior pitching staff.
Will this be the year that TCU hosts a Super Regional? Could the Horned Frogs find themselves on their way to Rosenblatt’s farewell tourney? Can the Frogs bring home the College World Series Trophy? Will Batman be able to get away from the Riddler’s evil game? All these questions will be answered in June . . . okay, maybe not the last one. Only Christopher Nolan knows that answer.