If one were to select a voice of college baseball it would undoubtedly be Peterson, the color analyst for ESPN. The welcoming and engaging tone alongside the incredible volume of information and insight he brings to the booth make him unrivaled in this profession.
The 1997 first-round draft pick from Stanford, who broadcasts Thursday night Southeastern Conference games and calls action College World Series action, took time to speak to provide insight on the progress the Big Ten is making, national perceptions of northern baseball and changes he would make and those coming to the game.
We thank the righty for his time.
CW: While the Big Ten and northern baseball may never relive the glory days of true regionals, the current state of baseball in the region has to be the healthiest in many years and moving in the right direction, correct?
KP: I would agree. In the Big 10 in particular, you have significant money being spent at numerous schools to upgrade facilities. This is an important step, as it has proven to be vital across the country. Kent State and Stony Brook in the CWS last year is a greater indication of the state of the game across the country right now. Given the lower scoring games and importance of pitching/defense, parity will remain within the game for a long time. The national start date a few years back is a positive step as well. The revised RPI formula should aid northern schools starting this year. There will always be an inherent climate advantage with the southern schools but positive steps have been taken to lessen the gap.
CW: One of your good friends, Eric Sorenson laughed at the notion some around the nation feel in that programs here are not committed to the sport and cites the travel expenses and the financial demands incurred. When you do SEC contests and games in other hotbeds, are there other perceptions about northern programs that you have to rebuff?
KP: Just the opposite actually. Coaches in other areas of the country realize the state of the game right now and the small gap between winning and losing. There is tremendous respect for northern schools and the challenges they have to deal with. The runs of Kent St, Stony Brook and St. Johns last year were surprising to most but could become more of the norm moving forward and I think many coaches realize that.
CW: What was it like to see firsthand the Omaha reception of Kent State and Stony Brook?
KP: I like to watch the reaction of first time teams when they enter the ballpark to practice for the first time. It is the truest emotion you can have in the college game. The city has always embraced underdog teams, and Stony Brook really wore that hat this year. No slight to Kent State, because their accomplishment was equally as impressive. It seemed like the city really was drawn to Stony Brook though. I’ve seen it so many times over the years, my first memory of it was with The Citadel in 1990. Pepperdine rode it all the way to a title. It really completes the experience for the kids involved and it’s a great tradition here in Omaha.
CW: In mentioning Kent State and Stony Brook, based on RPI benchmarks those are two programs that would not have been in tournament without the automatic bid. The 2013 season will bring a new RPI formula, but will it be enough in your opinion to accurately gauge the quality of teams in the region?
KP: Time will tell how accurate it is but I do think it’s a necessary step. For well funded southern schools, there was previously no reason to travel. You lose gate revenue, you have costs associated with travel and there was really no RPI advantage to leaving home. The RPI component should encourage more southern schools to travel; we’ll see how many actually travel north though.
I do think there should be a nod to the northern schools when it comes to hosting a regional. Ties should go north given the challenges most northern teams face. The truest indication of quality teams will come in the postseason though.
CW: If there was a position of NCAA College Baseball Commissioner and you were appointed that job, are there any changes you would make to the game be it season schedule, tournament selection, roster size?
KP: I would start with scholarships and ideally get them close to 20 per school. This is essential to keeping the best kids in the game. I would also work with MLB to find ways the two can work together in the development of talent, both athletically and academically.
This may come as a surprise to most but I would juice the bats back up a little. Too much offense has come out of the game. I would also bring the fences in from gap to gap at TD Ameritrade. To date, no one has hit a homerun in center field at TD Ameritrade. Not just in the CWS, but in Creighton’s regular season games as well. That tells me either the ballpark is too big, or the bats are too dead. We need to be careful here. The exposure over the past few years has really helped to grow the sport, but 2-1 games every night cane dwindle that support. Offense still gets eyes and ratings, especially from those fans that are not die-hard. The true growth moving forward will be with that demographic, not the die hard fan.
I would not touch the schedule; I don’t think playing college baseball into the summer is a good idea. The experience that kids have with summer leagues is very important and provides a different avenue for them to compete and be evaluated. I feel very strongly that this should remain in place.
CW: With conference realignments seeing Maryland and Rutgers join the Big Ten, Louisville, Notre Dame and Pitt leave the Big East for the ACC and West Virginia the Big XII, are these moves for better or the worst for baseball in the region?
KP: From a baseball perspective, I think it is a negative for Maryland, a push for Rutgers and then Notre Dame, West Virginia and Pitt moves should benefit each school. Based on recent history though the movement is just starting.
CW: The vast sums of money that Maryland and Rutgers will encounter can be attributed to the Big Ten Network. As you are one of the prominent media members of the sport, how do you feel coverage of the game has progressed? Am I alone in believing as far as we have come the sport is still underserved?
KP: The explosion of the sport in television has been fun to watch and fun to be a part of. ESPN’s commitment to the CWS over the years was essential because it kept it in the eyes of the nation for two weeks every year. When ESPNU came online, the sports exposure continued to grow and the additional networks have only added to the exposure. All of this is a positive; more kids can see the game played at a higher level. As I mentioned above though we need to be careful with the product. A little more offense in the game would not be a bad thing, as long as it stays in check. I’d like to think the game is still underserved but the public support has to follow. Thankfully, it has up to this point.
CW: Two years ago Indiana’s Tracy Smith said to me we would see a Big Ten team in Omaha the next 3-5 years. As that window is now the next three seasons, how confident would you be in backing that claim?
KP: I think there is a great chance, for many of the reasons that we mentioned above. I saw Darin Erstad a few weeks ago and he is really enthused about their future. The Purdue run this year had to give the entire league an emotional boost. Michigan’s hiring of Erik Bakich is another example of commitment. The facilities are great, the schools are very well funded and many of the schools are making significant financial commitments to the game. All point to continued growth.
CW: The most rewarding part of your job would be?
KP: Watching my son grow up around the game. My parents have had seats to the CWS for over 35 years and I grew up on the college game. To see his face light up when he walks into the CWS is rewarding enough for me. Kids can’t fake it too well, and their enthusiasm is a great indicator of the product. The game is strong right now and that makes me very proud.