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This lockout won’t stop the baseball show

The MLB lockout is a huge bummer, but don’t let it fool you. Baseball is fine and the kids in college baseball are proving it.

NCAA BASEBALL: MAY 31 Div 1 Championship Baton Rouge Regional - LSU v Stony Brook Photo by John Korduner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

During the most recent meeting between the MLBPA and MLB, talks lasted a grand total of 15 minutes before they adjourned for a future meeting. Needless to say, the chances of a full season happening here in 2022 are looking very, very bleak. It’s bad news for us fans and I’d imagine that if you’re reading this at this point in time, baseball is probably your favorite sport. It’s a crying shame that it’s come to this but as long as MLB’s ownership group is determined to bust up MLBPA’s union while simultaneously attempting to insult the collective intelligence of its fanbase then all we can do is just wait for this to end in bitter fashion. This all stinks, but if it results in baseball being in a better place for both major and minor league players, then so be it.

With that being said, I’m going to miss the consistency of being able to turn on my television at 7 or 7:30 PM local time and watching my favorite sports team play a game. Win or lose, it’s something that’s firmly entrenched in my life’s routine. This may sound dramatic, but my life is better for having MLB and the Braves as a part of it. The fact that I get to blog about this team on this website makes me happy and I’m grateful to follow this sport like I do. There can be 100 degree afternoons during the middle of the Summer that all feel like a slog and it’ll all be worth it just to make it to the evening to see Ronald Acuña Jr. crush a leadoff dinger after a 1-2-3 inning from Max Fried. That’s part of what Braves baseball (and MLB in general) means to me and it’s going to be a huge bummer to go without it while a cabal of billionaires embark on a quest to wring out even more money from the game.

So what do we do until then? The good news is that unlike the COVID-19 stoppage of 2020 and the Strike of 1994, the sports scene has plenty of options. To be honest, you don’t have to look too far to get your baseball fix. All you have to do is go back to school for a little bit.

NCAA Baseball Regional - Fayetteville Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Just because MLB looks to be on ice for a while, that doesn’t mean that the sport as a whole is done. As it turns out, this lockout is coinciding with Division I College Baseball being in a very healthy and exciting position right now. If you have ESPN+, then that’ll grant you access to all sorts of college baseball games being aired in all corners of these vast United States. Just last season, I watched a game between Austin Peay and Southeast Missouri State and it was incredibly exciting to watch because it was deep into extra innings (this was the second game of a doubleheader that also went extra innings) and they were also up against a local curfew possibly postponing the game.

As a result, both teams were in the extremely rare baseball situation of both teams playing just as much against the clock as they were playing against each other. That’s incredibly wacky, but that’s college baseball for you! Normally that’s the type of game that gets lost to history and hearsay, but instead I got to watch it live as it happened. That’s pretty cool!

Aside from the zany stuff, the level of play just lends itself to plenty of excitement. No lead is safe in baseball and that adage is especially true in college baseball, where a team putting up a crooked number in any given inning is never too far away from happening. The overall quality of play is obviously going to be lower than what you’ll see at any professional level but there’s an added level of excitement when you realize that ‘routine outs’ are suddenly anything but routine.

The college game makes you appreciate the skill and professionalism of the major league game while simultaneously appreciating that these college kids will have the potential for a barnburner every time they hit the field. The SWAC Tournament Championship Game from last season is a prime example. I don’t have enough words to explain it, but I do have video and I implore you to watch these highlights, dear reader. Just know that the tournament-winning run crossed the plate after a home run ball eluded the outfielder after he went through the wall trying to catch it. I’m not making up a single word of this.

Plus there’s plenty of passion on display whenever you tune into a college baseball game. Do you like bat flips? These kids will send their composite bats to the moon. Do you like celebrations? They’ll get the entire dugout involved. Do you like seeing players outwardly showing plenty of passion while they’re playing this game that we all love? They’re doing so without a single care for any unwritten rules! Do you want to see all three of these scenarios in one fell swoop? Then I give you Drew Gilbert and the Tennessee Volunteers from last season’s NCAA Tournament:

Even if you’re watching it from a perspective of talent evaluation, there are plenty of gems to keep an eye out for at this level. Last year’s College World Series had a stacked prospect pool — Vanderbilt alone had two starting pitchers (Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker) go top 10 overall in the 2021 draft and Mississippi State’s Will Bednar dueled with Texas’ Ty Madden before they respectively got drafted by the Giants and the Tigers within the first 32 picks of the draft. Naturally, not everybody at the Division 1 level is destined to even make it to the minors but there’s still plenty of talent on display if you’ve got your eye on the farm.

Then there’s the accessibility of the game. Part of the reason why college baseball is on the rise at the moment is because it’s pretty easy to get into things at the moment. Again, ESPN+ is a must if you want to actually follow a team and considering that you get this and a ton of other events for $6.99 a month, it’s a pretty good bargain. Seriously, ESPN is not paying me a single penny to say this — I just really enjoy this subscription service and it’s opened a lot of doors for me in terms of following college baseball and other sports as well. If you want more options then Baseball America has you covered and if you want written coverage of the college game, then can’t be beaten.

Then there’s the price of going to see a game in person. If you’re a fan who thinks that it’s a little too pricey to go to see a baseball game at a big league ballpark nowadays, here I present to you the frugal joy of going to see a college baseball game in person:

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a pretty good deal to go see some baseball that actually counts for something smack-dab in the middle of February. If you’re near a school that has a game going on and you’ve never been before, I highly suggest that you go take it in and show these young players some support. They’ll make it worth your while. The same goes for softball, which has actually gotten underway and is currently exploding in popularity at the moment. Again, college baseball is in a really good place right now and this is probably the perfect time to hop on the bandwagon if you haven’t done it just yet.

The only downside is that the season ends in the middle of June, but that’s only after the excitement of the Conference Tournaments, the NCAA Tournament and the College World Series to cap this off. One of these days I’m going to make it to Omaha to take in the action and as of right now, I’m jealous of everybody who’s been to the College World Series and I’m especially jealous of people who went to last year’s event for no reason in particular.

2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Baseball Championship
I swear that this entire article wasn’t just an excuse to brag about Mississippi State winning the ‘ship
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

If I haven’t swayed you to get into the college game yet, then just know that there’s still the option of catching the overseas leagues in Japan’s NPB, South Korea’s KBO and Taiwan’s CPBL. All three of those links will take you to resources that will help you stream the games once those leagues get underway. If you’re into video games then you can even pick up the NPB video games that are out there. Unless you know Japanese, you’ll need a translation guide nearby but other than that, the games are fun and highly rated so it’s worth checking out if you want to get fully immersed into a different high-level league of this beautiful sport called baseball.

Whether you take my advice and follow the college game or turn to other leagues overseas, the point is that baseball as a sport is doing just fine. MLB themselves may be in trouble as the stewards who bought their way into the league are currently doing their level best to kill the enthusiasm for top-tier baseball in this country, but the sport itself will survive this. My prediction is that the college game will, in fact, thrive and get even bigger if there’s an extended period of time without MLB action. D-1 baseball may not fill the bat-shaped void in your heart until October, but you should give it a chance to fill that void until June.

Maybe by then the kids will have inspired the absurdly-rich grown-ups who are locking out the pros right now to get their act together. Until then, get used to the ping of the bat instead of the crack of the bat.

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