NOTE: THIS ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED IN THISWEEK NEWSPAPERS IN MID-MAY 2007|
In mid-April, when the weather finally gave baseball teams around the area a chance to play every day, there weren't many complaints.
A baseball game isn't a grueling physical trial like a football or basketball game, and it seems only natural to play just about every day as long as there is an ample supply of sunflower seeds and sunshine.
Coach Don Carter of Johnstown High School believes his team plays its best when it plays on a daily basis.
"We typically are a team that once we get rolling, we like to play every day," Carter said earlier this season. "When you have to take two and three days off, and then you might get one day, and then two or three more days off, I think it hurts."
As any baseball fan knows, the only position that truly needs some time off after a game is the pitcher, hence the pitching "rotation." The talk all season is about building depth in the pitching rotation, getting three or four starters who can give a team a legitimate shot to win on any afternoon.
So why, then, are we in a situation where there is virtually no need for a rotation at the point of the season that matters most?
"With the way the district tournament is set up, we can start (Neil Smith) in every game," Dublin Coffman coach Tim Saunders said in early May. "One pitcher can carry you to the regional final."
Saunders said he wasn't necessarily against the current format, but ideally, he believed that at least the late rounds would be better off with a multiple-game series.
Baseball strategy is based on a countless combination of matchups and choices: Which runners can steal on which catchers? Which pitches are best against certain hitters? Which pitchers should throw on which night?
It's hard to make an analogy to another sport because baseball is a sport that has few parallels with any other, but simply put: you aren't supposed to throw the same pitcher every game. There is a reason why the Indians have been throwing Jake Westbrook and his 7.90 ERA every fifth day. There's also a reason that the Minnesota Twins got knocked out in the American League Divisional Series last year even though they had everyone's choice for the Cy Young Award, Johan Santana.
And with the exception of those Little League teams that draft all the kids who have hit puberty and then run-rule every team in the league (of course, there's no personal bitterness there), any team can get beat on any given day.
Sure, high school baseball isn't the big leagues. We can't have a seven-game series for every round of the playoffs. But what we can do is shamelessly rip off the NCAA Division I format and use it here in Ohio.
Before I explain, I'll point out that the college system is complicated to the point that it's almost silly. But take a moment to understand it and you'll realize that it gets the job done and determines a rightful champion.
Here's how, in simplified fashion, it could be applied in Ohio:
Group all the teams in a particular district into groups of four and five (in central Ohio Division I, that could be two groups of four and six groups of five). Each of those teams play round-robin, with one team emerging from each group as the winner.
With so many more teams statewide than the 48 in the NCAA Tournament, I now propose that instead of three-game series, like in college, we group these eight into two groups of four to play round-robin again. These two champions are then qualified for the state tournament, which would have 12 teams and would be run in a double-elimination format.
Assuming that each of the round-robin groups takes a week to play, it would take just two weeks to have the state bracket set. The state bracket would take little more than a week, and in just over three weeks, we have a state champion. Currently, it takes nearly a month from the first-round games to the end of the state tournament.
Sure, perhaps it's a little confusing at first glance, and to make it to the state championship, a team might have to play as many as 12 or 13 games.
They might even have to play almost every day, but then again, what's so wrong with that?