OMAHA, Neb. — The Men’s College World Series oldtimers have been digging through their memories for nearly two weeks, all with the same question.
“Was that the greatest College World Series I’ve ever seen? Hmmm,” Jack Dotson paused and thought.
It was Monday, about five hours before the national title-deciding Game 3 of the 2023 Men’s College World Series Finals between LSU and Florida. The “far west of here” retiree stood in the parking lot of Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo. He had taken his grandson there to see where Rosenblatt Stadium once stood, which hosted the MCWS from 1950 to 2010. Now there is a small replica ballpark where kids can play on old baseball fields and cross Home Plate, which was once college baseball’s most sacred spot.
“I’ve probably been to 50 games between here and the new ballpark downtown. Most years you could sleep through a few games and not miss a thing,” Dotson said. “I don’t believe[one] slept through it all this year!”
From Game 1 on Friday, June 16, when Omaha party crasher Oral Roberts hit a home run in the ninth inning to close a three-run deficit and beat TCU by one run, to the 18-4 LSU win over Florida in 16th and finals During Monday night’s game, the same question was asked over and over again.
“Best series we’ve ever seen?” Greg Pivovar, longtime owner of Stadium View Sports Cards, once the social hub of the Rosenblatt years, perused his store for MCWS memorabilia spanning decades of past series — posters and Programs with every character from Dave Winfield and Roger Clemens to Buster Posey and Pete Incaviglia – and surrendered. “Yes man. I’ve been thinking about this for a week. I can’t think of anything better.”
In the end, LSU, one of college baseball’s premier programs, captured its seventh college baseball national title and moved up to second place alone, behind only twelve USC titles, all but one of which were won in 1978 and earlier.
This ORU-TCU game was just the first of eight record-breaking one-run competitions, including six of the first eight held. The two early breakaways weren’t exactly yawns, two late duels against Tennessee, a 6-3 loss against LSU and a 6-4 squeaker against Stanford. The more these games were included in the rating list, the louder the discussion about the “best of all time” became. Even in places where it should be quiet.
“I loved it so much it made me feel like a teenager again! Oh…” Tina Johnson caught herself, put her hands to her mouth and looked to see if anyone around her thought she was disturbing the peace. An Omaha native who now resides in Chicago, stood at the General Crook House Museum about 5 miles north of Charles Schwab Field, aka The Chuck, the ballpark where today’s teams spent their summers recreating the MCWS history books to write. Travelers and locals alike strolled leisurely through the History of Baseball in Omaha exhibit. “I grew up going to College World Series games. I think I’ve sat on some of those old seats in this museum. Think about what those seats saw.”
You saw moments. They saw future MLB stars. You saw walk-off wins. They saw records broken. They watched classic games. But never have you seen a week and a half with so much of all that we don’t have enough space in this corner of our site to list it all. Here are the highlights:
1. A total of eight games were decided in one go, making for a tie matched only twice in 75 previous installments of the series.
2. Three teams overcoming a deficit of three or more runs is the most teams since the MCWS switched to The Chuck in 2011.
3. It has hit 30 home runs, the most since 2010 (32), the year before the MCWS moved downtown.
4. Florida hit a total of 17 home runs, matching a record set by both LSU and USC in 1998.
5. Florida’s Ty Evans hit five home runs, setting an MCWS record. That left the eleven guys in front of him who had scored four goals and all had done their job at the much more goal-friendly Rosenblatt Stadium. He came to Omaha after scoring four goals in over 65 games all year.
6. The longest home run hit in the 12 MCWS played at this “new downtown ballpark” came from Wyatt Langford of Florida, who landed 456 feet from home plate and had a three-run Gators comeback in the ninth inning crowned in arrears to beat Virginia and dodge the losers’ bracket.
7. Two pitchers, LSU’s Paul Skenes and Wake Forest’s Rhett Lowder, set two school and one conference K records in the same game, a semi-final winner against Florida, which incidentally also instantly earned MCWS best games of all Times played, winning by walk-off homer in the 11th inning after becoming the first 0-0 game to come in extra frames since 1985 and only the second since the introduction of metal bats in 1974.
Honestly, this list could go on. The ridiculously long list of future MLB draft picks (six of the top 10 in ESPN.com’s predicted MLB draft appear in this MCWS), the hard drive full of impossible defensive plays, including perhaps another all-time best, the scoop-first baseman LSU’s Tre’ Morgan hit a home throw that set up the semifinals win over Wake.
So when the MCWS 2023 went into finals, there certainly wasn’t anything left in the drawer labeled “Things We Haven’t Seen Yet,” right? Well, to quote the well-known philosopher and mathematician Cady Heron: Wrong. So wrong.
LSU won its first title since 2009. AP Photo/Rebecca S. Gratz
As if a Tommy White walk-off against Wake Forest wasn’t enough, Cade Beloso started another game-winner in Game 1 of the Finals, delivering the first extra-inning roundtripper in the 20 years since the MCWS returned to a best -of-three championship format. In the same game, LSU’s Ty Floyd had 17 strikeouts, the most in an MCWS game since 1972 and the second-most all-time. LSU’s Dylan Crews won the Golden Spikes Award and was the first player to win a national title in the same year since 1995, and Cal State Fullerton’s Mark Kotsay, a face to be found in every college baseball historian’s MCWS Mount Rushmore is chiseled.
Heck, even the only two one-sided results of the month, both of which came in the last two games of the MCWS, made history. Florida’s 24-4 win in Game 2 was the largest loss in MCWS Finals history and the second-highest win in an MCWS game. When LSU responded with a 18-4 thrashing of Florida in the decisive game, it bucked the trend. It was only the fourth time in the last 11 MCWS that a team lost Game 2 of the Finals but came back in Game 3 and won the title. No team had scored more than six runs in a game of this year’s MCWS prior to Game 2 of the title series. No team had ever scored 18 or more runs in an MCWS game at The Chuck, and then that happened back-to-back days…by opposing teams.
And then the Tigers won it all on Monday, setting a final record in the process. Her 24 hits were the most hits of any team participating in a game of the Men’s College World Series, 592 baseball teams from 1947 through Monday night.
It’s exhausting, isn’t it? But only because the series was so engaging. Just because the best way to go about seeing where 2023 stands is to literally do it by the numbers in a 76-year-old record book.
But anyone who has seen those games played at this location in June – and if you use other numbers in terms of TV ratings, many have – knows what makes this series special, at least it doesn’t around statistics or spreadsheets. It’s the heart rate monitor. It’s about smiling. It’s about magic.
Hell, it hasn’t even rained this month. Not even a splash.
“For me, what makes a great College World Series is the big picture,” said 85-year-old Skip Berman during the opening days of the 2023 edition while in town to support LSU, the program he scrapped had to turn it around into a juggernaut and won his first five titles as head coach. “You have the series that ended amazingly, like we did in 1996 [see: Warren Morris walk-off homer barely clearing the right-field fence to beat Miami]. They’ve had the years with some great midweek games. And you have some really must-have players that you know are going to be Major League All-Stars. But since I came here, since 1978 [as a Miami assistant]it’s hard to remember someone who had all of this the whole time.”
This one did it. Served from a slow-cooked 11-Day Perfect Recipe that includes all of these ingredients. A lot of close games. A can of walk offs. A dash of defense. A touch of madness. And a few kilos of memories were made.
“I’m a college baseball guy and I love this game so much,” said LSU head coach Jay Johnson on the field at The Chuck, near his newly engraved 2023 Men’s College World Series Championship trophy. During the As the 46-year-old spoke, his team’s moderator, future top player Dylan Crews, put his arm around the coach’s shoulders. “I can’t imagine how anyone could have watched this series from start to finish and not ended up loving the sport. I think that years from now, anyone who’s acted or coached in that series is going to look at every single one of them and say, ‘Can you believe that happened?'”