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Morris: Foolish habits mar college game

COLLEGE BASEBALL HAS gone too far. The game is downright silly these days.

The recent Raleigh Regional brought it all back to me: false hustle, overcoaching to the nth degree, bizarre strategy. All in the name of giving it the old college try.

It is no wonder college baseball has little national appeal. Television network executives know the score. Who wants to watch a game in which coaches call timeouts between pitches to talk to the batter? Who wants to watch a game in which the catcher and batter look to the dugout before every pitch for instructions?

It makes me want to scream to the coaches: Let the players play the game! In case you did not hear me: LET THE PLAYERS PLAY THE GAME!

Let me give you a few examples of the silliness of this game. At the forefront is the latest practice of catchers wearing coded wristbands. Before every pitch, the catcher looks to the dugout to get a signal from a coach for the next pitch. Then the catcher checks his wristband to decipher the coach’s signal. Finally, the catcher relays the signal to the pitcher.

You have to be kidding me. First of all, college coaches and players are not sophisticated enough to steal signals. Even if an opposing team stole the signal, there would not be time before the next pitch to relay it to the base coach and then to the hitter.

The addition of catchers’ wristbands is a perfect example of attempting to make the game much more difficult than it is. Besides, whatever happened to a catcher learning to call a game? The first thing college catchers must learn when they turn to professional baseball is the art of calling pitches.

Next, you might have noticed college catchers and pitchers engaging in espionage whenever they meet on the pitcher’s mound. Get this: They talk to each other with their gloves over their mouths. They do not want opponents to read their lips. Seriously.

Most college games are not televised, and even those that are cannot be seen in dugouts or clubhouses. So who exactly is doing all the lip-reading in college baseball? Perhaps college baseball players take lip-reading courses these days and I am unaware of it.

When it comes to strategy, I am convinced every college coach needs to leave the game and spend a summer sitting in a minor-league dugout. There they would learn the basics to smart strategy, because they obviously do not practice those in their own dugouts.

All of the following happened in South Carolina’s Saturday victory against Charlotte in Raleigh. USC held a 6-0 lead with two outs in the top of third inning when Charlotte speedster Shayne Moody — a senior, no less — stole third base. I cannot think of a single reason why Moody needed to be on third base. Not one.

He was not alone in his stupidity. Later, in the top of the fifth inning with USC leading 9-0, Charlotte’s O’Brien Taylor — another senior — was thrown out attempting to steal second base. He must have believed his one possible run was awfully important in overcoming a nine-run deficit.

Finally, USC led 15-8 with one out in the top of the ninth when Charlotte’s Brad McElroy walked and Tyson Hibbs was inserted as a pinch-runner. Much to the dismay of anyone who has ever watched baseball, USC first baseman Justin Smoak held Hibbs on first base, opening a hole on the right side of the infield.

It got worse. USC relief pitcher Mike Cisco attempted a pick off of Hibbs by throwing to first base. It was as if USC wanted to aid Charlotte in producing a big inning.

Admittedly, there is a fine line in college baseball between giving one’s all on every play and displaying false hustle. More often than not, college players cross that line.

During Sunday’s championship game in Raleigh, a USC batter launched a foul ball that landed a mere 300 or so yards in foul territory. Yet both the N.C. State shortstop and third baseman sprinted all the way to the wall in foul territory. For what purpose, I am not certain.

To open Saturday’s game against Charlotte, USC’s Reese Havens lined a double into the right-field corner. Before the right fielder’s throw reached the cutoff man in the outfield, Havens slid head first into second base. It was reminiscent of a head-first slide into home plate by USC’s Scott Wingo against Tennessee during the regular season when there was no throw home.

Call it aggressive baseball if you want. I call it typical college nonsense. Rest assured, if Havens attempts that kind of play in professional baseball, he will do it only once.

Then again, once Havens signs a professional contract, he no longer will have to meet with his manager between pitches or look to the dugout before a 3-1 pitch with the bases empty. I am trusting he will be allowed to play the game the way it should be played.