OMAHA — Saturday's record-setting four-hour, 24-minute marathon of a game between North Carolina and Oregon State required more than seven dozen baseballs. With potentially 16 games left in the College World Series after the Tar Heels held off the Beavers 8-6, was TD Ameritrade Park even remotely in danger of running out of baseballs? Not even close.
There were still more than 2,000 baseballs available, not counting practice balls. NCAA.com toured the top-secret baseball storage room — OK, it's not top-secret, but it is locked — at the stadium and learned about the process of preparing baseballs for use in CWS games.
The College World Series starts annually with 175 dozen game balls and 96 dozen practice balls, and the number available gradually whittles down inning by inning.
Here's the general breakdown of how the balls are prepared and allocated throughout the CWS:
- On Friday before the start of the College World Series, each team gets four buckets of practice balls. Each bucket holds three dozen balls.
- That's 12 dozen practice balls per team and 96 dozen total. Some teams also bring their own practice balls to Omaha.
- The practice balls are exactly the same as the game balls but without the official 2018 College World Series logo.
- On Friday, members of the grounds crew will prepare more than 30 dozen game balls by rubbing mud on them to take the sheen and shine off of them.
- The grounds crew uses Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud, which is based out of New Jersey. Since 2011, the CWS has only used roughly 1 1/3 cans of mud.
- A typical game at the College World Series requires roughly 60-65 baseballs.
- When there's roughly 10 dozen baseballs left that have been mudded, the grounds crew will prepare more game balls.
- Thirty to 50 dozen game balls are saved for the CWS finals.
- The remaining balls after the end of the CWS are donated to a local charity or given to members of the grounds crew or NCAA staff members as keepsakes.
Here are some more insights from Chad Tolliver, NCAA Associate Director of Championships & Alliances, who is working his 16th College World Series:
- On the best way to rub mud on baseballs: "Not too thick, rub it on a little bit, sometimes requires a little spit – or water – I like to go old school, and you just kind of rub it in, spread it in, make sure it gets in by the seams a little bit."
- Umpires are more likely than pitchers to give feedback that a baseball isn't mudded properly: "Most of the time it's not mudded enough, sometimes we'll have families that want to see [the mudding process] and we'll let a little kid rub a ball and it'll be pitch black, usually we'll take that one."
- On giving baseballs to fans: "We control it a little bit but also want to make it part of the experience."