OMAHA, Neb. — This is big.
As the players from Oregon State and Mississippi State strolled through state-of-the-art TD Ameritrade Park, and onto the immaculately groomed playing surface and gazed up at the 24,000 seats and pulled out their cell phones to document it, the "wow'' factor was very high.
A day before they open the 2013 College World Series, the Beavers and Bulldogs got their first look at college baseball's biggest stage. And it is playing that way.
Mississippi State star Hunter Renfroe, one of college baseball's best power hitters and the first-round draft pick of the San Diego Padres, gauged the stiff wind blowing over the 408-foot sign in center field toward home plate.
"It's big, it's spacious, the wind's blowing in,'' Renfroe said. "I don't know if it will be tomorrow, but if it is, it's going to be a real line-drive approach.''
Oregon State designated hitter Ryan Barnes gazed out of the third-base dugout and the expanse of outfield grass.
"Surprisingly, it's a bigger graveyard than Goss, which is hard to believe,'' said Barnes of OSU's home with 365-foot alleys, 400 feet to center. "It kind of plays into our style — we hit line drives and move runners.''
Both the Beavers and the Bulldogs, who meet at noon today (ESPN2), said the park's size should play to their advantage. The Beavers have not been at all dependent on the home run; the Bulldogs are used to playing in cavernous confines.
OSU coach Pat Casey, who will start freshman Andrew Moore today, was asked if he liked the dimensions.
"It depends on how many balls we hit to the warning track,'' he said. "This yard is much, much different than Rosenblatt as far as balls jumping out. You've got to play the game of baseball.''
But here, outfield play will be a bigger part of the game. If OSU center fielder Max Gordon, a former Ashland High standout, is to make another highlight reel catch, then he'll probably have to run farther to make it. And with the wind and the high profile of the stands compared with the ballparks these players are used to, flyballs could be adventurous.
"We're going to see a lot of misreads in the outfield, too,'' Renfroe said.
In 29 CWS games since the move two years ago, a total of 19 balls have gone over the fence at TD Ameritrade Park — about half the usual total in Rosenblatt Stadium. Much of that has to do with the deadened bats, but not all of it.
"This park is massive,'' OSU's Michael Conforto said. "If anything, it will probably help me out. I won't be thinking about trying to hit home runs.''
The Bulldogs, who are making their first CWS appearance — like the Beavers — since 2007, play in Dudy Noble Field, which plays big. They won three games at the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., with its 385-foot alleys and 405-foot fence in center. They got 20 hits in a game last weekend against sixth-ranked Virginia in Davenport Field, which measures 408 feet to center.
"We are very comfortable in that environment because it's something we deal with every day,'' said MSU coach John Cohen, who played in the CWS in 1990 for the Bulldogs but said that doesn't make the return any less stressful. "In our administrative meeting, they said take a minute to enjoy the experience. I said, 'Who are you kidding?' Not one coach will enjoy this experience unless they walk away with that trophy.''
Cohen's Bulldogs are no strangers to big crowds, at least. They regularly draw five-digit crowds at Dudy Noble.
For the Beavers, the only ballpark in which they have played that's close to this size was at last year's regional in Baton Rouge, and that's not half as big as TD Ameritrade Park.
Casey, who has a soft spot for Rosenblatt, where the Beavers won national titles in 2006 and 2007, called the new place "a terrific unbelievable facility'' but one that could serve to make memories at the old park, well, bigger.
"I think like history, as time continues to lapse, those things get bigger and more important, and I think that actually this beautiful stadium will add to the memories of Rosenblatt,'' Casey said. "Those (feats) will never be repeated now, those things that happened in Rosenblatt that were so special, they're never going to be duplicated anymore. So I think those things will actually become bigger and especially to those guys that played there.''