OMAHA, NE - JUNE 28: A general view of TD Ameritrade Park Omaha before game 2 of the men's 2011 NCAA College Baseball World Series between the South Carolina Gamecocks and the Florida Gators on June 28, 2011 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Arizona baseball is in Omaha for the College World Series, the Wildcats' first trip to the sport's mecca since 2004. There as well is ESPN broadcaster and former Major League pitcher Kyle Peterson. Peterson is reporting from the field in Omaha for the fifth time, and fourth consecutive season.
AZDesertSwarm.com caught up with Peterson, who offered his thoughts on the Wildcats, the other seven competitors remaining, and the CWS move from Rosenblatt Stadium to TD Ameritrade Park.
"I've had quite the number of chances to see [Arizona play]," Peterson said. "What I've been impressed with is their offense. Their ability to score runs the last six-to-eight weeks...Andy Lopez has done an outstanding job with them.
"And when you have a pitcher like Kurt Heyer, a team has a great shot at winning [the CWS]," he said.
Heyer has been UA's undisputed ace through 2012. He is 12-2 with a 2.28 ERA and has gone the distance seven times.
In the opening game of last weekend's Super Regional, Heyer threw over nine innings and overcame a difficult middle inning to help UA rally past St. John's. The win was one ESPN's Mike Rooney called "almost must-win" for powering UA into Omaha.
Lopez will entrust the 'Cats' CWS opener to Heyer. He faces a Florida State team that plated 35 runs in its two Super Regional defeats of Stanford.
And while UA comes into Omaha with its own stretch of 61 runs through five postseason games, don't expect a slugfest Friday, Peterson said.
"Because of the size of [TD Ameritrade Ballpark], it'll be a lot more difficult for teams to get runs," he said. "Teams like Arizona and UCLA that played all year in bigger ballparks are going to have an easier adjustment than power teams that rely on the home run."
The benefits of UA's move from on-campus Sancet Field to Hi Corbett Field, just north at Randolph Park, continue to be revealed. Home attendance reached program records, and the NCAA reciprocated with hosting duties throughout the Wildcats' postseason.
Hi Corbett's spacious outfield mirrors TD Ameritrade in several key facets. The Wildcat offense used 81 hits over its five postseason wins to push across runs, shooting liners into gaps and working runners around the bases.
A significant difference in the two venues, Peterson said, is that TD Ameritrade's infield plays slower than Hi Corbett's. Slappers and ground balls found their ways into the outfield during the Regionals and Super Regionals, caroming hard off the Hi Corbett grounds.
TD Ameritrade is hosting its second CWS since replacing the venerable Rosenblatt Stadium.
"It's a beautiful park," Peterson said. "[But] you can't have the small town feel in a brand new ballpark. It doesn't have the same nostalgic feeling stepping into it Rosenblatt Stadium had."
The new venue does seat more than 25,000, and is contracted to host the CWS through 2035. That's quite a bit of time to carve out its own history, and the eight teams taking to TD Ameritrade Park this week have the opportunity to appear prominently in its annals.
"Florida is the most talented team," Peterson said. "I've had the opportunity to see quite a bit of them this season. But South Carolina poses [UF] match-up problems. [South Carolina] can win it. Arkansas' a good team."
The SEC boasts the No. 1 overall squad in UF, but South Carolina is the two-time defending national champion. The Gamecocks knocked off the Gators in last season's championship series. The pair reignite their rivalry on Saturday, as UF tries to snap South Carolina's record 11-game CWS win streak.
"You can't discount anyone's ability to win it at this point," Peterson added.
Coaches and players will preach of not taking any team lightly, and sometimes that's empty rhetoric to avoid generating pep talk fodder. But when a field of 64 is pared down to eight, truly no opponent can be taken lightly.
Baseball fans know of UF, South Carolina, UCLA, FSU, and even UA with its strong play of recent weeks. Kent State and Stony Brook are the unexpected party crashers in Omaha, but have equal stake to the crown as the other six.
"What surprised me about Stony Brook is how good they are. They are really good," he said, emphasizing "really."
The Seawolves stunned perennial powerhouse LSU in the Tigers' home ballpark, Alex Box Stadium. Stony Brook's 7-2 and 3-1 wins at Baton Rouge elevated the America East Conference champion to an impressive 52-13 on the year.
Kent State emerged from its Super Regional at Oregon, taking two of three from a Duck team that just last month won two of three against Arizona, in Tucson.
Stony Brook opens the CWS Today at 2 PT when it faces UCLA. The Seawolves and Bruins set the stage for UA's clash with FSU. Opening pitch is scheduled for 6 PT, with Heyer facing off against Seminole Southpaw Brandon Leibrant. Leibrant is 8-2 with a 2.58 ERA.
Peterson and Co. present both of today's games on ESPN 2. Saturday's game pitting Kent State against Arkansas and Florida vs. South Carolina are both scheduled to appear on ESPN.