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Not all College World Series fans are happy with the ticket shift for the outfield

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Matthew Herring has made the 13-hour drive from southwest Texas to Omaha nearly every year since 2009. The 49-year-old schoolteacher can’t imagine a better way to spend a couple of weeks in late June.

The first task when the family of five rolled into town was to buy a group of general admission College World Series tickets. As late as 2019, booklets of 10 for $90 — $9 per ticket — were readily available. That covered the three children and two parents for two games as they posted up all around the outfield bleachers.

“It was heaven on earth for us,” Herring said. “We’re baseball people.”

GA seating was unavailable at last year’s CWS because of the pandemic, exchanged for reserved seating in the outfield with social distancing procedures still in effect. The reserved seating model remains in place for 2022.

The debate between general admission and reserved is perhaps the top fan-experience issue the CWS continues to work through.

Some liked the old model, with long lines leading to new friends and a reward of front-row outfield seats for those willing to wait. The flexibility allowed visiting fan bases to congregate together naturally and for onlookers — roughly 7,000 between bleacher seats and standing-room only — to move around during the action.

Others provided positive feedback to CWS of Omaha Inc. from last summer. The guarantee of seats and elimination of long lines were plusses.

More problematic for both sides, though, is the price hike that reserved outfield seating created this year.

With only resale tickets commonly available, budget-friendly admission has been lost like a popup in the sun. Peruse Ticketmaster for a Saturday outfield ticket and most are going for between $100 and $200 each. Pick the Tuesday evening game on StubHub and those seats range from $30 to $120.

Depending on which teams are playing, those numbers could spike more.

“It kills the little people,” Herring said. “I’m not a millionaire. I save up just for this trip. I can’t afford to pay $100 for one day in the outfield. It’s disheartening because it’s such an incredible family experience and I’m in danger of not being there. It’s further killing the spirit of the College World Series from when it was at Rosenblatt.”

Face-value outfield tickets run either $10, $15 or $30 depending on the game. All were scooped by fans or scalpers long ago. There are workarounds — the ballpark ticket booths, for example, sometimes have unsold seats available on the days of games.

“But you shouldn’t have to count on something like that,” Herring said. “It shouldn’t be that way, but unfortunately it’s the way it is. Whoever controls ticketing, I really wish they’d find ways to police it a little better.”

Herring, like many he has met at the park, would change little else.

Mobile-only tickets — another shift prompted by the pandemic — return after enduring early snags last year that were rooted in slow download times and users adjusting to the technology. Concessions will again be cashless, with reverse ATMs available to put money on cards.

The on-field product, meanwhile, remains strong.

Average CWS game times that were as high as 3 hours, 33 minutes in 2018 and 3:38 in 2019 were trimmed to 3:18 last year, helped by a 20-second pitch clock the NCAA introduced in 2020.

Pitching changes remain frequent — the college game has yet to follow MLB’s approach of requiring relievers to face at least three batters — especially as exploding scoring and power approach the “gorilla ball” days of the late 1990s.

Worries about the downtown ballpark playing “too big” because of batters facing southeast into prevailing winds have also been offset by flat-seamed baseballs — introduced in 2015 — traveling farther and more mature lineups as a result of shorter MLB drafts. Other inconveniences can’t be avoided, like 11-plus hours of rain delays at the 2018 CWS or thunderstorms canceling opening ceremonies in 2012 and 2017.

As more MLB traits filter down to the college game, ESPN analyst Kyle Peterson said another change could be more detailed information on the videoboard. Fans are becoming conditioned to seeing measurements like exit velocity and launch angle in real time at pro parks, and Schwab Field could provide them, too.

“It’s one more way for fans to experience, ‘Hey, that was really good,’” Peterson said. “And looking at the numbers tell them what it is.”

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