Tag Archives: MLB

Speeding Up the Sport. Should Baseball Have to Pick Up the Pace?

This season, Major League Baseball and their newly established “pace of game committee” are using the Arizona Fall League (AFL) to implement new rules (or enforce rules that have otherwise been ignored in the past) that are designed to speed up the game.  The AFL is being used as a “try-out” to see if these rules would be the correct thing to put into place throughout baseball and the MLB.  As baseball has grown throughout the years, so has the average time of a game.  This year, the average game time was 3 hours and 2 minutes compared to just 2 hours and 33 minutes in 1981.  The ultimate goal is to quicken the pace and have games that end under 3 hours again.

These pace of game rules include:

Three “Timeout” limit.  Managers, coaches, and catchers are only allowed three visits to the mound during the game (excluding pitching changes or injuries.)

No-pitch intentional walks. Managers signal to the umpire for an intentional walk, and the batter takes 1st base without a pitch being thrown.

Batter Box Rule. The hitter must have one foot inside the batter’s box throughout the entire at bat unless there is a foul ball, wild pitch, pass ball, or a pitch that forces the batter outside the box, or if the hitter is granted time by the umpire.

2:30 pitching change. The max time for a pitching change is two and a half minutes.

2:05 inning break. The max time between innings is two minutes and 5 seconds.  The batter must be in the box at 1:45 or the umpire can call a strike. Also, the umpire can call a ball if the pitcher throws after the 2:05 mark.

20 second rule. (used at Salt River Field only.)  There is a 20 second clock posted in the dugouts as well as behind homeplate and in the outfield to prevent the pitchers from taking too much time. This is being used as a modified version of rule 8.04 that requires a pitcher to deliver a pitch within 12 seconds after receiving the ball with the bases unoccupied.

The rules that are being put into place in the AFL are nothing new.  Most of these rules have been used or discussed for future use in some capacity in the independent Atlantic League.

Along with the batter’s box rule, 12 second pitch rule, the no-pitch intentional walk, and the three timeouts, the Atlantic league also has rules to:

Enforce the rule book strike zone. Umpires must be consistent and use the strike zone listed in Rule 2.00 which states that the strike zone stretches from the hollow beneath the kneecap to the midpoint between the shoulder and batter’s waist.

Reduce the number of warm up pitches from 8 to 6.

Pinch Runners for catchers.  Pinch runners must replace catchers as soon as they reach base to ensure that catchers are suited up in time for the next half inning.

Extra innings are also being shortened around the independent leagues.  The American Association is looking to implement an extra inning rule that has already been in place by the Can-Am league.  After 10 innings, the batter before the leadoff hitter will be placed on second base.  The inning would then precede as normal. (If the runner scores, the runner will be given a R and the hitter batting him in would get an RBI, but the run will not be charged against the pitcher’s ERA.)  A version of this rule is already used in the World Baseball Classic and with the International Baseball Federation.

All of these rules are being established to speed up the game and pace of play.  Do you think these are good ideas or do you think it will ruin the sport?

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Why I Love Independent League baseball

I am asked fairly often why I enjoy watching independent league baseball as much as I do. The simple answer is that I just love baseball, but the answer is actually a lot more complex than that.  The indy ball ranks is where you find guys who truly love the sport. These guys play for the love of the game and the off-chance that they may be found by a big league organization to further their careers and dreams away from “Indy Ball Island.”

They sure don’t do it for the money or fame.  Most players live with host families and can make a minimum of $600 a month. Games are rarely televised anywhere and are often played in front of crowds in the low thousands or even hundreds.  A lot of the players are guys who never got drafted out of college or, for one reason or another, didn’t make it in affiliated ball after being signed.  For most, “Indy Ball Island” is their last stop in the baseball world, and they never manage to get off the island.  For others, it catapults them into affiliated ball with a new chance to prove themselves on the diamond.

THIS is why I love independent baseball. These guys show true heart and dedication to the game.  I love the fact that the crowds are so small.  The ballpark is intimate, and you can have a real connection with the players. Connections that, for me, have lasted well after the players leave the diamond for the last time.

As a season ticket holder for the Washington WildThings, an independent club in the Frontier League, I have seen many players come through Consol Energy Park. Some have stayed for a few weeks, and others have stayed for a few years, but all have had some impact on my life. I’ve seen losing seasons and winning seasons, playoff games and games where we fought for last place. I’ve witnessed my first perfect game and Frontier League record-breaking nights. I’ve watched careers come to an end and careers take off, first professional hits and last professional hits. Independent baseball is truly unique.

I’ve helped cook them breakfast before road trips and dinner after games, brought candy for bus rides and good luck gum before each home start. In need of high socks? We’ve got those for the boys too. Want a stuffed animal to bring with you on road trips? Just show up at “the jungle”, and we’ll hook you up with one of those. Section 101 in Washington, PA is not just a group of ordinary fans… we truly care about these boys and their careers. We support them as much as possible because we know it’s not easy being away from your family while trying to live out your dream. We are there for every win and every loss. We ride this roller coaster of a season with them every step of the way.

While the Frontier League isn’t the lowest of the low in independent baseball, it is pretty darn close. For an eye-opening look of something a little bit lower, I suggest a look at “The Pecos League” which is also a reality show that was shown on Fox Sports (and a possibility for another post.) It gives a pretty good insight into what these guys go through just to live out their dream.

Even through all the ups and downs, one of the coolest things about indy ball is seeing your boys succeed and see that dream become a reality. This year, Washington had a few guys who we had to say “happy goodbye” to. Getting picked up by an affiliated team is always the goal, and as fans we are always prepared for it to happen. You want it to happen, but it’s still hard.

During the season, we said goodbye to two of my closest friends in the WildThings Organization. Outfielder Stewart Ijames (undrafted after his senior year in college) was signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks (and went on to play for the Missoula Osprey and Hillsboro Hops where he won a Championship Ring.) Another outfielder, CJ Beatty (former St. Louis Cardinals prospect), was signed by the Chicago White Sox organization (where he played for his hometown Winston-Salem Dash.)

During the off-season, pitchers Al Yevoli (who spent time in Spring Training with the Braves and played in the Cubs organization) and Troy Marks (who spent spring training with the Phillies) were also signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks… Looks like there will be a WildThings reunion in AZ during Spring Training!!

Al and Troy are the 41st and 42nd players to be signed out of the Frontier League this year, setting a new record for the league. Stories like this are all over independent baseball leagues around the country.

If you were to write-up a script to explain what the independent leagues are all about, you would tell the story of current Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher John Holdzkom. Here is a guy who was drafted in the 4th round by the New York Mets, had a rough 4 seasons in their organization (mixed with a Tommy John surgery that took 2 years to recover from), returned to college for a semester, had a brief stint with the Cincinnati Reds organization, played baseball internationally with the New Zealand team and in Australia, before landing back in the US to play independent ball for two years.

One night, a scout who was actually about to leave the game watched him pitch and was impressed with what he saw. He called the Pirates who signed him and added him to their AA roster in June. After just 4 games, he was moved up to AAA. The Pirates selected his contract, put him on the 40 man roster, and called him up with September call-ups. He pitched in 9 regular season games and in the NL Wild Card game. Going from a top prospect, to a struggling minor leaguer, to an independent ball player is a story that is often told. But Holdzkom’s story is special. With just a few small adjustments in indy ball, he propelled himself to the major leagues in just a couple of months. He was rescued from indy ball island and never looked back.

It’s all about first, second or even third chances. It’s about teaching everyone to never give up, and it’s all about heart and dedicating your life to live out a dream. Stories like these are exactly why I love independent ball as much as I do.