Romancing the start of baseball — and welcoming the MLB changes
Ah, the thought of Major League Baseball’s Opening Day.
For many of us, it brings back memories that wind from attending MLB openers all the way back to playing Little League.
For me, those memories flood back, from kicking rocks in right field, to breaking up a no-hitter and getting in a fight with the pitcher because he was so angry, to trying the catching position to making teams (in those days you had to “make” teams) through American Legion to…
All the way back to wiffle ball as a child. Our neighborhood didn’t have a field, so we’d play in a wooded swale and if the ball hit the bricks of the house out yonder, it was a home run.
I remember imitating the throwing motion of Juan Marichal in that swale. We’ll all incorporate Willie Stargell’s windmill before each swing. We thought we had the speed of Lou Brock.
And yes, those names date me. But on Thursday the MLB is back. And while those memories always come flooding back at the start of each season, my excitement for the pro game has mostly faded in recent years.
I’m hoping that won’t be the case this year. Because the game is changing.
“But Mitch,” I imagine you thinking, “you just romanced baseball. You – at your age of 62 – want change?”
My answer: Yes. Because I’ve changed. Just like you.
Back in the old days, we didn’t have demands for our attention like now. A baseball game that went for three hours? Cool! I’ve got all day or night. Heck, I’d listen to games on my transistor radio as I fell asleep.
Now, like you, I have a computer. I have a smart TV. I have an iPhone. My attention is in DEMAND.
So, give me my baseball. But do so in a neat package. (It’s is, by the way, also smart marketing. I see it more clearly now in my role at Wheelhouse Creative, America’s marketing agency.)
I’m excited that WVU’s star program graduate Alek Manoah will be Toronto’s Opening Day pitcher at St. Louis on Thursday at 4:10 p.m. ET. (By the way, ex-WVU pitcher John Means, the Baltimore Orioles’ Opening Day starter the last two years, is still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.)
I’m excited Max Scherzer will be on the mound for my New York Mets at Miami. I’ll take note that Mitch Keller will be Pittsburgh’s eighth different opener in the last eight years when they visit Cincinnati and starter Hunter Greene. (Both openers, by the way, are also 4:10.)
But, thankfully, it seems games will finish in more like two than three hours.
We’ll now have a pitch timer. (MLB seems to avoid saying pitch “clock” because that suggests there is a clock in what has traditionally been a clock-less game. So, we’ll say, OK, whatev and say “timer.”)
Last season’s average game lasted 3 hours and 6 minutes, which is ridiculous.
So now we have a 30-second timer between batters. Pitchers must begin their motion within 15 seconds of receiving the ball from the pitcher or umpire with the bases empty or within 20 if runners are on base. If not, it’s an automatic ball. Also, batters must be in the box and ready by the time the timer reaches 8 seconds. If not, it’s an automatic strike.
Also, if you didn’t know, “ghost runners,” which are placed on second base at the start of every half extra inning, is now permanent.
I also like the ejection of gimmicky fielding shifts.
Last season, according to USA Today, MLB teams positioned their infielders in an overshift (more than two fielders on one side of second base) on 33.6 percent of all plate appearances. Against left-handed hitters that soared to 55 percent.
Now, at the start of each pitch, teams must have at least two infielders on either side of second base, with all four touching the infield dirt.
Good. (Of course, teams are already trying to get around that with two “deep” outfielders and one in short right or left field).
Also – remember my reference to Lou Brock (you might prefer Ricky Henderson) – hopefully the stolen base will make a comeback.
Since stolen base totals have declined, MLB is making the bases slightly larger (from 15 to 18 inches square), giving runners less distance to cover to make it safely. (Larger bases also reduces the odds of collisions between runners and fielders.)
I’m loving it. I’m glad that grand ol’ dame baseball is at least trying to keep up with the times.
Because we all have.
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Mitch Vingle covered sports in West Virginia for 38 years. Follow Mitch on Twitter at @MitchVingle and be sure to check out the rest of Wheelhouse Creative’s website for your marketing and advertising needs. If interested, call us at 304-905-6005.