The minor leagues are standing at the vanguard of baseball’s attempt to speed play. The folks who brought us musical chairs using bathroom commodes and diaper-changing competitions are dedicated to helping us spend quality time at the ballpark.
Frankly, I can’t wait for the fun to begin.
Triple-A and Double-A leagues will go far beyond the beat-the-clock measures the Major Leagues announced over the winter.
In addition to MLB time limits for between-inning commercial breaks and pitching changes, stadiums like Canal Park for the Akron RubberDucks and Huntington Park for the Columbus Clippers will have 20-second clocks for each pitch. In April tardy players will get warnings. The real fun starts in May.
Let me set the scene.
A jaunty young slugger saunters up to the plate to his tastefully selected walk-up tune. The equally young hurler strolls at the back of the mound, contemplating the usefulness of the rosin bag. The umpire engages a 20-second clock.
Tick, Tick, Tock.
The pitcher and his trusted catcher have a disagreement about which pitch to select. The batter adjusts his glove and some other things that are not discussed in polite company. The crowd waits with bated breath.
Somewhere in the stadium the clock continues to tick, or tock or both, depending on the home team’s priorities.
The fans’ eyes dart around: clock, pitcher, clock, batter, and then the umpire. Oh! How can we contain our excitement!
Finally, the pitcher takes his position on the mound. But, wait! The umpire is waving his arms. The 20-second clock has expired! The Man in Blue, the Voice of Authority over all things sporting at this dramatic moment, makes his declaration!
The tumult! The joy for the team at bat! The torment for the defense! The fear among writers that they might run out of exclamation points!
Then, because of the great collective wisdom of baseball’s powerful minds, a wonderful thing happens: The 20-second process starts again! Cue the Greek Chorus!
Why a chorus? Because this is our chance, as fans, to have a real effect on the game. I have an idea that could change the atmosphere of every baseball game from now to eternity.
I propose we form a group of fans to count down the seconds. I really don’t care if it’s Greek, it just sounds kind of artsy and implies the whole crowd wants to proclaim the game’s narrative. It could be a Canadian Chorus for all I care.
But I do care that the fans get involved.
The pitcher kicks mud from his spikes.
19, 18, 17, the crowd sings.
The batter acts like he doesn’t hear his Hip Hop walk up.
14, 13, 12
The pitcher shakes off the first sign.
11, 10, 9
The batter assumes a posture only pelicans and finely-tuned athletes can assume.
8, 7, 6
Another sign is rejected. Oh my, how will this all end!
5, 4, 3
The catcher and pitcher agree on a pitch
2, 1 BLAAAAAAP!
The umpire stands up and declares another ball will be registered even though a pitch has not been thrown.
The crowd goes wild! The beer is spilled! The children cry out of confusion and fear! They thought this was a good place for a nap.
The world continues to spin!
Yes, fans, we need to be a part of this. But there are ethical questions.
Some of the players coming to Akron this year are young, perhaps even teenagers. Is it fair to count down while they try to concentrate? Would you appreciate a countdown as you try to balance your checking account or flip burgers at McDonald’s?
Oh, you bet it’s fair. That teen’s checking account balance is probably be a lot higher than yours and he needs to handle genuine pressure – like paying $500 of bills with $400 in your account.
And is it wise to let the home team experience a countdown? How would the fans react if a Duck hurler said, “Pretty please, do not chant while I’m out here sweating?” Will we need ethicists to sort out these issues?
NO! We can do as we please, in the time allotted. Besides, it will be louder up the road at Progressive Field if this Duck gets the call to waddle up I-77.
Canal Park will be a place to harden the character and temperament of these fine athletes so they are ready for the 4-hour World Series games that are surely coming!
So spend these last off-season days warming up those vocal chords.
Now the fine print.
Because of the complex issues presented in this treatise, I have left out many details from the official plans. The full release will be pasted below.
Regardless of how the rules are interpreted, watching this unfold will be fun. You can count on it.
Minor Leagues announce pace-of-game rules
03/24/2015 10:00 AM ET
Minor League Baseball
- PETERSBURG, Fla. — Minor League Baseball today announced rules and procedures aimed at improving the pace of play in games at the Triple-A and Double-A levels.
The procedures, created in partnership with Major League Baseball, will monitor the time taken between innings and pitches, and will limit the amount of time allowed during pitching changes. Umpires will continue to enforce rules prohibiting batters from leaving the batter’s box between pitches.
Timers have been installed at all Triple-A and Double-A parks in plain view of umpires, players and fans to monitor the pace of play and determine when violations occur. The month of April will serve as a grace period, with players receiving warnings for infractions. Beginning May 1, rules will be enforced as written. The regulations and penalties for non-compliance are listed below.
- Inning breaks will be two minutes, 25 seconds in duration. The first batter of an inning is encouraged to be in the batter’s box and alert to the pitcher with 20 seconds left on the inning break timer. The pitcher must begin his wind-up or begin the motion to come to the set position at any point within the last 20 seconds of the 2:25 break.
- Beginning May 1, should the pitcher fail to begin his wind-up or begin the motion to come to the set position in the last 20 seconds of the inning break, the batter will begin the at-bat with a 1-0 count.
- Beginning May 1, should the batter fail to be in the batter’s box and alert to the pitcher with five or more seconds remaining on the inning break timer, the batter will begin the at-bat with a 0-1 count.
- Umpires will have the authority to grant extra time between innings should special circumstances arise.
- The inning break timer will begin with the final out of the previous half-inning. For inning breaks during which God Bless America or any patriotic song is played in which all action in the ballpark stops (similar to the national anthem), the timer will begin at the conclusion of the song.
- The pitching change timer shall begin as soon as the relief pitcher crosses the warning track (or foul line for on-field bullpens) to enter the game.
- In the event a pitching change occurs during an inning break, the timer shall reset as soon as the relief pitcher crosses the warning track (or foul line for on-field bullpens).
- Umpires have the authority to reset the timer at their discretion.
- Beginning May 1, should the pitcher fail to begin his wind-up or begin the motion to come to the set position in the last 20 seconds of the pitching change break, the batter will begin the at-bat with a 1-0 count.
- Beginning May 1, should the batter fail to be in the batter’s box and alert to the pitcher with five or more seconds remaining on the pitching change timer, the batter will begin the at-bat with a 0-1 count.
20-SECOND PITCH TIMER
- Pitchers will be allowed 20 seconds to begin their wind-up or the motion to come to the set position.
- The pitcher does not necessarily have to release the ball within 20 seconds, but must begin his wind-up or begin the motion to come to the set position to comply with the 20-second rule.
- For the first pitch of an at-bat, the timer shall start when the pitcher has possession of the ball in the dirt circle surrounding the pitcher’s rubber, and the batter is in the dirt circle surrounding home plate.
- The timer will stop as soon as the pitcher begins his wind-up, or begins the motion to come to the set position.
- If the pitcher feints a pick off or steps off the rubber with runners on base, the timer shall reset and start again immediately.
- Umpires have the authority to stop the 20-second timer and order a reset.
- Following any event (e.g., pick-off play) that permits the batter to leave the batter’s box, the timer shall start when the pitcher has possession of the ball in the dirt circle surrounding the pitcher’s rubber, and the batter is in the dirt circle surrounding home plate.
- Following an umpire’s call of “time” or if the ball becomes dead and the batter remains at-bat, the timer shall start when the pitcher is on the pitcher’s plate and the batter is in the batter’s box, alert to the pitcher.
- Beginning May 1, should the pitcher fail to begin his wind-up or begin the motion to come to the set position in 20 seconds, a ball will be awarded to the count on the batter.
“Minor League Baseball is excited to implement the pace of game initiatives at the Triple-A and Double-A levels of our organization,” said Minor League Baseball President Pat O’Conner. “We feel the emphasis on pace will lead to more fan enjoyment and better play on the field and is another example of the cooperative relationship between our leagues and Major League Baseball in the advancement of player development.”