It’s been the fashionable baseball topic to talk about, write about, and wring hands about: improving the ‘pace of the game’. Supposedly that’s been a priority for Bud Selig – though if anything, he’s allowed it to slow down – and incoming Commish Rob Manfred is said to been concerned about this as well.
So today it’s my turn – I now look forward to the year 2022 in which Manfred’s New Big Thing is revealed to the sporting universe.
Ladies and gentlemen… I give you… Arena Baseball.
DIP CAREY: Good evening fans, it’s a beautiful night for baseball – not that we’d know it being indoors here at the Alamo Dome in San Antonio, Texas for Opening Day in what promises to be an exciting 85-game season of Arena Baseball as we kick things off with the Birmingham Steel avisiting the San Antonio Spurts!
JOE SIMPSON: Right you are, Dip Carey, and I’m pleased to be here beside you as I was with both your Dad and Grandpa for so many seasons with the Atlanta Braves. Tonight we’ll see how the ‘Manfred Rules’ play out here – there’s some hope that we’ll get this done in under an hour so that Fox Sports 5 can get back to MMA #CLVIII on time – that will be a heckuva contest later on.
DIP: Thanks Joe, and we’ll be back with the action from San Antonio here in a moment.
< five minute commercial break >
DIP: Leading off tonight for Birmingham is Triangle-fielder B.J. Upton. How about that position? The “Triangle-fielder”, Joe?
JOE: Right, Dip: in Arena Ball, we’ve got a few changes intended to speed up play: there’s only 3 bases, of course, so everything is geared around the Triangle. The Tri-Fielder is positioned behind where a 2nd baseman and shortstop would be in traditional baseball and emphasizes agility.
DIP: That could be a problem for Birmingham this season, then?
JOE: That’s right – ever since B.J. was released from the Atlanta Braves in 2016, he hasn’t played very much. The Steel were lucky to get him, but he is 38 years old now… and he’s already struck out on the first two pitches of the game.
DIP: He has some words for home plate umpire Angel Hernandez as he heads back to the bench. Joe – let’s talk about some of the other rule changes added for Arena Baseball.
JOE: There are several (Fox Sports 5 graphic comes up)
- The Day-Glo Orange baseball is the most noticeable change. It also is slightly larger than a regular baseball with raised seams for better movement.
- 2 strikes for an out – and no more than 3 pitches per batter, period. If you have more balls than strikes, it’s a walk. Otherwise you’re out, so you better be up there hacking.
- Also: 2 outs per inning and 7 innings per game.
- As we’ve said, the field has just three 90-foot bases – so instead of a ‘diamond’ we have a ‘triangle’. This directly influences the defense as we have just eight players on each side – one being a pitcher and one being his designated hitter… so 7 each on offense and defense.
- Except for the outfield, the field is surrounded by nets and the nets are in play. So there’s no such thing as a foul ball.
- Those outfield fences are set at exactly 330 feet all around, so offense is clearly important.
- For the hitters: no batting gloves… grip it and rip it.
- Finally, the strike zone goes from the ground to the armpits. If the pitch touches the ground it’s a ball – anything else airborne over the plate below about 5 feet is a strike.
DIP: Well, apparently the speed-ups are working, for while we were doing that, Birmingham has quickly put 5 runs up on the board, capped by a 3-run shot by Tyler Pastornicky. They’ve batted around now and B.J. … strikes out again to end the frame. So that’s 5 hits, a walk, 5 runs and 2 strikeout off Spurts starer Jamie Moyer in the first inning.
< five minute commercial break >
DIP: We’re back with you now in the third inning as that break ran a little long. Both teams have struck for more runs: San Antonio now leads by a count of 10-7 and… what’s going on here, Joe?
JOE: I think we’re going to have an Umpire Challenge from Birmingham manager Fredi Gonzalez on this play at second base. B.J. Upton was ruled out on an over-slide and complained vehemently about the call by umpire Joe West.
DIP: You’re right, Joe, and that brings up another change for Arena Baseball – the challenge system. Each manager can challenge any play they want, but must win the coin toss to determine whether the call is upheld – and whether they get to challenge future calls. Fredi is calling the coin now…(“heads!”)… and it is…. tails! So the challenge fails and B.J. is out on his attempt to stretch a single into a double.
JOE: …and the Steel are now out of challenges for the rest of the game.
DIP: Let’s take a break now, and we’ll be back with more action right after this message.
< ten minute commercial break >
DIP: Welcome back, fans, and it’s time for our post-game recap. Joe?
JOE: Well, the fans got what they came for here in San Antonio as the home-town Spurts win the opener by a count of 19-12. They were paced by 11 home runs tonight and the Steel simply could not keep pace. A low-scoring affair, but both clubs had their aces going tonight.
DIP: Thanks, Joe: we’ll be back again tomorrow night with these same two teams as the Steel will have Kris Medlen on the mound – he still looks just 17 years old, doesn’t he? – versus the ageless Roger Clemens for the Spurts. Should be a good one. So until then – for myself and partner Joe Simpson – good night everybody from the Alamo Dome in San Antonio, Texas!
time of game: 42 minutes.