A BASEBALL SHOT CLOCK? SAY IT AIN'T SO!
JUPITER, FLORIDA—I am sitting in one of my favorite places on Earth, Roger Dean Stadium, winter home of my beloved St. Louis Cardinals. It is the first day of the spring training season ( the Grapefruit League), and I am blessed to be in the ball park to watch my Cardinals take on the Miami Marlins. It is a glorious sunny day with the temperature in the 70s!
My bride and I are dressed in Cardinals red. We have seats behind home plate. We have bratwursts and cold refreshing beverages. Life is good. But shortly after the first Marlins batter steps to the plate, I notice something...in deep center field where Curt Flood once roamed. Just above the outfield wall there is an electronic screen of some sort. Not a scoreboard or a Jumbotron. Those are above it. This is a much smaller screen resembling a nice HDTV, but the screen is blank...Suddenly the number 20 appears on the screen and begins to count down “19...18...17...”
“What in the hall of fame is that?”’ I ask my bratwurst. A fan sitting in the row ahead of me turns around and says, “It’s a pitch clock!”
“A what?” I ask as I take a bite out of my mustard, onion and relish-drenched Bratwurst.
“A pitch clock,” he repeats.
By this time, the Marlins batter has taken the first pitch and the Cardinals catcher (not Yadi, but some Memphis Redbird) has tossed the ball back to the pitcher. At this point the number 20 appears back on the screen above centerfield, again flashing “19...18...17...”
“What in the name of Bob Gibson is a pitch clock?” I ask my baseball knowledgeable fellow fan sitting a row ahead of me. With the authority of Tim McCarver he responds, “It’s something the MLB is experimenting with during spring training. The pitcher has 20 seconds to throw his pitch or the umpire will call a ball. If the batter steps out of the batters box during the 20 seconds, he must be back in the box by 5 seconds or the umpire will call a strike.”
Wiping the mustard onion relish from my mouth with the sleeve of my Cardinals jersey, I ask the obvious question: “Why are they conducting this um....experiment?”
"To speed up the game, of course,” responds the baseball expert in front of me, as the Marlins batter trots to first base after 4 balls tossed within 80 seconds.
Continuing my cross examination, I ask “Why do they want to speed up the game?”
“A lot of fans complain baseball is too slow,” explains the impatient fan.
I stop asking questions. Instead, as I sit in the glorious sun relishing (pun intended) my bratwurst and my favorite game, I think to myself, “Baseball is too slow? For Musial’s sake, it is supposed to be slow! Like a day at the beach or fishing on a serene lake or a hike in the mountains!’
In fact my idea of a perfect day at the ballpark is when a game goes extra innings! Free baseball, as they say!
But now, in this fast-paced frenetic society, the Commissioner (whoever he is) and the MLB powers that be, want to have baseball pick up the pace, starting with a pitch clock, threatening to make baseball a neurotic experience just like basketball with a game decided on last second pitches!
Why before you know it, the MLB will “experiment” with an end to extra innings. If the game is tied at the end of the bottom of the ninth we will move to sudden death with a home run derby shootout, 5 pitches like the end of a soccer game!
Well, as a little fan once said to Shoeless Joe, say it ain’t so! Baseball needs to remain one thing in American life that takes it’s sweet time....from the National Anthem to the opening pitch to the seventh inning stretch to...if necessary, extra innings.
Now if you will excuse me, I am gonna have another bratwurst!