The other day I got a welcome ping from my cellphone. My ESPN app — after providing countless NBA-related “alerts” and “news” that I didn’t really care about — reported on the score of a Cleveland Indians spring training game. The Tribe lost, but I didn’t care about that, not really. I was just happy to see that spring training had begun and progressed to the point that games were being played.
If spring training has begun, spring itself can’t be far behind.
Baseball is changing. I ran across a story about how Major League Baseball has entered into an agreement with the independent Atlantic League that will allow MLB to use the league to try out modified rules and equipment changes. Under the deal, the Atlantic League will implement new rules at the request of MLB and then provide data and feedback on how the rules changes work out so MLB can decide whether to adopt the changes at the big-league level. And get this: the rules changes that supposedly are being considered include moving back the mound and having Trackman — in effect, a robot umpire — call balls and strikes.
As the article points out, the Atlantic League has been an innovator in baseball, including initiatives to speed up the game and to force umpires to call the high strike — i.e., strikes that are within the strike zone but above the belt. Now they can use Trackman to ensure that the true strike zone gets called. And because the Atlantic League is full of veteran pitchers, many of whom have MLB experience, it is thought that they will be better able to adjust to proposed changes in the location of the pitcher’s mound.
To be sure, baseball has changed over the years — it’s hard to imagine bigger changes than the introduction of the designated hitter in the American League and adding layers of wild card and divisional playoffs leading up to the World Series, for example — but it’s still all about nine players on a field and a guy with a ball throwing to a guy with a bat. For spectators, though, the use of a robot ump would really change the experience. How in the world do you effectively heckle a robot ump?