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MLB continues testing pace-of-play rules in Arizona Fall League

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The Arizona Fall League is not only the finishing school for baseball’s top prospects, but it also acts as a laboratory––the perfect setting for the MLB to experiment with new rules

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MLB continues experimenting with pace of play initiatives in 2016 fall league season

The Arizona Fall League is not only the finishing school for baseball’s top prospects, but it also acts as a laboratory––the perfect setting for the MLB to experiment with new rules before they are fulfilled in the regular season, allowing fans to witness the future of baseball in more ways than one.

In a 2014 MLB press release, it was announced that experimental pace of game initiatives were to be tested for the first time at the AFL, including the following:

Batter’s Box Rule: The batter must keep at least one foot in the box at all times, unless a series of established exceptions occurs

No-Pitch Intentional Walks: In the event a team decides to intentionally walk a batter, no pitches shall be thrown. Instead, the manager shall signal to the home plate umpire

20-Second Rule: A pitcher shall be allowed 20 seconds to throw each pitch

2:05 Inning Break Clock: There shall be a maximum of 2:05 break between innings

2:30 Pitching Change Break Clock:
There shall be a maximum 2:30 break for pitching changes

Three “Time Out” Limit:
Each team shall be permitted only three “time out” conferences per game

In the initial announcement, the Commissioner Emeritus of the MLB, Bud Selig shared that he was looking forward to testing the committee’s ideas during the fall league in order to create productive tactics to eventually fit the Major League level.

In the 2014 AFL season, the average game time was 2 hours and 42 minutes, compared to the average game time of 3 hours and 13 minutes in the 2014 regular season.

Until this point, there has never been a clock in the MLB. The leisurely nature of the game is what makes it unique as it moves at its own pace, determined by the players on the field for a total of 54 outs.

The quality of timelessness, which had once been appreciated by baseball fans, is proving dangerous for the longevity of the sport.

“When I was growing up, if the game went into extra innings, I thought I was getting a little bonus because I could stay longer and see some more baseball. I think right now people get bored in extra innings and wish the game would hurry up,” said David Carpenter, an usher for the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Arizona Cardinals and the Phoenix Suns. “Last season we had so many games go over three hours. You wonder what’s going on now, but I don’t remember ever caring when I was growing up, even watching games on TV or listening to games on the radio.”

Millennials and Baseball

Since technology has been introduced into our daily lives, there is a cultural anticipation for high-speeds and over-stimulation. In the midst of a generation that seeks instant gratification, baseball is managing population concerns.

According to The Harris Poll, 33 percent of Americans select football as their favorite sport, while 15 percent select baseball. Football has been chosen as the most popular sport in America for 32 straight years.

Baseball is a slow game by nature; however, over the last decade, game times have continued to steadily increase, while struggling to hold the attention of young fans. In the 2016 season, the average MLB game time was at an all-time high of 3 hours and 8 minutes, compared to the average game time 32 years ago of 2 hours and 40 minutes.

Millennials have the tendency to lean toward faster-paced sports such as basketball and football. MLB games are approximately 40 minutes longer than the average NBA game.

“There aren’t as many people distracted at basketball games because there is non-stop action. You can see it by the amount of people even walking around the ballpark during the game. In basketball, I see fans more engaged because there is always something going on,” said Carpenter.

While football games tend to run longer than baseball games, fans appreciate the fast-pace of the sport and tolerate the length of play one day a week. Not only do baseball games run long, but engagement during the 162-game season calls for patience that most millennials lack.

According to Sports Media Watch, the average age of those who watch televised baseball games was 55 years old. Only six percent of viewers are under the age of 18.

Baseball has made a multitude of efforts in order to appeal to a younger audience, especially focusing on the game-day experience.

“I often wonder what the fans come for. Are they there to watch the game or to experience all the other things that are going on? The thing is, we make it that way for them. We try to create an environment where it feels like you have to be there, where there is always something going on, but it does pull from the game. Growing up, we didn’t have that kind of stuff. I didn’t expect anything but baseball,” said Carpenter.

Baseball is not the only sport laboring to reach millennial audiences, as regular TV viewers are getting older altogether; however, baseball’s 162-game season at an average of 3 hours and 8 minutes a game means a total of 498.96 hours of baseball for one team per season.

“I think that it’s all part of a broader societal change. In my childhood, there were a limited number of diversions. I think people learned the game a lot better and had a better appreciation for it,” said Tony Rigsbee, the PA announcer for Scottsdale Stadium for the AFL, Durham Bulls and Surprise Stadium for spring training.

For the Love of the Game

When Chuck Boyer was growing up in the 60s, his love for the game was a product of the game itself.

“We played it out on the street all the time… well, until the streetlights came on and you’d have to go back inside. It’s just the greatest game in the world,” said Boyer, the Scoreboard and Stadium Audio Operator for the AFL and the 50/50 Raffle Manager for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The only time games were on TV was the World Series, so Boyer would listen to games on the radio during the regular season. Knowing what his favorite players looked like were guessing games until he finally received their cards in a new pack of Topps baseball cards.

“You learned so much from the back of baseball cards. You would study the statistics. The Sunday morning newspaper would come out and you would study the major averages for all the players. My father always said to me that if I studied my schoolwork half as much as I studied baseball, I would have been a Rhodes scholar,” said Boyer. “Now, it’s oversaturated with the Internet.”

In the 60s, the game was undoubtedly America’s pastime and the youth of America craved knowledge about their favorite sport. Everything you wanted to know about an organization wasn’t a Google search away. They would have to work to find answers.

“We would go out and mow the lawn, get a dollar, ride our bikes down to the liquor store and buy a dollar’s worth of baseball cards,” said Boyer.

It is clear to see how our youth have become less engaged with baseball. With everything at their fingertips, there are a plethora of distractions, things that come before falling in love with the game of baseball.

Pace of Play

After the 2014 AFL season, a continued desire to shorten the game was prevalent, especially in the eyes of MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, who is consistently looking for ways to improve upon the game, despite the tradition of baseball.

Most opposition in terms of pace of play stems from baseball traditionalists who do not believe that the game of baseball should be changed; however, the game of baseball has already changed, which is why measures must be taken in order to reclaim an audience who is obsessed with speed.

“When I pitched, pace of game was very fast. We were taught to catch the ball, get on the mound and get ready to pitch––no walking around, no wasting time,” said John D’Acquisto, former MLB pitcher. Currently, D’Acquisto is the Timing Coordinator at Chase Field and for the AFL.

Due to new pitching methodologies, timeliness has vanished.

“It’s all a part of a cat and mouse game between a pitcher and a hitter, but we have a game to play. Add it all up and put it in the pot of ticking time and we have problems,” said D’Acquisto.

According to the Arizona Fall League: Experimental Rules 2016, the Pace of Game Committee delivered a new set of experimental rules to the AFL for the 2016 season, including the following:

Break Timing Rules

2:15 Inning Break Timer: The 2:15 clock begins when the third out is made every half inning.

2:25 Pitching Change Timer: The 2:25 clock begins for every pitching change and follows the 2:15 clock if the pitching change starts at the half inning.

Batter’s Box Rule:
The batter must keep at least one foot in the box at all times unless one of the following events occurs:

1. Batters swings at a pitch or attempts a bunt

2. Pitcher attempts a pickoff

3. Umpire calls “time”

4. Wild pitch or passed ball

5. Pitch forces batter out of the batter’s box

6. Pitcher leaves the mound or catcher leaves the catcher’s box

7. An attempted check swing is appealed to a base umpire

15 Second Pitch Timer:
The pitcher will have 15 seconds to begin the motion to deliver each pitch

35 Seconds Between Batter Timer: The clock will start as soon as the umpire signals the batter out, or the prior play concludes

30 Second Mount Visit Timer: The stadium timer shall operate during mound visits initiated by a manager or coach. The timer will be set at 30 seconds and will begin counting down when the manager or coach has exited the dugout and the has been granted by the umpire.

Three “Time Out” Rule: Each team shall be permitted only three “time out” conferences per game (including extra innings.)

The Pace of Game Committee has not confirmed if any pace of game experimental rules will continue to be implemented in spring training; however, the methods appear to be working. In the 2016 AFL season, games averaged 2 hours and 25 minutes, compared to the 2014 fall league season where games averaged 2 hours and 42 minutes.

“Baseball is a chess game. Baseball is a game of human bodies being moved as chess pieces, it’s a complicated game. It takes time. You can’t just zip through it because you’re going to make a mistake, but if you can teach people to zip through it without making a mistake­… then you’ve accomplished something. That’s where I think were headed with this––to keep the continuity of the game in check, while speeding up the continuity of the game,” said D’Acquisto.