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The Big Rush To Speed Up Baseball

Ruth Bader GinsburgThere are a lot of things in life I’d like to see someone try to speed up. I’d like time shaved off the morning commute. I’d like the local grocer to have enough checkers on duty so they can open the express line. I’d like to have the web page I call up appear right away without waiting for all the gizmos to pop up before my content finally appears. I’d like the “No right turn on red” traffic light to turn green faster, especially when I seem to be the only vehicle in that particular zip code. I’d like to reach the department I’m calling immediately in any business call instead of having to wait through multiple prompts and bad “please hold” music.

I’d like a shorter State of the Union address. Maybe a trap door behind the podium. After a half hour, it opens and the president disappears. Call it the Ruth Bader Ginsburg rule, named after the Supreme Court justice who fell asleep during the last one, though the nap was later determined to be wine related.

I’m all for finding ways to make these irritating, time-consuming things speed up. What I’m not as jazzed about is this new national obsession to speed up baseball games.

There is no arguing that the games have gotten longer. The first game of the first World Series in 1903 between the Boston Pilgrims and Pittsburgh Pirates took 1:55. There were no relievers, and Fox didn’t carry the game, so I assume not much time was spent on commercial breaks or panning the crowd for celebrities from upcoming Fox shows. The Giants played 17 post-season games in 2014, and only came in under three hours once. In 1920, Brooklyn and Boston played to a 26-inning 1-1 tie, called on account of darkness. The game lasted 3:50. The Giants defeated the Nationals 2-1  in an epic 18-inning game in the NLDS, which lasted 6:23. Of course, that game involved 17  pitchers. Both starters went all 26 innings in the 1920 marathon, and some time was likely saved because I doubt the weary hurlers threw eight practice pitches before every inning.

The Baseball Brass was a little phony in forming a committee to study how to shorten the games since nobody is talking about trimming the time between innings. That’s where they make the Big Bucks.

What I’m still not clear about is why anybody who goes to a baseball game wants it over quickly. To me, going to the ballpark is a break from the daily grind. For whatever time you are there, you can put the troubles and complexities of one’s life and the world on hold. All that matters for that one period is to root, root, root for the home team, and you shouldn’t care if you never get back.

So for those fans who are so caught up in the rush of life that they actually want their visit to a ballgame to go as fast as the express lane, here are some tips on how to really appreciate and enjoy the grand old game.

Arrive early: I mean just before the park opens. The game is two hours away, but there is already an excitement building in anticipation of the security guy opening the gates so you can get to the ticket-takers. Some fans stroll, but others quicken their pace, eager to get their first glimpse of the green grass.

Batting practice: A ballpark in its pre-game state is special. The stands are quiet and empty, and you can imagine how they will be transformed into cheering throngs in a short time. In many parks, you can walk down to the rail to see the players up close. Early arrivals bring gloves, and station themselves behind the left and right field fences to get a chance at catching a BP home run. Whether you join the mob hoping to get a souvenir or just watch, it’s an entertaining show.

Getting ready: A video of a grounds crew getting the field ready won’t go viral, but you have to admire the artful way they go about their jobs. Late-arriving fans might never have witnessed this pre-game ritual. The field is a canvas to these folks, and I still find myself watching how precisely they apply the chalk to form the batters box and catcher’s box, knowing that the lines will be nearly erased within one inning as batters and the catchers immediately kick the dirt around. It reminds me of the Buddhist sand mandalas, which are so meticulously assembled, and then immediately dismantled to represent the transitory nature of life.

Keeping score: There’s an App for monitoring every aspect of the game you are watching, of course, but nothing compares to following the action by keeping score with a low-tech scorebook and pen. You can be as detailed as you want with how you chart the game, and it will keep you so occupied you won’t even notice the game’s length.

Stay till it’s over: If the home team is down by 10 runs in the ninth, I guess I understand if you want to leave early to beat the traffic. I’m sure that’s how fans saw it on May 5, 1958, when the Pirates led the Giants 11-1 in the ninth, only to survive a nine-run Giants rally. So consider yourself warned.

Despite my appreciation for a non-rushed day at the ballpark, I’m not opposed to these new attempts by Major League Baseball to speed the game up a bit. I have been a longtime critic of how today’s batters take a stroll after every pitch, and I support the rule that will try to keep them in the box. Reducing the time between pitches will have one other positive: it will trim those tiresome TV cutaways of  kids eating cotton candy.

I’m also fine with the rule that will get the game going immediately after the commercial break ends. The ad time is 2:25. With 40 seconds to go, the batter is announced and his walkup music must end with 25 seconds remaining. The batter has to be in the box with 20 seconds to go and the pitcher ready to throw as soon as the umpire directs him.

However, MLB has overlooked one very important point. The time for “Don’t Stop Believin” has just been gutted. The original song was about four minutes. It already has been edited down so they can get to the “Don’t stop believin” part  just before the batter steps in. Now the song will have to be shortened even more, and end 40 seconds before the first pitch, losing the momentum of the fan sing-a-long. A friend suggested the Chipmunks be hired to sing the song, figuring they could provide a speedier version.

I also wonder if this is the death of curtain calls. After a late-inning dramatic homer, the next batter by tradition takes extra time walking up to the plate to give the hero a chance to step out of the dugout for another round of cheers. Umpires are not likely to stand for that anymore.

I have two other suggestions for moving things along. One is to outlaw “around the horn,” where players toss the ball around the infield before giving it to the pitcher. Not necessary. The second one is to ban slow home-run trots. MLB should figure a reasonable time for the four-base journey, then use a stopwatch. If a player only makes it to third when time runs out, it’s a triple.

So, speed things up? Sure, as long as you don’t drastically alter the flow and rhythm and the strategies of the beautiful game. But I’ll still show up early and stay late. Maybe I’ll bring Justice Ginsburg with me. And I bet she won’t nod off in the middle of my State of the Giants address.

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