Opening Day & The Pitch Clock

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Greetings from The Booth!

I’m writing this week’s post on one of the great days in sport: Opening Day. Countless writers have waxed poetic about Major League Baseball’s Opening Day, and I’m not sure I can add anything new or original, but as has been said many times, Opening Day signals the renewal of all things, a true rite of Spring, when the outfield grass is greener, the uniforms are whiter, and everyone is 0-0 and filled with optimism about the upcoming season.

It’s only been 3 years since the Washington Nationals won the 2019 World Series (although we won’t count the 2020 COVID-plagued season), and what a tumble it’s been from World Champs to a 107-loss 2022 campaign. Gone are most of the players who were a part of that Championship year as the Nats continue their rebuild. One of those players is Patrick Corbin, who gets the Opening Day start in DC.  The lefty had his struggles last year, and although we aren’t supposed to pay attention to wins and losses in today’s world of metrics, Corbin was 6-19 last season. Corbin is now a pitch-to-contact hurler, who by accounts has had a great off-season and is in great shape, and ready for a comeback year.

The Nationals will need him, because (again) Stephen Strasburg is on the shelf. Since his $240-plus million dollar extension several years ago, Strasburg has pitched 26 innings. Do the math, and that’s almost $10 million per inning!  Pretty good money if you can get it. Unfortunately for the Nats, they are probably stuck with Strasburg, hurt or healthy, because no one is going to want to pick up that contract.

As Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo continues his rebuild, the future does look bright with a restocked farm system and several promising young prospects on the Opening Day roster. Patience is not in the lexicon of most fans who basically want to win now, but a realistic expectation level should be set for the 2023 season. Still, unexpected things can happen. You only need to look 40 miles away from Washington to see an example of that. The Orioles, another team in rebuild mode, contended for a Wild Card spot most of last season with a group of youngsters who had a collective “why not us?” attitude. Again, everything is rosy on Opening Day.

One of the things you’ll see this year when you go to an MLB game is the pitch clock. Generally, I’m a baseball traditionalist, but as games become longer and longer, younger fans have become less interested in the pastoral pace of the “grand old game,” so I’m generally for the pitch clock. Something had to be done to attract a younger demographic. No one wants to see a pitcher pace around the mound after each pitch, fidgeting with his uniform, going to the resin bag a dozen times, while the batter adjusts his batting gloves and takes forever digging into the box. It’s estimated that this change will cut 26 minutes on average from the length of a major league game.

As football has long since become “America’s Pastime,” baseball is now on the clock.

Until the next visit from The Booth, have a great Opening Day!

RW

 

 

 

Revisiting “Ball Four”

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Greetings From The Booth!

It’s hard to believe but this week, some area students went back to school. For you “children of the 60’s” like me, let that sink in. Had we been forced to go back to school in early August, there would have been a revolt. For me, the back-to-school signpost was always the Jerry Lewis Telethon on Labor Day weekend. When Jerry and Ed McMahon unveiled the final totals, and Lewis broke into “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” we knew the Summer vacation was over. The butterflies in my stomach were as big as 747’s. August 9th?!? I’m not even sure the Little League World Series is over yet.

Speaking of school, it seems we hear a lot these days about how the United States is falling behind on the education front. While there is cause for concern, I was delighted to see the great results from the Handley Library Summer reading program. It’s great to know that students are still reading, even in the Summer months. Seeing this positive news took me back to the Summer vacations of my youth, when my mom would take us to the Martinsburg Public Library every Monday (first, there was a stop at a local donut shop right next door–chocolate with white icing). We had to pick out 3 books, read them that week, and get 3 new ones the following Monday.

I gravitated toward sports books, usually sports biographies or works of fiction. The bios were usually tales about heroic feats and clean living, with the athletes reminding us kids to get plenty of sleep, practice hard, and take our vitamins.

Then came Ball Four. Written in 1970 by major league pitcher Jim Bouton, Ball Four chronicles his 1969 season with the expansion Seattle Pilots. It’s considered baseball’s first “tell all” expose. Unlike sports books before, Ball Four gave fans a detailed look at what happens in a major league clubhouse, in hotels, bars, on the field, and the bullpen. And MLB didn’t like it one bit. What goes on in the locker room is supposed to stay in the locker room.  Ball Four humanized our heroes and made them real, and for his efforts, Bouton, who passed away in 2019, was basically shunned by baseball, calling himself a “social leper.”

Because of it’s mention of drug use, drinking binges, and sexual exploits, Ball Four was a book I read at night with a flashlight, and hoped my mom didn’t sample. For me, it marked the end of innocence where sports was concerned. Despite then-Commissioner Bowie Kuhn’s comment that Ball Four was “detrimental to baseball,” it never diminished my love for the game. Truth be told, it probably made me love baseball even more.

This Summer, I revisited my worn copy of Ball Four, and though it is mild by today’s standards, it is still a great read, and this time I didn’t need the flashlight.

Until the next visit from The Booth…GO STUDENTS!

RW

Alienating The Fanbase

Greetings from The Booth!

It’s a great time to be a Hornet. Shenandoah University Women’s Basketball are the ODAC Champs after completing a 3-day run through the conference tournament this past weekend, taking down the 5, 1, and 2 seeds on the way to the crown. Sunday’s win against Randolph-Macon gave SU a 22-5 mark, which is the best in program history. Now it’s on to Lexington, Kentucky this Friday to play another Virginia team, Southern Virginia, in the first round of the NCAA tournament. It’s been a fun ride–let’s hope it lasts a little longer.

Meanwhile the nationally-ranked Hornet baseball team is off to a 7-1 start, and are number 18 in the country as of this writing. Death, taxes, and Shenandoah Baseball. Get out to the newly-renovated Bridgeforth  Field for a game or two this Spring and cheer on one of the best programs in the country.

Speaking of baseball, it’s not a great time to be a fan. Once again, MLB and the players are at odds as we head into the 2022 season. That season will probably not start on time, due to the bogged-down talks between the two sides. I’m probably being simplistic, but this is about MONEY. It always is. In the COVID year of 2020, the players showed their greed while the owners paid them for playing in front of no one. In 2021, limited crowds were allowed back into the ballparks, but MLB got political by moving the All-Star Game from Atlanta to Colorado, in effect hurting lots of people and surrounding businesses in already tough times. In each of those years, my passion for the game eroded.

This year, MLB may have lost me for good, and that’s saying something. I have always come back to baseball. Through the strikes, steroid era, and my general interest in other things, I have always kissed and made up with the grand old game. I’m not so sure I can do that again. While the National’s Juan Soto says no to a $350 million offer from the team to stay with the ballclub, the average fan is struggling to put gas in his vehicle and food on the table. How much is enough?

I’m not sure MLB knows that it is facing a crisis. Baseball’s demographic is traditionally older and is shrinking. A youthful, time-starved America has little time for the pastoral game of baseball, while older fans like me are being turned off by the constant bickering between billionaires and millionaires.

For Major League Baseball, it’s the bottom of the ninth, and they’re down to their last strike.

Until the next visit from The Booth…GO HORNET LADIES!

RW