Scenes from Spring Training: Phun with the Phillie Phanatics Part 1

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Bright House.jpgAfter  a stormy Thursday night and Friday, I woke up to a bright, clear and crisp Saturday morning. It would be my last day of baseball on this trip, and the fates smiled upon me, not only with the weather, but with a good game at a great spring training park. Phillies vs. Twins at Bright House Field in Clearwater.

Bright House may be the most organized and easiest to navigate park in the Grapefruit League, at least from the media’s perspective.  The parking is ample. The administrative offices are open and welcoming. I walked into the facility, which is really an office building connected to the stadium, and was greeted by pleasant smiles and efficient workers. I gave my name and a press pass appeared almost instantly. Newbies like me usually have to figure out the lay of the land at the ballpark, but the young woman at the front desk immediately pointed out the clubhouse entrance (to the left) the media room (to the right) and the press box (the elevator behind you, third floor, follow the walkway up the third base line). It wouldn’t have shocked me if someone appeared from out of nowhere to take my bag and offer me some ice water with lemon in it.

I gave the media room a miss, and headed straight to the press box. On the way there I passed several Philly employees, ranging from front office types to grounds crew. Everyone was wearing shirts that denoted the team’s recent success. Several “2008 World Series Champion” patches. Many more “2009 National League Champion” logos.  Like all the ballparks I saw last week, the walls at Bright House had several framed pictures, plaques and displays depicting team history, but there were also photo collages of team employees, promotion days and the like. Who knows what it’s really like to be, say, an intern there, but the place gave the impression that it was a friendly place to work.

I got up to the box and set up my laptop.  Lots of room and — what’s this? — Coke in the fridge.  I know there are more important things in the universe than cola wars, but I’m a Coke guy, and I’ve been mildly bummed all week that every park had Pepsi in it.  It’s not going to make me root for Philly to lose any less once the season starts, but if you’ve learned anything about me from these spring training dispatches, you’ve learned that little stuff makes a big impression on me.

Squared away in the press box I headed down to the clubhouse and the field.

Rob Manfred on robot umps: “In general, I would be a keep-the-human-element-in-the-game guy.”

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 5:  Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred talks with media prior to a game between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on April 5, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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Craig covered the bulk of Rob Manfred’s quotes from earlier. The commissioner was asked about robot umpires and he’s not a fan. Via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

Manfred was wrong to blame the player’s union’s “lack of cooperation” on proposed rule changes, but he’s right about robot umps and the strike zone. The obvious point is that robot umps cannot yet call balls and strikes with greater accuracy than umpires. Those strike zone Twitter accounts, such as this, are sometimes hilariously wrong. Even the strike zone graphics used on television are incorrect and unfortunate percentage of the time.

The first issue to consider about robot umps is taking jobs away from people. There are 99 umps and more in the minors. If robot umpiring was adopted in collegiate baseball, as well as the independent leagues, that’s even more umpires out of work. Is it worth it for an extra one or two percent improvement in accuracy?

Personally, the fallibility of the umpires adds more intrigue to baseball games. There’s strategy involved, as each umpire has tendencies which teams can strategize against. For instance, an umpire with a more generous-than-average strike zone on the outer portion of the plate might entice a pitcher to pepper that area with more sliders than he would otherwise throw. Hitters, knowing an umpire with a smaller strike zone is behind the dish, may take more pitches in an attempt to draw a walk. Or, knowing that information, a hitter may swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch knowing the pitcher has to throw in a very specific area to guarantee a strike call or else give up a walk.

The umpires make their mistakes in random fashion, so it adds a chaotic, unpredictable element to the game as well. It feels bad when one of those calls goes against your team, but fans often forget the myriad calls that previously went in their teams’ favor. The mistakes will mostly even out in the end.

I haven’t had the opportunity to say this often, but Rob Manfred is right in this instance.

Report: MLB approves new rule allowing a dugout signal for an intentional walk

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 29:  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred laughs during a ceremony naming the 2016 winners of the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award and the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award before Game Four of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images
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ESPN’s Howard Bryant is reporting that Major League Baseball has approved a rule allowing for a dugout signal for an intentional walk. In other words, baseball is allowing automatic intentional walks. Bryant adds that this rule will be effective for the 2017 season.

MLB has been trying, particularly this month, to improve the pace of play. Getting rid of the formality of throwing four pitches wide of the strike zone will save a minute or two for each intentional walk. There were 932 of them across 2,428 games last season, an average of one intentional walk every 2.6 games. It’s not the biggest improvement, but it’s something at least.

Earlier, Commissioner Rob Manfred was upset with the players’ union’s “lack of cooperation.” Perhaps his public criticism was the catalyst for getting this rule passed.

Unfortunately, getting rid of the intentional walk formality will eradicate the chance of seeing any more moments like this: