As I sit here in Maryland, I think back on the last two weeks when I ventured to Florida: sunny, 80 degrees, a slight breeze. It was perfect.
I also reflect back on my time at five spring training games and how they felt for a fan in the stands: a pitch clock, bigger bases, no shifts. It was almost perfect. Hopefully, I can walk you through how it felt to see these new implementations in person.
First, I feel like I should provide a little background. I love baseball. No, you don’t understand. I LOVE baseball.
I have Orioles season tickets, and I go to Camden Yards as often as I can. I’m the guy who sits through a three-hour rain delay and happily watches the bullpen game that follows.
To me, there is nothing like being at a baseball game. I provide that context to say I pay attention to everything. That being said, the rules, even in the later games of spring training, felt hidden in plain sight. Allow me to explain.
The shift. As someone who has watched baseball evolve into a game of guys reading cards in their pockets, I’m refreshed by this one.
It was a joy to see not only hard ground balls sneak through but also the athleticism it takes for those same hits to be taken away. On TV, you may not notice this one as much until it comes into play, but in person, it’s entertaining to watch these infield professionals figure out how to run their territory.
I specifically recall two plays, one by Gunnar Henderson and one by Jorge Mateo, that you would not see with the shift. Just know this: it leads to more fun.
Bigger bases. The first time you see these extra large white pizza boxes in person, you notice the difference. After that, you don’t.
There was not one time I thought that a base three square inches bigger made a difference on any play. I’m sure that will change as we head into the regular season, but remember, you still have to get on first to steal second.
The pitch clock. I went into my first game of 2023 worried that it would speed by like the Millennium Falcon jumping into hyperdrive. I thought the game would be over before it began.
After five games in the stands, I’m happy to report that it couldn’t be further from the truth. I am all in on the clock.
I’m the pound the fist on the table kind of in on the clock. I know this was not made for me, but I fell in love with it. Every game moved along at a constant pace, yet there was action, drama, joy, heartbreak and at the end, four of the five games, an Orioles win.
This was all with the battalion of pitchers that are used in any given spring training game. Now, before you get mad at me, I do think there are things they could work on based on the fan perspective and entertainment value.
I have talked to a handful of people who went to games and felt like it was in hyperdrive. No chance to use the restroom without missing a home run or buy that $8 beer before the third out. No chance to go get your kid a foam finger at the team store before the pitching change is complete.
I GET IT. Please don’t yell at me for loving it. As a reminder, you’re talking to the psycho who sits in the rain to not miss a pitch.
I do think you will see some changes, but not with the in-game clock itself. One suggestion is something as simple as opening the gates earlier. The earlier you let people in, the more $8 beers and foam fingers you can sell.
I think the people in charge will have to focus on how to boost the fan experience outside of the nine innings for some to feel like they got their money’s worth. I definitely do not have the answers, but I do know one thing I haven’t heard is the game is too slow anymore, and that is a GREAT thing for drawing more fans in.
So, did I just say a whole lot of nothing? Maybe. But, I’m confident that as we move into the 2023 version of baseball, you’ll feel but not see the difference in the game.
The on field product will feel that much more exciting, yet you won’t chalk it up to a bigger base or a player’s starting position on the infield. I know I didn’t.
Give it a couple of weeks. Go to a game or three. I’m convinced that if you love the game as much as I do, you’ll feel the same way.
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2 thoughts on “Baseball in 2023: A fan in the stands perspective”
Loved your article. Not a huge baseball fan. But I like it much more after reading your article. Look forward to the next one!
Well said, Mr. Benowitz. I’m looking forward to seeing more of how the changes impact this season.