High School Baseball

I have to admit, when I first heard about Major League Baseball's possible "Arizona Plan" for its 2020 season, I was more than skeptical.

For starters, I've always been a purist and traditionalist when it comes to America's Pastime and just one glance at the proposed division realignment made me cringe a bit.

If you haven't been following it, the "Arizona Plan" is a plan to conduct as much of a season as possible all in the state of Arizona in the wake of COVID-19.

Games would be played at spring training facilities and, presumably, Chase Field where the Arizona Diamondbacks play their regular season home games. The normal MLB divisions would be shuffled and realigned based on geography of those spring training facilities.

All 30 teams would be stationed in the Phoenix area. Players, coaches and staff members would be quarantined in hotels, weekly virus testing and additional quarantining of positive cases would be in place and, of course, no fans would be allowed in the stands.

Not exactly traditional.

At the same time, let's be realistic. This is probably the best and maybe the only chance of having some semblance of baseball back in the year 2020 and, hopefully, by the time the 2021 season rolls around, things will be back to normal.

So with that being said, I'm getting on board because I miss baseball. Now, it's going to be weird not seeing the Dodgers and Giants or the Yankees and Red Sox or the Cubs and Cardinals not in the same division, should the plan come to fruition, but if it comes to that for a season, so be it.

But why stop at realignment? Since this is (perhaps) going to be the strangest season on record, let's go all in on the strangeness.

It seems that for the past few seasons, baseball has been experimenting with rule changes in the minors. And since it appears that there will be no minor league ball in 2020, why not use this abbreviated campaign to test out some rules and changes in the big leagues to see if they will work going forward after this season?

Here's some things I'm thinking of, some of which are already being considered as part of the "Arizona Plan".

"Robotic" home plate umpires - Some minor leagues experimented with this last season, so why not give it a test run in MLB this time around? Plus, this would eliminate the close personal distance between catchers, hitters and plate umpires.

Seven-inning games - Playing seven-inning games might allow teams to get in more day/night doubleheaders. Plus, have you ever experienced Arizona in the summer? This will help keep players out of the heat of 100-degree days a little more.

International tie-breakers - In addition to regulation seven-inning games, teams will play up to two full innings if the score remains tied. If games are still tied after nine full innings, the beginning of each additional half-inning, starting in the top of the 10th, begins with the batter who made the final out of the previous inning on second base. Again, no one wants a game to go 15 or 16 innings anytime, but especially in 100-plus degree weather.

Designated hitter in place - This will be a given as there will be no separate American League or National League games. And let's be honest, this should have been a rule change for everyone a long time ago.

Pitch clocks - Again, this is something a lot of minor leagues have been using for a while now. No more than 20 seconds for a pitcher to start his wind-up once he gets the ball back from the catcher. It's been very effective in helping to shorten minor league games.

Expanded rosters - If we're not getting minor league games this season, expand the MLB rosters from 25 players to 30 or perhaps more. Let the club's top minor league prospects play this shortened season with the big clubs. Plus, it would be nice to have fresher and more rested players available when the temperatures heat up and clubs will have built-in minor league call-ups in case of injuries or potential positive virus cases.

Mic'ed-up players - I know ESPN did this in spring training and it was awesome to hear the banter back and forth. Some of these players are really funny and have great personalities. If Major League Baseball is trying to appeal to a younger generation, this is a great way to do it. Let them have fun so we can have fun watching them. Lord knows, we could use that about now.

The good ol' bat toss - Forget designating home teams based on whose field the game is being played on. The old mano a mano, hand-over-hand race to the knob of the bat to determine who gets home team has been a staple of pick-up games and sandlot games for over 150 years. Bring it back in 2020 and bring back an element of child-like fun to the game.

Who knows if any of these changes will be used going forward after 2020, so why not give them a shot? We're all trying to make the best of a bad situation, so let's embrace it. Besides, we as a country need baseball now more than ever, so why not have a little fun with it? After all, it IS only a game.

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Scott Herpst is sports editor for the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga., and Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga.

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