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Todd Helton hasn’t got time for baseball’s new pace of play nonsense.
About 25 minutes into Thursday’s school-day matinee baseball game at Isotopes Park, the all-time Colorado Rockies great, who is now a special assistant to the general manager for the big league club and spending the week with Albuquerque’s Triple-A squad, watched Isotopes first baseman D.J. Peterson get assessed a one-strike penalty for exceeding the time allowed for a hitter to get ready between pitches.
With two outs and two strikes, the call by home plate umpire Dave Martinez ultimately had little effect on the final outcome of a 13-2 Isotopes win over visiting Sacramento. But at the moment, the fiery Helton didn’t know that, and he let his displeasure be known from the Isotopes dugout.
That sequence underscored the ongoing adjustments being made to new pace-of-play rules now being enforced in the minors with the hope of being instituted in 2023 at the Major League level – where games last season reached an all-time average long time of 3 hours, 10 minutes.
As for the Helton situation – a potential Hall of Famer being tossed from an 11 a.m. Triple-A game in Albuquerque in front of an announced crowd of 5,407 fans, mostly composed of students from 19 elementary and middle schools, and all over a rule that didn’t even exist when he last played nine years ago – it seemed to ignite the Isotopes.
“It was awesome, wasn’t it?” said a grinning Isotopes manager Warren Schaeffer after the game.
“When those lights turn on (and) that game starts with that first pitch, I can tell Todd enjoys it. It’s good for him to be here and to be with the boys and sticking up for the guys. He’s just one of the guys and we love having him here.”
Luckily for Helton, who is not used to having to watch games from a clubhouse television after being ejected only twice in a 17-year, 2,247-game MLB career, Thursday’s Isotopes game lasted just 2 hours, 22 minutes.
That’s much quicker than the 2021 average time for an Isotopes game of 3:07 or of the Pacific Coast League average in 2021 of 3:10.
In fact, if you’ve been to any minor league game since April 16, you might have noticed games are moving along much more quickly now that penalties on pitchers and hitters are being assessed for excessive delays between pitches.
Through 355 minor league games this season before rules began to be enforced and penalties assessed on April 16, the average game time was 2 hours, 59 minutes.
In the first three days after (April 16-19), the average dropped to 2:39.
For the Isotopes, the first nine games before April 16 averaged 3:11, and the 12 games since penalties were being enforced have averaged 2:33 – a 38-minute improvement and a 34-minute improvement over the Isotopes average 2021 game time of 3:07.
“The first couple of series (since the rule was in effect), it didn’t really affect us at all,” Schaeffer said. “This series, it’s affecting us. We’ve seen a couple guys get punched out – third strike – without even getting a chance to swing at a baseball, which I don’t think is right. There needs to be some sort of adjustment with that.
“But the pace of play has been great. I love that the games are quicker. I think they’re probably more interesting for the fans in today’s age. But there’s always room for adjustments because I don’t think the hitter has enough time to think.”
Isotopes catcher Brian Serven, who has five home runs in his last four games, including two on Thursday, knows the new rule well from both aspects – how it is affecting pitchers and hitters.
“I feel rushed, no doubt. I think everyone does,” Serven said referring to hitters. But then he added that for the most part, he feels it has kept pitchers in a good rhythm, working fast.
While there are multiple layers to the new rules, the meat and potatoes: Pitchers now have 19 seconds from the end of one play to start their windup for the next pitch. Hitters are required to be in the batter’s box and ready with nine seconds remaining on that 19-second pitch clock – which is now displayed largely on the outfield wall and behind the hitters for all to see.
A violation by the pitcher leads to a ball being added to the count. A violation by the hitter leads to a strike being assessed. And it’s not just the game that is affected.
Isotopes marketing staff is now trying to fire all their T-shirts in the stands before play resumes, the chile and taco mascots have to run faster between innings, and even the radio broadcast sounds different.
“You have to change your broadcast,” Isotopes play-by-play broadcaster Josh Suchon said. “We’ve gotten in the habit of having to tell all these stories between pitches. And now, at least initially, you find yourself talking so fast because of the game and you don’t let it breathe. So, there’s less info you can get in between pitches, but that’s OK. But it is an adjustment.”
IT’S ABOUT TIME
NOTE: Isotopes data compiled by Albuquerque Isotopes broadcaster Josh Suchon.