The beginning of a new baseball

The beginning of a new baseball

Loading player The new season of the North American baseball championship, the Major League (MLB), began on Thursday with the traditional Opening Day. The Opening Day is a very heartfelt event in the United States, and for many it is equivalent to a national holiday, so much so that cyclically someone proposes to make it such. This year, for the first time since 1968, all thirty teams in the league played: the day began on the East Coast with the New York Yankees-San Francisco Giants and ended on the West Coast with the Seattle Mariners-Cleveland Guardians. After the significant innovations introduced in recent years, also in response to scandals and cheating that have become too frequent, this Major League season is particularly awaited because, as the league itself claims, the game of baseball “will change as it has never happened in recent times ». MLB is the oldest sports league born in America. Baseball was once the most popular sport, but since the 1960s it has been supplanted and then largely superseded by football. Now the title of second national sport is shared with basketball, and the same goes for the two respective championships of reference. However, unlike the NBA, which compensates for the recent drop in national audiences with the large following it has obtained abroad, the Major League has remained rather confined in its bubble, where interests and audiences do not grow and indeed often decrease. The desolate stands for an Oakland Athletics game (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) Baseball is in a certain sense forced to remain isolated also because of the characteristics that make it a sport conceptually very different from the more widespread ones, and similar only to those where you hit a ball with a bat: basically just cricket. In fact, the most followed disciplines globally share certain basic characteristics that make them understandable or at least familiar even at first glance: a rectangular field divided in half, two teams lined up facing each other who must overcome each other in order to win, carrying or throwing a ball at a pre-established point (a goal, a basket, an end area). In baseball, this assumption does not hold. The scheme of the game roughly foresees two players of the same team (thrower and receiver) who throw a ball within a diamond-shaped field, and an opponent between them (the hitter) who tries to hit it to have time to earn positions (the bases) which, if covered, all become points. This scheme is made even more complex and articulated by a whole series of rules, customs and traditions inherited over more than a century of history. All this has contributed to making baseball a very popular sport in certain limited areas of the world, but at the same time it has not allowed for a more homogeneous diffusion: among the big North American leagues, the Major League remains the least popular outside the United States United. In recent decades in particular, the singularity of baseball has been a major limit to the expansion of the game, and therefore of the leagues. One of the main problems concerns the tempo: there are very long pauses, interludes and bland rhythms that don’t go along with the tastes and tendencies of today’s audience, especially the younger one. In addition to not predicting draws, baseball’s active game moments are continuously broken up by the time allowed for players to follow procedures that may concern warm-up, preparation, discussions with teammates and coaches or studying opponents (which often becomes a psychological challenge at a distance). During the 2018 World Series — the championship finals and therefore the most anticipated event of the season — all of this took the Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox to finish a game in seven hours and twenty minutes. The new rules that will change baseball this year mainly concern these aspects: tempo, speed and fluidity of the game. The first of these new rules imposes time limits on pitchers and hitters as well. Pitchers will have 15 seconds to pitch with empty bases, or 20 with bases occupied by opponents. If they do not respect the times they will be penalized with a pitch in favor of the batter (ball) which will bring the opponents closer to conquering the bases. The batsmen, on the other hand, must be ready to serve when the timer reaches 8 seconds. Failure to do so will count as a strike, and if third, result in out. The new “pitch timers” (AP Photo/Morry Gash) The second rule concerns the so-called defensive shifts, the term which indicates the practice of arranging players on the pitch according to the characteristics of the opponent’s hitter, for example whether he is right or left-handed. From this year the shifts will be prohibited: this means that the layout on the field will be distributed more or less in the same way in the presence of each hitter, who will therefore have more chances of making valid hits. Conversely, this change will complicate things for the defending team. The other rule concerns the white squares that indicate the bases, which have been enlarged by about 7 centimeters per side. It’s a significant increase, considering that until now, determining whether a player was in the game or not was often counted in millimeters. With larger bases the game becomes more dynamic, but above all MLB counts on avoiding many injuries caused by frequent clashes between players (and consequently other interruptions to the game). In addition to these three new rules, there are other secondary ones that go in the same direction. For example, there will be a limit to pitches directed not towards the batters, but towards the bases occupied by runners: a way to eliminate them more quickly, which however fragments and excludes the hits. As for the calendar, however, the number of matches between the same teams will be reduced. For organizational reasons, in fact, each team used to meet the same four teams from its geographical division for most of the 162 regular season games. With the introduction of a more balanced calendar, this year, for the first time with the current league composition, all teams will play each other at least once, and some of them even abroad: in Mexico City and London . Baseball at the London Olympic Stadium in 2019 (Dan Istitene/Getty Images) These innovations usher in a new era for baseball and add to those introduced in recent years, especially last season: the expansion of the playoffs from 10 to 12 teams and above all a new electronic device to avert cases such as the scandal of the stolen signals of a few years ago, when the Houston Astros were discovered using a ploy, even a rather artisanal one, to decipher the pitch signals that the opposing receivers made with hands to teammates on the mound. The device is called PitchCom and is a small button that the receiver wears on the forearm to communicate to the pitcher the type of pitch to be made via an audio signal. Otherwise, the regular baseball season will have the same rather slow but at the same time hectic pace and still difficult to understand for those accustomed to European sports. Until 5 October, the games will be played every day, more or less at every hour of the day: some teams will even do it twice in the space of 24 hours. The defending champions are the Houston Astros, considered among the favorites again this year together with the Atlanta Braves, San Diego Padres, Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Dodgers and the two New Yorkers, Mets and Yankees, with the latter still chasing victory of a title that has been missing for 14 years despite the huge investments. Finally, at a certain point in the season, a sponsor could appear for the first time even on the famous striped Yankees uniforms. In fact, the latest big news in baseball is that from this year the thirty Major League teams will be able to apply a sponsor’s logo on the sleeves of their uniforms. Some have already found and sewn them, others not yet, but they will be able to do so during the season. – Read also: Even baseball uniforms will have sponsors



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