During a recent game between the Skeeters and Blue Crabs at 4,000-seat Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf, players still stepped out of the batter’s box with both feet and adjusted their gloves. (“Occasionally, it’s going to happen,” Blue Crabs General Manager Patrick Day said. “These guys have habits.”) When Ballard hit a batter and allowed a single in the fifth inning, he took nearly 18 seconds in between pitches, removing his cap, wiping sweat from his forehead and pacing around the rubber. A coaching visit took 28 seconds.
Blue Crabs starting pitcher Daryl Thompson, 27, a La Plata native and former Nationals farmhand, said he feels pitchers have picked up their tempo on the mound this season. Outfielder Brian Barton, 31, who debuted with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2008, said his coaches are more aware of when he calls timeout in the batter’s box.
“It’s always good when you try to keep the intensity level high, and I think that’s one of the main things that keeps it fun,” he said. “I don’t think speeding anything up is a bad idea.”
Baseball, however, is a sport of traditionalists. Some players, such as Nationals first baseman and 10-year major league veteran Adam LaRoche, believe the sport should be left alone, and that the varying tempos of pitches is part of the chess match between a hitter and pitcher.
“I don’t know why anyone is concerned about it,” he said. “Fans are paying to come out here. I would assume when you pay to go do something, you want to get your money’s worth. If you got guys rushing off the field and ‘let’s get out of here,’ what’s the purpose of it? We have nowhere else to be. If you’re shaving 10 or 15 minutes off, that’s really not that much time. If it means guys are rushing or less pitching in between innings or mound visits, it’s all necessary. And they’ve been doing it for 100 years.”
Shaving 10 minutes off a 7 p.m. game on a weeknight is relatively little, and perhaps superficial, but Kirk said it helps.
“Just talking to fans, it has more of a psychological factor than a real factor,” he said. “Many fans who are frustrated about this, when the hitters are stepping out and adjusting the gloves and so forth, and they go to a game and that has stopped, they seem to feel it’s a better pace of the game. Even though that game may be a three-hour game. It just feels like it’s moving better.”