Tuesday, March 04, 2014


"Yer Out! No, I mean Safe! Wait, let me check on that!"

                                                       Flags over Hammond Field

There was a certain buzz yesterday in the press box at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers. It is the spring training home of the Minnesota Twins, and they were entertaining the Toronto Blue Jays. The sun was shining, the grass was a brilliant emerald, and there was nary a cloud in the sky.

Many were watching the game with baited breath for the first challenge to a play to be done by replay. This is the first season that many of the judgements of the umpires are being called into question, with the hopes that a televised replay will supply a view that will be ruled official.

It happened at 3:06pm. I know that the time was correct because it was murmured throughout the box. “Did you get the time?” one mumbled. “Are you sure?” another asked. It was being treated as some sort of historical moment. One scribe even commented before the replay decision that it was “ just another exhibition game”.

The Twins’ sixth inning began with back to back singles from Jorge Polanco and Kennys Vargas. Eric Fryer smashed a ground ball towards third base. Brett Lawrie dove for the ball, tagged the base, and threw to second to complete the double play. It was the second outstanding double play in the sixth, as the Twins had done the same to the Jays. With two out, Chris Rahl hit a sharp ball to short. Munenori Kawasaki’s throw to first base was a little high, and Jared Goedert had to stretch to make the play. The first base umpire ruled that Goedert was not on the base when the runner touched the bag, using the two handed sweeping signal.

                                                          Munenori Kawasaki # 66

John Gibbons, the Blue Jays manager, strolled from the dugout towards first base. That’s when the buzz became a mild crescendo. “Is he really going to do it? Is the machine going to make the call? Is baseball ready for the twenty-first century?” Yes, emphatically.

                                                               Decision Making Time!

The first base umpire and the home plate umpire went to the side of the Blue Jays dugout, donned head sets, and waited for the verdict from the truck. Until the season begins, all replay decisions will be made on-site, in trucks with proper replay facilities. The regular season replays will be done in New York, at a studio set up at Major League Baseball Headquarters. The decision took two minutes and thirty four seconds. No kidding. It was announced for the scribes. The safe sign.

Fieldin Culbreth was the umpire at first base. Brian O’Nara was in the truck. O’Nara said that he looked at two different replays. One of the replays was blurry, while the other one clearly showed that Goedert’s foot was not on the bag when the runner touched.

After the game, Rahl talked about his role in this monumental moment in baseball. (My italics!) “It’s pretty exciting. It’s one of those things where I was just trying to hustle and beat it out, just trying to get to that inside corner of the bag. I didn’t really get a good look if he pulled or not off first. When the coach came out and they went to the replay, I was thinking: Maybe I’m the first one. This could be kind of cool.”

Goedert laughed when asked if this was something he would tell his grandchildren about. “Maybe so. I’d probably tell them I was part of history, and then tell them to guess why. And I’ll bet they won’t guess that.
                                                                       Jared Goedert       

Gibbons used his second appeal later in the game, to no avail. Again, not much fanfare. A couple of steps away from the dugout, the umpire made the safe sign. I suppose if there had been a change, he would have thumbed the runner out. Hopefully, no umpire will extend his arms, palms up. ‘We’re just not sure about this one.” A little humour.

                                            Post game....just checking on that call!

Baseball is catching up with the other major sports in this regard. All critical hockey replay decisions are made in Toronto. NFL decisions are made on the field, with dialogue from off-field officials. NBA replays are judged on court. The world of soccer needs to study these examples. Due to the number of theatrical performances on a soccer pitch, the nebulous judgement of officials on offside calls, and questionable goal mouth decisions, the officials of the beautiful game have plenty of homework.

By the way, the Jays got trounced 12-2. Lefty J. A. Happ made his second appearance this spring. He was not sharp in the first inning, walking four batters, giving up two hits, allowing four runs. The first question that a scribe asked him in the interview situation after his performance was, “Are there any positives you can take from your start?” It really is an uncomfortable situation. He was shelled in his first spring appearance. He spent much of last season rehabbing. On May 7th in Tampa Bay, he suffered a skull fracture when struck by a line drive off the bat of Desmond Jennings; however, he also injured his knee, and spent three months on the shelf.

Happ did say that he needed to be “more aggressive in the zone.” He said that he was anxious to go out there and do it again, but that he needed to rely more on his fielders. He added, “I felt like I was making good pitches. I plan to treat this season the way that I treated the start from last season. I feel like I am more confident with my position with the team this year.” When asked about the instant reply, he added, “Hopefully, it won’t slow the pace down too much.”

The Jays headed to Clearwater to face the Phillies today, with a game against the Pirates in Dunedin on Wednesday.

James Hurst.
March 4, 2014 

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