Fun at the ol’ ballyard with game on the clock

Altuve
That’s Houston Astros star Jose´ Altuve batting for Sugar Land against the OKC Dodgers on Friday night.

I saw something Friday evening at an Oklahoma City Dodgers game at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark that I’ve never witnessed before: A 9-inning professional baseball game played in 2 hours and 14 minutes.

And it was a fun, action-filled game between the Dodgers and the Sugar Land Space Cowboys that was won by OKC 3-2.

Thanks to new rules that mandate no more than 14 seconds between pitches — 18 if runners are on base — the game moved incredibly fast.

There seemed to be no complaints by players or managers over the mandated fast pace. However, there appeared to be a Sugar Land player called out at one point because he wasn’t ready for the pitch in time.

I was able to witness the Dodgers game thanks for my friend Steve Buck and two of his children. Steve had an extra ticket and invited me at the last minute.

Bucks
Steve Buck, along with Kenzy and Isaiah Buck at the Dodgers game Friday.

We had a blast and got to see the most exciting play in baseball — a triple — hit by Dodgers outfielder Drew Avans. The next time up Avans surprised the Space Cowboys by laying down a bunt and getting an easy single out of it.

We saw OKC’s Jake Lamb hit a 2-run home run in the third inning. We saw future baseball hall of famer José Altuve bat for Sugar Land on a rehab assignment. Altuve got a couple of singles, but also was called out on strikes.

Steve and I began to notice the incredible pace of the game after about three innings, which had taken maybe 40 minutes of playing time. We were headed into the fifth when the game reached an hour of playing time.

We saw three OKC pitchers hold Sugar Land to only single runs in the fifth and sixth innings, and nothing more. Then we watched Sugar Land’s Zac Rosscup shut down the Dodgers over the last 1.2 inning and noted that Rosscup has not given up a single run this season over 9 innings. Nothing but zeros.

We celebrated the seventh inning stretch by singing badly, then Googling the history of the seventh inning stretch because we wanted to know how it started. If you must know, it was started by President William Howard Taft at a game in Pittsburgh in 1910.

You can look it up yourself.

Even though we were tracking the swift pace of the game, the final three outs came so quickly in the 9th it caught us by surprise. We headed to our cars at 9:19 pm on a game that started at 7:05.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat through games that started at 7:05 and by 10 pm were only in the 7th or 8th innings.

It was a refreshing change, and appears to be more than a short-term trend.

FreedmanFor reference, here’s an article I found that shows just how much the pitch clock has impacted the length of games throughout the minor leagues.

Dodgers radio announcer and communications director Alex Freedman later tweeted that the Dodgers and Sugar Land games averaged — AVERAGED — 3 hours and 34 minutes last year. So far this year, the first five games have gone 2:51, 2:23, 2:58, 2:14 and 2:32.

Big difference.

I’m hoping that Major League Baseball will embrace the pitch clock ASAP.

Average time of MLB games this year so far: 3:07.

Fun at the ol’ ballyard — life returns to ‘normal’

Panoramic shot of Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark on 2021 Opening Night

Life as we knew it returned on Thursday, May 13. The Oklahoma City Dodgers opened the home portion of their 2021 season at the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.

My friend Casey Harness, a long-time season ticket holder, called me early in the afternoon and said he had an extra ticket with my name on it. I cleared it with the home office and agreed to join him at the park about 6:30 p.m.

Masks were optional, as it turned out.

Although the Dodgers lost the game (as they did all but one of their six season-opening road games), it was a special night. Seating was limited and spaced out, but the crowd of about 5,000 still brought enthusiasm and noise.

Here are the top 10 things that made it an awesome night for me:

FREEDOM: The Centers for Disease Control announced early Thursday that Americans like me who are fully vaccinated for the COVID-19 virus can shed their masks outdoors,  as well as in most indoor situations. I was conflicted upon first arriving at the ballpark. I wore my mask as I entered – as did about say, 30 percent of the people I saw – then took it off after entering the club level food area where I met Casey. I put the mask back on briefly as I waited in line for food, but then took it off and never wore it again the rest of the night.

FRIENDSHIP: On my left sat Casey Harness, my host who invited me to sit in his seats with him. Casey and I worked together at i2E, Inc., beginning in 2009 and have remained friends for over a decade.  On my right sat Ed Godfrey, a long time friend and colleague at The Oklahoman who was actually at the game to write an opening night fan experience story.

WEATHER: It was a spectacular night for baseball with clear skies and warm afternoon that cooled off after dark into a night that could still be enjoyed without any sort of jacket. The only thing missing was a giant full moon rise in the east.

CONVERSATION: One of the great things about watching a baseball game in person is that the pace is conversation friendly. Casey, Ed and I tackled all sorts of problems last night, including the OKC Thunder’s ongoing tanking dilemma. And the new largely unpopular baseball rules that put a man on second to start play in each extra inning. Oh, and the extreme defensive positioning that plagues all of baseball these days.

BALLPARK EATS: The tickets that Casey has come with unlimited food service, so our group sampled grilled burgers, chicken breast sandwiches, chicken strips, peanuts, M&Ms, beer, water and even a hot cup of coffee late in the game when there was a hint of a chill in the air.

FUN AT THE OL’ BALLYARD: The Dodgers have a fun bit between innings late in the game where fans dance (mostly) badly and cameras broadcast their (lack of) talent on the giant hi-def scoreboard screen. There were the usual kids dancing wildly, girls and then a couple of 20-something guys who suddenly ripped off their T-shirts like they were World Wide Wrestling contestants. Laughter erupted throughout the stands. Later, I spotted the shirtless guys sitting behind the first base dugout and giving the umpires the business. Must have been dollar beer night.

PREDICTIONS: The Sacramento River Cats – our foes for the night – had the bases full at one point with two outs. I offhandedly predicted a “weak ground ball to second” to end the inning. The batter ripped a hard ground shot just to the right of second, and the Dodgers’ second basemen made a great stop, got up and threw him out to end the inning. I took credit for calling it, of course.

HIGH-TECH: As far as I can tell, Dodgers tickets now are all digital and sent to your phone, which are then scanned when you enter the front gate. I put my ticket in my iPhone’s electronic wallet, then scanned the URL code at the entrance. It worked great. But have the folks still carrying flip phones been left behind?

FIREWORKS: The opening night game was followed by a spectacular opening night fireworks show that was incredibly loud. There are two hotels located just over the left field fence. The game ended about 10:30 p.m. Can you imagine the unexpected jolt that sleeping patrons received? Followed by angry calls to the front desk, I’m sure.

DO IT AGAIN: There’s not much time to wallow in self-pity after a baseball loss. Teams routinely play every night during a homestand, and this year teams are playing the same opponent six straight to cut down on travel during the pandemic. They do get Wednesdays off this season. Anyway, the Dodgers and River Cats are back at it again tonight. I’ll catch this one on the radio.