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.

An infield fly and the ‘archaic’ rules of baseball

double shift
Albuquerque’s infielders are playing a radical shift during Saturday’s game with only one player between second and third base.

A fun thing about watching a baseball game is you can count on seeing an outstanding fielding play or an unusual circumstance during any given game.

It happened Saturday night in the bottom of the fourth inning at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in the game between the Albuquerque Isotopes and our OKC Dodgers.

As I sat with my friend Casey Harness, the infield fly rule was called on a popup by OKC’s Kevin Pillar with runners on first and second base.

Albuquerque’s first baseman attempted to field the high popup, but it bounced off his glove. The umpire’s fist and thumb were already up signaling an out. The runners never moved.

play by playI’ve witnessed many similar situations at games throughout the years, but can’t recall when an infielder missed the ball with runners on base and the infield fly rule was invoked.

It’s not that I was unaware of the infield fly rule or knew that it was in effect on a popup with runners on base and less than two outs.  Read more about the infield fly rule here.

It’s that it is so rarely invoked because fielders at this level rarely misplay a popup in the infield like that.

Casey, who is a long-time Dodgers season ticket holder and has attended far more games in recent seasons than me, questioned the call. Why was the batter out before the ball even hit the ground? Why weren’t the runners running?

Well, if the fielder purposely dropped the ball and there was no infield fly rule, the Isotopes could have easily turned a double play. Maybe a triple play if things fell right.

Casey was not satisfied with that answer.

“This is archaic, unnecessary and downright confusing,” he said.

OK, but baseball was created in the 1800s and the rules were developed long ago. They (mostly) make sense to me.

casey
OKC Dodgers season ticket holder Casey Harness at the April 9 game between the Dodgers and the Isotopes.

Turns out, Casey has other ideas to make the game more interesting. He’s been watching a lot of women’s softball because the OU women’s team has been so dominant in recent years. Especially this year, when they are still undefeated and currently 36-0.

“Why not eliminate the pitching mound so pitchers don’t have the advantage of throwing downhill?” Casey opined at one point during the game.  “Softball pitchers don’t need that advantage.”

“Are you going to let them move up to 43 feet?” I asked?

“Sure, if they want to pitch underhand.” (Smirk).

OK, Casey, you’ve gone a bridge too far.

Instead of the infield fly rule or the pitching mound, we could be arguing over the dramatic infielder shift that has gained popularity in recent years. If you squint at the photo at the top of this post, you will see that there is only one infielder to the left of second base.

The shift is designed to take away hitting lanes for left handed batters and has a lot of detractors. Rules changes may be soon coming.

Meanwhile, let’s enjoy softball for what it is and let baseball continue to entertain us with its sometimes quirky rules like the one that results in an automatic out when the ball is put in play.

We can live with the infield fly rule.

A Vintage coffee shop idea for the 2020s

Ed Coffee
Ed Godfrey enjoying his newspaper at a local coffee shop this past Spring

My friend Ed Godfrey may look like he hit his prime as a Stigler High School football star back in the 1970s, but he’s really a guy full of ideas for the 2020s

Ed and I like to meet in coffee shops across the OKC metro and solve the world’s problems over a cup of Joe.

Ed takes his coffee black, thank you very much.

Anyway, we were sitting in a local bagel place last week talking about a new family-owned coffee shop some friends of mine recently launched in Bethany. It’s called MentaliTEA and Coffee. The owners are Steve and Lisa Buck and their daughter Avery.

I had already sampled the Bucks’ new shop, and Ed wanted to know what it offered.

bucks shop2
MentaliTEA and Coffee

I responded that it offered a relaxing setting with great spots for conversation, along with the usual coffee shop menu of drip coffees, various espresso drinks, teas and pastries. It even offers hot biscuits.

Ed thought about that for a few seconds.

“I think we ought to open up our own coffee shop,” he finally said. “We’ll call it Vintage Coffee. No espresso machine. No fancy pastries. Donuts only.”

I laughed at the thought of a straight coffee-only coffee shop run by a couple of old school geezers.

“We’re going to offer only Folgers, Maxwell House and Sanka, which was my father’s favorite coffee,” Ed continued. “It’s like a step back in time.”

SankaHe was rolling now. It would be located not in the heart of the metro, but in a rural community where they might still appreciate coffee out of a can the way their fathers and grandfathers drank it

“We don’t need any baristas, either,” he said. “Pour it into a cup and stir it up.”

I was already seeing Formica countertops.

Ed also is the guy who had the excellent idea to connect community events across Oklahoma like the Rush Springs Watermelon Festival with the Oklahoma City Dodgers baseball team.

We haven’t seen any watermelon seed-spitting contests yet as between-inning entertainment, but it could happen.

Ed’s already working on outreach for his coffee shop concept.

He knows that I’ve worked for years with the Love’s Entrepreneur’s Cup collegiate business plan competition. It’s an event in which teams of students from college campuses across Oklahoma pitch innovative ideas to panels of judges with thousands of dollars of cash prizes on the line.

“Maybe one of those college teams could take this idea and win the Love’s Cup,” Ed said.

It could happen.

I’m officially on the Tulsa Noodlers bandwagon

Rush Springs
I’m loading up on cold, juicy watermelon at the Rush Springs Watermelon Festival back in 2016

Five years ago this summer, my daughter and I took a short road trip down to Southwest Oklahoma to experience the famous Rush Springs Watermelon Festival.

We had a blast. The crowd was huge, the watermelon cold and delicious. We saw humongous melons that were entered in a beauty contest. We wandered through dozens of flea-market style booths and witnessed a seed spitting contest that was open to all comers.

A few days later, I attended an Oklahoma City Dodgers baseball game with my friend, Ed Godfrey, and told him all about the wonders of the Watermelon Festival.

As we watched one of the fan contests the Dodgers roll out nightly for its between innings entertainment — as do most minor league teams — Ed suddenly had an idea.

Why don’t the Dodgers incorporate the Watermelon Festival into the team’s between innings entertainment, he asked.

Before long, Ed was envisioning a marketing tie-in that included a seed-spitting contest for Dodgers fans while promoting Rush Springs and the Festival.

Ed was right on the mark. The Dodgers are missing a huge opportunity by not teaming up with a Rush Springs Watermelon Festival or any of the dozens of festivals around the state that celebrate everything from peaches to cowchips to Woody Guthrie.

Turns out, Ed’s opining has turned into prophesy.

We learned this afternoon that the Tulsa Drillers are celebrating Oklahoma’s reputation as a “noodling” paradise for a weekend series August 12-15.

The Drillers are the Double A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers and will actually take the field as the Tulsa Noodlers during their Noodling Weekend, complete with special-for-the occasion uniforms.

For those who are unfamiliar with the term, Noodling is the fine art of fishing for catfish with your hands. As the Outdoors Editor of The Oklahoman, Ed recently featured an Oklahoma family that makes its living as noodling guides.

Noodlers.Naturally, the Drillers are selling custom Noodlers caps and T-Shirts to mark the occasion.

Ed was among the first in line for the merchandise.

“My Tulsa Noodlers cap has been ordered,” he told me this afternoon.

We’re even planning a road trip to see the Tulsa Noodlers in action next month.

Calling all fans of hillbilly handfishing. There’s still plenty of room on the Noodlers bandwagon.