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Play Ball ... And Hurry Up: MLB Changes To Speed Up The Game

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Spring training for Major League Baseball started this week. If you're living somewhere where it's actually warm, you might have heard someone saying play ball. And as of today, you might also hear them say hurry up. Baseball officials have announced new rules to speed up major league games. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins me now to talk about the changes. Hi, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hello, Kelly.

MCEVERS: So, OK, what's the big deal here? I mean, I thought baseball was supposed to be laid-back. What's the problem?

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Too laid-back - that's the problem. People who run baseball have been talking about this for a while, so speed up the game as a way to modernize it, to make it relevant to a younger generation that doesn't have a very long attention span. You know, baseball's doing pretty well right now, but the new commissioner, Rob Manfred, knows there's a challenge to maintain interest in the game. And he has two key mandates - get more kids to play the game and make it faster for those who watch. The average time of a major league game has grown to over three hours. They want to get that average to under three and the idea is to make the game crisper by, you know, nipping and tucking 15 seconds here, 10 seconds there. And that'll add up to a number of minutes taken off the clock. Kelly, yeah, hold on a second, would you?

MCEVERS: What.

GOLDMAN: (Clapping) Come on. Come on. Good answer. Good answer. Let's go. All right.

MCEVERS: Tom.

GOLDMAN: OK, Kelly, I'm back, fire away.

MCEVERS: What - oh, OK, wait. I think I see what you're doing. You're illustrating what baseball officials consider to be one of the big time wasters. This is batters stepping away from the microphone. I'm sorry. I mean, the batter's box. Tell me about that.

GOLDMAN: Did you like my little illustration?

MCEVERS: (Laughter) I get it.

GOLDMAN: OK. Yes, you know, you can probably call this the batter's box rule, the Nomar Garciaparra rule. Most fans remember the great Boston Red Sox shortstop. He'd take a pitch and then step out of the box. He'd tighten his batting gloves. He'd adjust his helmet. He'd adjust everything if you know what I mean. So the new rule says a batter has to keep at least one foot in the box between pitches. Now, there are exceptions. A batter can step completely out if, for instance, he swings at a pitch or a close pitch forces him out of the box. But they mainly want to avoid a batter taking a pitch and then stepping out. And there are some other hurry up rules announced today. Timers or clocks in the stadium will monitor the break time between innings and pitching changes. So right after the third out of an inning, a timer will count down from about two-and-a-half minutes and by the end of that countdown the pitcher has to be throwing a pitch so they're back in play.

MCEVERS: OK, so what - so we have these new rules starting in the spring - in the spring training games. What happens if you break them?

GOLDMAN: The rules will be enforced through a warning and fine system. Major League Baseball confirms that fines can reach up to $500, and if you're a flagrant violator, you could be suspended. But Major League Baseball stresses the main goal is not to punish, but change behaviors so games will be faster.

MCEVERS: I'm sorry, Tom, sorry, sorry. Time's up, time's up. That's it. We're good.

GOLDMAN: Oh, OK.

MCEVERS: Yeah, hurry up, time's up. That's NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Thank you.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.