Al Sicard of Saco was none too happy to hear that extra innings at Portland Sea Dogs games this season will begin with a runner placed on second base.

“Why stop there?” asked Sicard, 60, a self-described baseball purist. “If you want to speed up the games, why not take the best player on each team and let them hit home runs until someone wins?”

Other fans in southern Maine had a similar take on Minor League Baseball’s announcement Wednesday of changes designed to enhance the pace of play. Among them are curbing the number of trips to the pitcher’s mound by coaches and players, and reducing the pitch clock to 15 seconds with no runners on base.

But the rule change involving extra innings really struck a nerve with fans.

“It’s just a bad idea. It sounds really bizarre to me,” said Caleb Mason, 62, of Cape Elizabeth. “Those other rules, about pitch clocks and mound visits, affect the subtleties of the game. But there’s nothing subtle about this.”

Caleb Mason, 62, of Cape Elizabeth, says the new minor league rule that extra innings will start with a man on second base is a bad idea. “It messes with the sanctity of the game,” he said. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Minor League Baseball President Pat O’Connor said the reason is to lessen “the impact that lengthy extra innings games have on pitchers, position players and an entire organization.” In other words, these guys may be headed to the majors, don’t wear them out.

But what about the impact on fans? Especially hard-core fans who love the game for what it is, not what it might be with 21st-century tweaks. The other changes announced Wednesday don’t give one team an advantage, a head start. They don’t artificially manipulate the game, the way that putting a runner on second does.


“We’ve had to do that sometimes in Little League, so an extra inning game won’t go too long, but doing it with professionals? That’s absurd,” said Dick Matthews, 51, a longtime Little League volunteer in South Portland. “These are guys being prepared for the major leagues. They can hit a home run at anytime. I can’t imagine they need someone to put a runner on second for them.”

In fact, Matthews argues, putting a runner on second to start an inning could make games last longer. Any good minor league hitter will be able to bunt that runner to third. Then another competent player will be able to hit a long fly ball, a sacrifice fly, to score the runner. Then in the bottom of the inning, the other team will do the same thing. It could go on forever.

Baseball purists love extra innings. Some of Mason’s most cherished childhood memories are of secretly listening to the Boston Red Sox on a transistor radio in his bedroom as they played on the West Coast. He’d be up way past his bedtime, then the game would go extra innings, and he’d listen in a dream-like state deep into the night.

Brianna Volk, 36, of Portland, calls extra innings “free baseball.” She and her husband, who together own the local restaurants Portland Hunt & Alpine Club and Little Giant, have season tickets at Hadlock Field. They have two young children and love to spend summer nights watching baseball, as long as they can.

As a minor league fan, Volk has empathy for the new rule, since the minors are about developing players, not working them hard to get the win. But what if this becomes a big-league rule some day? Major league officials have been eager to speed up the game for years, claiming younger fans don’t like the slow pace. Last year the average length of a game was 3 hours, 5 minutes – the longest in major league history. This season, major league teams will be imposing a six-visit limit to the pitcher’s mound, by player or coach. Double-A clubs such as the Sea Dogs will be allowed eight mound visits.


Pitch clocks were first put in use in the upper levels of the minor leagues three years ago, with pitchers having 20 seconds to come to a set position. In Triple-A and Double-A games, the time is being adjusted to 15 seconds this year when no runners are on base and to 20 seconds with runners on.

Mason says he doesn’t think the new extra innings rule will stop him from watching the Sea Dogs, and he’ll enjoy the games just as much. But he definitely doesn’t want to see this rule ever make it to the majors.

“They really don’t want to be messing around with extra innings there. Extra innings are fun. When a position player has to come in to pitch, that’s fun,” said Mason. “One of the things that fans love and makes baseball stand out is that there is no clock. You just play on.”

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

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