USPBL introducing 2:30 time limit, starting Thursday
Purists say the beauty of baseball is the lack of a clock.
The United Shore Professional Baseball League, however, isn't so sure.
Starting Thursday, the four-team league based in Utica will install a two-and-a-half-hour time limit for all of its public games, which are played Thursday-Sunday at Jimmy John's Field. No new inning will start after the 2:25 mark.
The league, known for its fan-friendly atmosphere and family-friendly pricing, is in its third year, and officials started discussing the idea of a time limit a couple years ago.
"If you've been to some of our games, we have a preponderance of young families, and young families can only stay so long, particularly with a night game," said Andy Appleby, founder of the league, which began with three teams and now has four.
"Nothing pains me more to see a family leave before fireworks, or before a kid gets a chance to run the bases.
"The beauty of this is it really doesn't change the game. A lot of people talk about doing seven-inning games, but what's great about this is our full intention is to do nine-inning games. We still think the vast majority of our games will be nine innings.
"We're not messing with the fabric of the game."
The average USPBL game this year is right around two hours, 47 minutes, so the time limit is just under that.
The team leading after the time limit has been reached will be declared the winner. In the event the game is tied, there are plans in the works for a tiebreaker — though the USPBL doesn't plan to introduce those until next season. For now, tie games will be suspended, and finished in a non-public session.
Justin Orenduff, director of baseball operations for the USPBL, said next year's tiebreaker wouldn't be quite as extreme as a Home Run Derby — think, shootout in hockey — but something close, and something that will be done in 10 minutes or less.
"It will kind of pit the best players on the team against one another," Orenduff said.
Thursday, Friday and Saturday games in the USPBL begin at 7:05 p.m., while Sunday games have a first pitch of 1:05 p.m.
Fireworks typically follow games on Friday nights. After every game, kids run the bases.
"There's plenty of games that we play that are under the two-and-a-half-hour mark," Orenduff said. "But Andy, he can walk out in the fifth and sixth inning, and he can get the feel of the relative time that a family is willing to stay and watch the ballgame. Especially if it's the sixth inning and it's 9:15 or 9:30, and you start thinking, 'Well, we've got swim practice in the morning. If we stay till 10, how's that gonna dictate the rest of our day tomorrow?'
"If we play smooth, we're going to get nine innings in anyway."
Orenduff, who planned to tell the players about the new time limit Tuesday, said the clock will put an emphasis on pace of play among said players, who already are urged to run on and off the field between innings and stay in the batter's box during at-bats. There's already a pitch clock being used.
The time limit could have a positive impact from a baseball side of things, as well, said Orenduff, who has seen 21 USPBL players sign with major-league organizations — the latest, right-handed pitcher Tyler Palm, with the Minnesota Twins. This will be an incentive for pitchers to pound the strike zone and play to contact, he said.
From a non-baseball standpoint, alcohol sales at Jimmy John's Field have run through the seventh inning. The USPBL is likely to change that cutoff to the two-hour mark of each ballgame.
Pace of play has been a hot topic in baseball circles for the last several years, as interest in Major League Baseball has waned, especially among younger fans. MLB in 2016 cut down breaks between half-innings, and this year limited mound visits by catchers and coaches after 2017 saw the highest game-time average in history (3:05). MLB also is strongly considering introducing a pitch clock in the near future.
Changes are tougher to make throughout the higher levels, but the beauty for Appleby is the USPBL is independent and his own toy, and he can experiment anyway he sees fit.
"From a family perspective, I want everything to be perfect, and I want the baseball to be great as well," Appleby said. "We've got this wonderful thing going.
"And now we're implementing something here we think will be extremely well-received by our fans, even from a purist's perspective."