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Ways to Play examines new ways to play ball

Tournament brings travel teams together under different set of rules
October 7, 2018

COMPTON, Calif. -- This weekend, Major League Baseball and Perfect Game joined together at MLB's Compton Youth Academy for the first West Coast Ways To Play tournament, featuring eight of the top travel teams and some Draft prospects in Southern California and Las Vegas.But what made the Ways to Play

COMPTON, Calif. -- This weekend, Major League Baseball and Perfect Game joined together at MLB's Compton Youth Academy for the first West Coast Ways To Play tournament, featuring eight of the top travel teams and some Draft prospects in Southern California and Las Vegas.
But what made the Ways to Play tournament unique were the rules of play used in order to speed up the games, including batters entering the box with a 1-1 count, requiring batters to keep a foot in the box during their at-bats and eliminating the throwing of the ball around the bases between outs.
Additionally, though it wasn't a rule, all of the catchers were calling their own games. These conditions made for an excellent experiment and provided valuable information that will help direct the future of baseball, from Little League through high school and college and into the professional ranks.
Some experienced umpires were in attendance, including Derek Mollica, who has been a Triple-A crew chief and has umpired Major League Spring Training games as well as ACC and SEC games. Malachi Moore and Joe Gonazalez, both Minor League officials, also shared some of their thoughts on this event and baseball in general.
All agree with the need to speed the game up, though none wanted changes to the basic game.
"I think there are some improvements that could be made," Gonzalez said. "I think they went the right direction cutting down mound visits. We've been working with not throwing the ball around, and I think that's helping out."
One of the things on their mind -- though not part of this weekend -- was the use of pitching clocks in baseball.
"In Minor League baseball, we have clocks," Mollica said. "Clocks keep the guys moving. Guys are always looking at the clocks. Major League baseball has no clocks, so there's a lot of down time."
"Clocks are huge, because they have that visual out there that they can see, instead of someone saying, 'Hey let's go. Let's get moving. Hurry up,'" Moore pointed out that. "Actually seeing the clock winding down, I think makes a difference."
Requiring batters to stay in the box also had universal support among the umpires.
"In high school ball, these guys are walking around. In the collegiate level, they try to step out of the box, and we're keeping them in the box," Mollica said. "Minor Leagues you have to keep them in the box, so why not do that in the big leagues? Keeping them in the box is huge, because otherwise they walk around, the next pitch is in 10-15 seconds. Those at-bats can get long."

Of some disagreement was entering an at-bat in a 1-1 count, but Moore thought it was an interesting experience. 
"Starting with the 1-1 count, it obviously gets them into the game a little more," he said. "It gets us into the game a little more, because we're moving a lot more. It keeps everyone involved, which I think is good."
Mollica, however, thought it gave an unfair advantage to the pitcher.
"The 1-1 count: it's tough. You want to see a pitch first," he said. "There's no more seeing a pitch, because now you're down in the count and you're swinging at strike three, you're swinging at something down in the dirt, a curveball or something."
While starting with a 1-1 count is not anything that under consideration as anything other than an interesting experiment, Vice President of Youth and Facility Development for the MLB Darrell Miller thought it could be used in instructional leagues.
"That 1-1 count is the key count, and that's an important teaching lesson for pitchers and catchers," he explained. "That's the key pitch, that 1-1 count. So as they move forward, if we focus on what we do at 1-1, it's going to help them in the long run."
Catchers calling their own game was another aspect that was greeted with unanimous approval, both for speeding up the game and helping to develop young catchers.
"[Currently] we have to wait for the catcher to get his sign, and maybe the pitcher might shake him off," Moore said. "[With this rule,] he's got a better feel for the game than maybe someone who is not actually on the field."
And it isn't just the umpires who appreciate the change in pitch calling -- some of the catchers like it, too.
"If the coach was calling a game, he couldn't see things that I could see from the pitcher," Las Vegas Recruits catcher Benjamin Holzem said. "Just knowing your pitcher, having a good chemistry with him, that's very important."
"If you call the games early, you learn the game faster and a lot younger," added catcher Gabe Briones of CBA Marucci, who has committed to the University of Southern California for collegiate baseball.
Overall, this weekend showed that there are ways to shorten the length of a game. According to Perfect Game CEO Brad Clement, the average time of the nine inning games was about an hour and 50 minutes, and more importantly, as he put it, "There was more action and players and fans were more engaged."

Glenn Rabney is a contributor to MLB.com.