VIERA, Fla. - In a couple of hours, I’ll be making the trip over to Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, spring home of the Astros.
It was in that stadium last year when the Astros’ mascot walked right up to the front of the press box, stood directly in front of me, tapped on the glass and creepily started waving at me.
Talk about nightmare city. That’s the type of image that will haunt your dreams, right there.
Fourteen games into spring training, the Nationals finally will get their first taste of instant replay this afternoon in Kissimmee. Each major league team gets six spring training games with instant replay, as a chance to get familiar with the process and work out the kinks before the system is implemented in games that matter.
Even though the Nats have split-squad games today, with the other game in Lake Buena Vista against the Braves, they’re sending their entire major league staff to Kissimmee for the game against the Astros. The goal - get everyone comfortable with replay.
Billy Gardner Jr., the new manager at Triple-A Syracuse, will skipper the other split-squad game against Atlanta. Tanner Roark starts for the Nats against the Astros, and Chris Young will start against the Braves. (Former Nats righty Yunesky Maya will get the ball for Atlanta, his third spring appearance against Washington.)
Regardless of whether a team is at home or on the road this year, it will have access to a video system in its clubhouse during the game, which will allow team personnel to closely take a look at plays and then have someone alert a uniformed staffer in the dugout if it’s worth using a challenge.
The Nats have decided to have advance scouting and video coordinator Erick Dalton and advance scouting assistant Christopher Rosenbaum be in charge of monitoring the video feeds, and those two will have a phone line to the dugout, where they will communicate with bench coach Randy Knorr.
If Dalton, Rosenbaum and Knorr feel that it’s worth using a challenge in a particular situation, they’ll alert manager Matt Williams, who might already be out on the field arguing a call or discussing a situation with umpires at the time. Williams will need to be able to see the dugout to get the signal that he should challenge, so he’s joked about having to get the umpires to spin around at times, so that the Nats skipper can argue a call while still facing the dugout.
It will be an interesting process and a number of moving parts will be involved, which is why the Nats are looking forward to getting to work on the system this spring.
“I wish we had five (challenges) a game, because it’s good practice for us,” Williams said. “It’s good practice for everybody. But yeah, if there’s a questionable call, we are going to challenge that call during the course of our spring games so we get a sense of what it is and how we’re going to go about doing it.
“There’s also the opportunity to go out there and talk to them and not have to necessarily use a challenge. So far, the umpires have told us that they’re willing to do that, because ultimately they want to get it right, as well. So we’re here, we might as well do it and get accustomed to it so everybody can have experience with it. So that’s the plan.”
There’s all kinds of strategy that goes into the new challenge system, particularly involving when teams want to decide to use their challenge. Each team only gets one per game, unless it gets that one right. If the team’s one challenge is successful, it then gets another.
The challenges must be used before the end of the sixth inning. After that, only the umpires can decide to go to video replay to review a call. Umpires can also review a play on their own before the end of the sixth inning without a team needing to challenge, but once the seventh inning begins, video replay can only be asked for by the umpires.
“The question becomes, you use (the challenge) in the first, then you don’t have it in the sixth,” Williams said. “But if you’re sure about it (and get it right), then you have another one. So that’s the caveat to it. If you’re sure that the call should go your way, and the umpires saw it differently on the field, then you might as well use it, because you’re going to get another opportunity. So the sticky one is the one that’s questionable.”
There are a lot of people involved in the review process, a lot of different ways for things to go wrong and a lot of factors that a manager must consider when determining whether or not he wants to use a challenge. The good news, of course, is that this system hopefully will mean more plays are called correctly, which is the goal in all of this.
So is the review process something that Williams is excited about utilizing? Is he wary of all the issues that can come into play?
“I’m looking forward to it because it is what it is,” Williams said. “It’s part of our game right now, and we have to do it. So I’m excited about that. ... Messy? No, I don’t think it’s messy. I’m looking forward to the opportunity for us to potentially get a call changed our way and win a game.
“There’s so many checks and balances there. What does Erick think? What does Randy think? What does it mean for our team? What are my thoughts on it? All those come into play before you make a decision, yes, no or indifferent. It’ll be interesting.”
Today’s quote of the day, written atop the daily schedule sheet: “Without winners, there wouldn’t even be a civilization.”