The expansion of the protective netting at Camden Yards and most ballparks meets the approval of Orioles reliever Darren O’Day, who’s been an advocate of it for many years. However, the possibility of Major League Baseball instituting a 20-second pitch clock brings the opposite reaction.
One out of two might have to suffice.
The Orioles are extending the netting from section 16 to section 58, though the exact dimensions will become official after further work with the design and engineering crew. They’re also increasing the coverage at Ed Smith Stadium, their spring training home in Sarasota.
“I’m very happy they’re putting those nets up,” O’Day stated at FanFest. “When I played in Texas, I saw tragic accidents happen there. They had to raise the railings. And I’ve seen fans over the years take some pretty bad hits from foul balls and I think it just makes too much sense to protect them. The bats and the balls and the speed at which the game is played, it’s not likely you’re going to get somebody away from Instagram on their phone to watch the game, so the nets are going to help.
“I’m really happy they did that. Nobody should have to fear for their safety or their kids’ safety when they come to a baseball game.”
Manager Buck Showalter also has campaigned for the extra netting and voiced his approval during the season ticket holder Q&A at FanFest after hearing concerns about autograph restrictions and reduced interaction with players during batting practice.
“Through the years, looking up in the stands and people sitting right behind our dugout, I see parents with a 1-year-old child, 2-year-old child, 4-year-old child, I cringe. They’re not even paying attention sometimes to what’s going on, a guy’s up to bat,” Showalter said.
“If you’ve seen some of the injuries I’ve seen in the stands from foul balls and stuff, I’m so glad that we’re putting up that netting. You talk about sucking the air ... it just kills everybody. If you notice our players, they know when somebody’s been hit up there. And if I’ve got a choice of maybe being able to see a little less and protecting my wife, my husband, my child or whatever, that’s easy. That’s easy.
“If it’s an autograph, our guys are good about it and we’ll figure out a way to continue to make it fan friendly. But there’s nothing more fan friendly that we can do than protect the fans.”
Executive vice president Dan Duquette pointed out that the netting will be expanded, in time for opening day on March 29, “for the comfort of the fans to be able to watch the game.”
“We always encourage our players to be available for the autographs,” he added. “A lot of the autographs, I’m sure you can go beyond the netting and still get autographs.”
One solution to the batting practice concerns would involve the installation of netting that can be adjusted in height prior to the first pitch. The plan at Yankee Stadium is to allow for the bottom portions to be upwardly retractable by up to three feet, again bringing fans closer to the players and increasing the chances of taking home a souvenir.
The top priority, however, is making sure no one goes home with a fractured skull.
Duquette said the ability to raise and lower the netting at Camden Yards “is a good idea that we could take a look at and consider.”
The idea of a pitch clock, which increased in probability after the union rejected commissioner Rob Manfred’s latest pace-of-play proposal, makes O’Day want to bang his head against the wall.
Manfred can unilaterally implement his initial proposal, including the 20-second pitch clock and a reduction in allowable mound visits.
The clock already has been used in the minors. Pitchers are charged with a ball if they go past the 20-second limit and hitters are charged a strike if they linger outside the batter’s box.
Among hurlers who exceeded 30 innings last year, O’Day ranked as the 10th-slowest by averaging 29.5 seconds between pitches, according to FanGraphs. Jeremy Hellickson was next on the Orioles staff at 27.5 seconds, but he’s a free agent and not expected to return.
“I’m not real excited about it,” said O’Day, the team’s union representative. “If you look at the numbers, I’m one of the slower guys, by as slow as 10 percent. There’s a lot that goes into that. It is that I’m methodical when I pitch, but I’m also out there thinking or I’m working with a catcher that maybe he’s never caught me before. Maybe we’re having a hard time with signs. We have teams that are stealing signs with video cameras now, so our sign system has to get more elaborate. So now it’s taking longer for us to get the pitches in.
“For me to have a pitch clock when I’ve got bases loaded and this is a major league baseball game ... there’s guys on base and I’m facing Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton, you don’t want to be, ‘Oh, gosh, here we go.’ So I’m not really excited about some aspects of it. I think it’s going to come in some form or another and we’ll find something we can agree on, hopefully. Luckily, I’ve been in part of the negotiations with MLB, so I’ve kind of seen how it’s evolved and hopefully we’ll get something done.
“I don’t want to be slow. I really don’t. Sometimes, there’s external factors that influence that, like I was saying before. You’re going to see guys using the loopholes. If you step off, the clock resets, so I could stand there for 19 seconds and catcher’s going to show me five different signs or whatever, 10 signs, and then I’m going to step off. Nobody wants to see that, and then you’re going to start the whole process over.
“I don’t know. They’re going to have to do something if it happens. I don’t think that’s the way they want to do it, but if they feel that strongly about it, then I guess they might have to. I don’t know.”
O’Day was waiting to receive the latest updates on negotiations and Manfred’s course of action.
“I’m not sure where it’s at right now,” he said. “I know they talked last week. I just don’t want them doing anything that fundamentally changes the game.
“I know everything needs tweaking every once in a while, but watching MLB Network (Friday) night and talking about baseball in the late ’60s and just watching it and hearing Earl Weaver talking about why baseball is the greatest game because you can’t just run the clock out, I was thinking, there’s never been a clock in baseball for all its history. You just hope there’s another way we can speed up games than having a shot clock.”
Adam Jones agrees.
“I get what they’re trying to do,” he said, “but at the same time you can’t speed up an artist.”
Showalter doesn’t find the pace to be a universal complaint. Only a select few seem to obsess over it and push for change.
“When you’re sitting up there and the game’s 3:07 instead of 2:52, is that an issue?” he asked. “If it’s a good game. I’ve had some games 2 hours and 40 minutes that stunk and then some games that went 3:20 that were fun. I’ve sat in the stands and scouted and watched games. Usually you find the people who are complaining the most about the length of games are the people who are there every day - the media and the umpires.”
Guilty as charged.
Showalter is in favor of limiting catcher visits to the mound, an irritant that’s caused him to actually track the number from certain teams and players.
“I don’t know why we don’t put a mic in their helmet,” he said. “They do it with football. Instead of all these conferences about sign stealing and whatever.
“Trust me, 99 percent of that sign stealing doesn’t happen. There’s nobody in baseball who can keep a secret. They can’t. If you’re with a club and you get traded, they’re going to tell everybody in the world what’s going on. A lot of it is just paranoia. You want to see people change signs? At second base act like you’re giving signs. The whole game will stop.”