WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — It took 2 hours and 19 minutes for the Miami Marlins to beat the Houston Astros 4-3 in a spring training game Monday — a game so fast that Ryan Murphy, a lifelong Houston fan, lingered in the ballpark for a while afterward.
“I’m a baseball fan,” said Murphy, wearing the 2022 Astros World Series gear, “so if I stay here for four hours or two hours, I don’t care.”
Faced with criticism for declining cultural relevance and a lagging product compared to other major sports, Major League Baseball introduced a set of new rules this year to speed up games and attract younger fans.
The bases are larger to improve player safety and can also encourage more aggressive baserunning. Pitchers can only break off the plate from the pitching rubber twice per shot. And there’s a new pitch clock that gives players 30 seconds to resume play between batters. Between pitches, pitchers have 15 seconds with no one on and 20 seconds if there is a runner on base.
Less than a week into the spring training schedule, MLB seems to be getting what it wants, with about 20 minutes less playing time compared to last spring.
Players are especially pleased with the rollout.
“The game feels more exciting,” said Washington Nationals southpaw Patrick Corbin. “Even some of the highest-grossing games are less than three hours.”
Fans seeing this new sport for the first time this week have received mixed reviews. Some, like Murphy, are indifferent to the changes.
“It’s irrelevant to us as fans, honestly,” said Murphy, who traveled from Utah to West Palm Beach for Houston’s exhibition season. “Players may think differently about it, but for us it’s all the same.
“How am I supposed to honestly know the bases are bigger? I mean, we see a pitch clock here and we know it’s there, but I don’t care.”
Some fans like the idea of being in and out of a game in three hours, which is about how long an average nine-inning baseball game lasted in 2022.
Others feel a nostalgic pull on how the sport has always been.
“I’m not a big fan of the number of pitches,” said Mark Mezzatesta, who traveled to Florida from Queens, New York. “I feel like that rushes the game. I feel like it was fine the way it was. Pitchers take a while. And it also takes a while. Fifteen seconds with no one on base and 20 seconds with someone on base is too short.”
Barbara Schiffman of Roseland, New Jersey, said she agrees with some of the rules, but “they should never let a game end on the pitch clock or the batting clock.”
She was referring to a recent game between Atlanta and Boston that ended in a tie after Braves prospect Cal Conley was awarded an automatic strike for a pitch clock violation.
Conley originally thought he won the game with a walk with two outs and the bases loaded, but instead got an at bat that ended the at bat after the umpire said he was out of the box because the clock was under 8 seconds wound.
“When you get to that point in the game,” Schiffman said, “you have to let the game play without the clock. That would be my only concern.”
She also had a complaint about new limits on pitchers disconnecting from the rubber. Pitchers can only attempt to eliminate a runner twice – if they attempt a third pick-off and fail, the runner may advance one base.
“That doesn’t work as far as preventing the runner from stealing, especially with the bigger base,” Schiffman said. “Those two things don’t really go together.”
Mary Theresa Fosko of Perkasie, Pennsylvania, said she liked the new rules, but added, “The only hard thing is that the pitchers don’t get time to rest.”
That’s a trade-off that pitchers struggled with early in the spring.
“The game moves fast, especially when they swing a lot,” said Corbin, who started for Washington in Wednesday’s 5-3 loss to the Cardinals. “I’ve always worked pretty fast. I think it would be a little harder for guys who might be out of pen or guys who aren’t used to working that fast. But that’s why we have this in spring training and hopefully we can get used to it.
Fosko’s brother, Frank, of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, said even a 12-7 game between the Cardinals and New York Mets he and Mary watched in Jupiter, Florida, went faster than the 2:59 game time might have suggested.
“The game was a good hour shorter than it probably would have been,” said Mary Fosko, “That 15 seconds? That works for us.”
But she still wants to see more action.
“A few hits here and there is great,” she said. “But the walks just take forever. Everyone is waving at the fences and things like that.”
Baseball’s new rules to speed up games are getting mixed reception, originally appearing on NBCSports.com