For more than a century, baseball has been America’s pastime. The slowness, the smell of freshly cut grass and the click of the bat have mesmerized us. There was nothing like going out to the ballpark on a warm summer day, eating a hot dog, and watching the Dodgers.
Baseball, the only major sport without a clock, was always unique. A buzzer didn’t dictate when the game ended, the game itself did.
But over the years, baseball has been slow to adjust. Fans have found other forms of sports entertainment, and attendance numbers across the league are down. Finally, after the 2022 season, MLB did something about it.
So on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, Opening Day not only ushered in another season of Dodgers baseball, but transformative new rules and a revamped roster for the Boys in Blue.
Gone are the at-bats where a third baseman played shallow in right field. Just like pitchers who come off the mound and take 60 seconds before throwing a pitch. Pickoff attempts are less frequent. The bases are bigger and the game is faster. Overall it should be a better fan experience.
The first official shot clock violation came with one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth inning. Arizona Diamondbacks reliever Kevin Ginkel became the first victim of the new rule when he took too long to throw a pitch to Dodgers catcher Will Smith and the umpire gave him an automatic ball as a penalty.
“It came too soon,” Smith said of what happened at bat. “He gave him a warning that he reset the clock. There were still 18 or 19 seconds left on the clock and he reset himself, so they called him.” [a violation]. It was a bit strange.”
For fans headed to the ballpark this season, expect to see a lot more of that throughout the season, as the giant digital clocks in center field counting down every 30 seconds were more noticeable than an elephant in a tuxedo. .
Also notable was the Dodgers’ roster. Gone are the familiar names of the past few seasons. Cody Bellinger, the 2019 National League MVP, is now in Chicago. Longtime Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner is now in Boston, and last year’s All-Star shortstop Trea Turner now calls Philadelphia home to him.
In their place are aging veterans like Jason Heyward, JD Martinez, Miguel Rojas and David Peralta. As well as rookies like Miguel Vargas, James Outman and Michael Grove.
Heck, even the Dodger Stadium lights are rookies!
“I loved them. The lights were amazing,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of the new lights at Chavez Ravine that worked in his favor multiple times Thursday. “In the middle of a play we got a little aggressive on the dimmer switch. Better them than us. I guess playing at Dodger Stadium has another advantage.”
Even though the players and the rules changed, the Dodgers didn’t. Will Smith scored three and Outman hit the first home run of the season as the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 8-2 on Thursday night.
“We pushed them all night,” Smith said. “It was one big hit after another. Those two-out hits kill opposing pitchers. It was good for us to be able to do that and we’re going with it.”
The Dodgers even had a new starter for Opening Day. After nearly a decade of Clayton Kershaw taking the mound in the main game of the season, this time it was fan favorite and Mexico native Julio Urías who received the ball.
Urías allowed runs in each of the first two frames, but settled after that, allowing just two runs on four hits with six strikeouts and no walks, earning his first win of the season.
“I made a couple of adjustments and felt a little more like myself on the mound,” Urías said through a translator. “Those first two innings, I think I was cutting the fastball too much. I made those adjustments and was able to have a little more success in the last three innings.”
Urías did not seem affected by the new rules. He worked quickly and efficiently, especially after struggling with his command in the first inning.
“It’s just different,” Urías said of the new shot clock rule. “When you’re a starting pitcher you have an opportunity to take a breather, relax and play at your own pace. But with the shot clock you don’t really have those opportunities. It was a different experience. We had a little bit of practice in spring training spring and now it’s normal. But it’s still something we’ll have to get used to.”
In general, it was hitters who seemed most affected by the new shot clock. Max Muncy, who likes to step out of the box during at-bats and rarely strikes out, wore a “platinum hat,” aka “the Olympic rings,” striking out five times Thursday.
But some of the younger players, who had a full season at Triple-A to adjust to the new rules in 2022, didn’t seem affected by the changes.
Outman, who famously hit a home run in his first major league at-bat at Coors Field in Colorado last season, smashed a four-seam fastball over the wall in left-center field for the first home run of the season for the Dodgers. Smith went 3-for-4 with four RBIs and one run scored.
“It was a dream come true,” Outman said of hitting a home run at Dodger Stadium.
Shelby Miller, another new face for the Dodgers but familiar to the Diamondbacks, pitched a scoreless eighth inning in relief.
Welcome to a new era in Dodgers baseball and the game in general. There will be complications and growing pains as the new rules take effect and players and fans get acclimated, but overall the game is faster and better.
“I think we’re used to it by now”, “We did it all spring. Last year [in the minors] there was like a two week period where we were still getting our feet wet. Obviously there are going to be hiccups here, but I think we did a good job getting into the box on time and getting the release out on time. We didn’t have any violations tonight.”
Opening Day lasted two hours and 34 minutes. By comparison, last season’s Opening Day in Colorado took three hours and nine minutes to complete. At the end of the day, the results were the same: a Dodgers win.
“Congratulations to Major League Baseball and the Players Association,” Roberts said. “I think they got it right on this. We’re on the right track.”