In the spring of 2012, my youngest son Cormac and I took advantage of a rare opportunity to see the NCAA baseball tournament in our own backyard. Purdue University, not a college baseball powerhouse, was given a No. 1 seed in the event, but the Boilers’ home field was not suitable to host the four-team regional. So they opted to play the regional in Gary, at the home of the Railcats.
We arrived sometime in the evening to watch the Boilers play against the nearby Valparaiso Crusaders, as did several other hundred Boilermaker fans from The Region. But that’s not what we saw.
When we got there, the day’s first game, a matchup between No. 2 seed Kentucky and third-seeded Kent State was just entering the 10th inning, the game knotted at 5. It stayed that way for seven more innings, until the Golden Flashes plated a run in the top of the 18th. UK responded in the bottom half, when a double drove in the tying run, though the potential game-winner was gunned down at the plate.
Two more scoreless frames passed until Alex Miklos hit an RBI-triple in the top of the 21st to win it for Kent, a victory the team would use as a springboard to an unexpected trip to Omaha for the College World Series.
The 5 p.m. start for Purdue-Valpo became a 10 p.m. contest. Cormac vowed to stick around for the entirety of the nightcap that we’d gone there to watch, but he ran out of gas after about five innings, and we weren’t around to see the Boilers close out the win one minute before 2 a.m.
Even though the preliminary game was between two teams that I had no rooting interest in, it was, without question, the greatest day of baseball viewing in my life. Twelve innings of bonus baseball, the potential for a game-changing play hanging on every pitch. What more could a baseball fan want?
Well, Rob Manfred could want something different. Baseball’s baseball-hating commissioner has delivered another new rule that tears a little bit more at the fabric of the sport, and make wonderful games like that a thing of the past. From now on, extra innings in affiliated minor league games will begin with a runner on second base, the better to goose scoring in a thoroughly artificial way.
The league’s nitwits in chief are claiming it’s being done to prevent injury at the minor league level, and to reduce costs as extra-inning games tend to drain the budgets of minor league operations (most concession stand sales dry up and beer sales are already over, but much of the staff is still on the clock). And, if they have to take a dump on 100-plus years of baseball to do it, well you can’t stand in the way of progress.
Long extra innings games are rare enough that this is not likely to move the needle on either injuries or costs. And, make no mistake, this very well could serve as a trial run before it’s introduced at the major league level. Manfred would no doubt consider it.
But it’s not baseball. And not baseball sucks.