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Baseball league partners with MLB to test big changes to the game

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WALDORF, MD (CBS 58) - The Milwaukee Brewers have found the recipe for success in Major League Baseball, making it one game from the World Series last year.

But the game they are playing so well now, change dramatically in the coming years.

We recently visited the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in the Atlantic Baseball League, that is one of many teams partnering with MLB to shake up the game.

“Baseball’s been my life,” said Blue Crabs Manager Stan Cliburn when we visited the stadium in early May.

“I’m a guy that’s been in the league since I was 17 years old, closing in to close to 50 years, I’ve seen a lot of changes to baseball over the years,” said Cliburn.

But of those changes, he hasn’t seen anything like what’s going on in the Atlantic baseball league.

“They are pretty serious, they are putting a lot of resources into this, they are putting a lot of time into this,” said General Manager Courtney Knichel.

Some of the changes you might not notice.

They are cutting down the time between innings, but they’re also banning mound visits.

“The mound visit is a big thing,” said Cliburn.

It means he can’t come out to the mound unless his pitcher is getting the hook.

“I can’t go out as a manager to calm my man down or I can’t send my pitching coach out to calm my man down,” said Cliburn.

And once he does pull a pitcher, the new pitcher has to face at least 3 batters.

“It’s kind of taken out the, hey lefty on lefty situation, or the situational righty faces a righty,” said Cliburn.

The rules are meant to keep the pace of the game moving.

“How many games do we have on school nights when it gets after 9 o’clock for a 6:35 start, mom and dad aren’t here, the kids don’t see closure to the game,”  said Blue Crabs co-owner Mike Whitmore.

You’ll also notice a white dash behind second base.

The league has banned the controversial shift, when teams load up players on one side of the field.

The league has also made first and third base bigger, adding three inches to both.

 “There’s not stepping on ankles and you’re a little bit closer to home plate so the bang-bang plays that happened last year are kind of eliminated this year,” said Blue Crabs center fielder Cory Vaughn.

“I sit and think about all the close plays you see now in replay where the hand just slips in or the tag just gets down, it makes me wonder how many more stolen bases?” said Whitmore.

The most noticeable change will happened next season, when the league wants to move the pitcher’s mound back two feet.

“To be honest I don’t even know how to handle it, how to go about it,” said Blue Crabs pitcher Daryl Thompson.

“I feel like I’m getting old now, my fastball barely makes it to the plate now so they move it back 2 feet it might not even make it there at all,” joked Thompson.

It’s going to be a major adjustment for pitchers who have made a career painting the corners of the plate.

In an era of baseball when more and more batters either strike out or hit home runs, the changes are aimed seeing more action.

“They want more action, they want the ball put in play more, they don’t want to see strikeouts and waiting for the big home run,” said Whitmore.

People are always hesitant to change the rules of baseball, but the whole point of it is to fill seats.  The league knows that their baseball audience is changing, and they want to keep up.

“I think that that fan is younger and very much in tune to their cell phone and what’s happening virtually, that that fan wants a shorter game,” said Knichel.

“Maybe someone who’s passionate about the game like me can appreciate a good pitching matchup like Daryl was last night, but I think a good 8-7 game most fans appreciate more,” said Whitmore.

Of all the changes we’ve talked about, we left one big one out.

The league is planning on using a computer to call balls and strikes instead of an umpire.

As you can imagine, it’s the most controversial of the changes.

In fact, we were told the league won’t talk about it, and the team balked too.

That change will happen sometime this season.

But overall, the organization seems excited about the changes.

“I think they game will be a little better as the time goes, the more and more we keep putting in the game, we’ll probably see better results,” said Thompson.

“Life is about change, and baseball being the great american pastime that it is, is also about change,” said Cliburn.

“They’re not just doing it to do it, they’re doing it cause they really want to see this in the future of baseball,” said Knichel.

The biggest advantage for the league is their partnership with MLB.

They now have the league’s attention, which gives their players a better opportunity to get called up to the big leagues.

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