Baseball Wants Younger Audiences, So It's Trying To Speed Up Games As baseball tries to appeal to a younger audience, there's concern the long game times may drive away that demographic. So MLB is experimenting with speeding games up and eliminating downtime.

America's Favorite Pastime Is Back — And Some Wish It Would Just Hurry Up!

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For many Major League Baseball teams, tomorrow is opening day, and we're going to hear play ball echo throughout the majors. Baseball officials hope the game embraces a companion cry as well - hurry up. As NPR's Tom Goldman reports, baseball's getting faster and not everyone likes it.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: It was one of those classic spring training days earlier this month where you go, oh, yeah, life is good.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Now batting - No. 89, Kyle Garlick.

GOLDMAN: Dodgers and Giants fans at Scottsdale Stadium lounged under a hot Arizona sun. There's a lot of lounging during spring training. Families were out past the centerfield wall on a grassy slope. Standing nearby, longtime San Francisco fan Ryan Koven sipped a beer and gazed toward home plate.

RYAN KOVEN: You're supposed to forget time at a baseball game. You're supposed to relax and forget time.

GOLDMAN: Which is why he and his friend Aman Grewal were agitated, something that doesn't happen often at spring training. They were watching a large clock near home plate tick down from 20 seconds every time the pitcher got the ball from the catcher.

KOVEN: It's very distracting. I'm looking at the pitcher. I see it ticking down - 10, nine, eight. This is not - it's a very un-baseball experience.

GOLDMAN: On this day, it was early in the pitch clock experiment. It's been used in the minors for a few years to make pitchers and batters work faster but not in the majors. And there was grumbling from the stands to clubhouses. Kyle Ryan pitches for the Chicago Cubs.

KYLE RYAN: I think this is a big game changer and it's America's sport. It kind of stinks seeing a change, but it is what it is.

GOLDMAN: Actually, it isn't. The players union shared Ryan's distaste for the pitch clock, and MLB ended the spring training experiment, agreeing not to implement it at least for a couple of years. But baseball officials still are committed to the idea behind the clock, speeding up the game, specifically eliminating dead time. They want crisp play for all fans, especially those device-toting young ones who want action and want it now. Back in the Scottsdale Stadium, 32-year-old Aman Grewal laughed at that stereotype.

AMAN GREWAL: I still think I'm young, and I enjoyed the game the way it was without a pitch clock.

GOLDMAN: He doesn't mind a three-hour game, last year's average for nine innings. Grewal says if baseball wants to appeal more to younger fans, do like the NBA - make videos and clips of action more available and let the players have fun.

GREWAL: When a player does a bat flip and people freak out and traditionalists freak out - you know, like, it's 2019. They're pro athletes, entertainment - let them entertain.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Let's go, Cubbies (clapping).

GOLDMAN: At the Cubs ballpark in Mesa, Ariz., lifelong Chicago fan Bob Weinberg had a different and perhaps surprising take on speedy baseball. He's 61 and retired - a time of life when who cares how long a baseball game takes? Weinberg does.

BOB WEINBERG: I've been to thousands of games - never heard a little kid say to his dad, gee, Daddy, I hope we see eight pitching changes today. That's always so exciting to see that manager walk out of the dugout and wave his arm to the bullpen. That's my favorite part of the game.

GOLDMAN: Weinberg is glad officials are tweaking the rules, even though the pitch clock's gone away. This season, the number of mound visits he's joking about - kind of - they'll be reduced. Also breaks between innings will be shortened. Although Weinberg and the two 30-somethings in Scottsdale seem to defy generational stereotypes, some fit. Sixty-four-year-old Ned Yost is a baseball lifer. Now he's the Kansas City Royals manager. At a spring training gathering, he answered a few questions about pace of play before finally he got fed up.

NED YOST: I don't know, man. You want to speed it up? Make it a seven-inning game. That'll speed it up.

GOLDMAN: Maybe a little too much, but such is the debate as baseball strolls a little more briskly into 2019.

Tom Goldman, NPR News, Phoenix.


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