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Baseball is back, with changes

Feb 18, 2014 - By Craig Blumenshine, Staff Writer

Spring training, Major League Baseball's preseason, has commenced. Another slate of 162 games per MLB team is just around the corner.

College teams have started to play games, and high school teams in most states -- except Wyoming and Montana -- are finding their way to the practice fields.

Thank you, baseball gods, for helping me get through these depressing late-winter days.

But "my" game is changing.

That's not really anything new. The game has evolved from the original Knickerbocker Rules in 1845 and the first set of National League rules in 1877.

The very first rule change? In 1857, the game was won when one side scored 21 "aces." The game then became a nine-inning contest with the highest scoring team winning, according to the Baseball Almanac.

In some years, a walk was five balls, and a strikeout was four called strikes.

But not since 1969 when the pitcher's mound was lowered by five inches and the strike zone was diminished to the area from the armpits to the top of the batter's knees have there been more dramatic rule changes than this year.

Instant replay will have a full-on presence this season in the Majors and will be used for more than whether home runs are really not home runs and whether fair balls are really foul balls.

Beginning this season, Major League managers can use instant replay to challenge ground-rule doubles, fan interference, force plays (except the fielder's touching of second base on a double play), tag plays (including steals and pickoffs), fair/foul hits in the outfield only, trap plays in the outfield only, batters hit by pitch, timing plays (whether a runner scores before a third out), touching a base (requires appeal), passing runners, and record keeping (ball-strike count to a batter, outs, score, and substitutions).

Teams can challenge once per game in the first six innings, and, if they are successful, challenge one more time. From the seventh inning on, only the umpire crew chief can request a review.

Some rules that have changed over time were reversed. Think today's four balls and three strikes.

Instant replay will not be one of those rules. The use of replay in this enhanced way is here to stay.

There are those who will miss the human fact that umpires are not perfect. I'm one of them. Their honest efforts, and sometimes mistakes, have been, for me, an exciting part of the game.

The baseball gods have spoken.

Have a great sports week. Go Big Red.

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