No one said the idea wasn't unorthodox, but it was an idea, and in the world of Atlantic League Baseball, ideas are worth trying.
The Ducks, opening their spring training schedule at Bethpage Ballpark against the Bridgeport Bluefish on Saturday, participated in a one-game-only "experiment" in which batters were awarded walks on three balls instead of four and were declared out on any foul ball with two strikes.
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The idea was hatched by 68-year-old Brooklyn author Paul Auster, who originally suggested the concept in a letter to The New York Times last August.
"I thought it would become a faster, more exciting game that might appeal to younger people, who are not interested in baseball," Auster said before Saturday's game. "I know it's radical. It's baseball 2.0. There would have to be new measurements for success in pitching. But with the record books destroyed by steroid use, I thought, why not start again with a slightly different game that preserves all the essential things about baseball that we love?"
If speeding up the game was the desired result, it worked. The game lasted 2 hours, 15 minutes, nearly 45 minutes off the time of the average Atlantic League game last season. At the one-hour mark, the game was in the bottom of the fourth. At the two-hour mark, it was entering the top of the eighth.
But if scoring was the end game, then the one-time rules might need a pick-me-up. The Ducks won, 1-0.
Nineteen of the 72 batters were affected by the author's rules. There were 10 foul-ball outs, nicknamed "klunk-outs" by Auster, and nine three-ball walks.
"I just tried to start the at-bat a little earlier," Ducks outfielder Lew Ford said. " . . . I didn't want to get to two strikes and have a [foul-out] situation happen. If he's throwing a strike [on the first pitch], there's no reason to wait at that point."
Bridgeport's Sean Burroughs was the first victim of the rule, fouling off a two-strike pitch along the first-base line in the top of the first inning. Burroughs stepped out of the box, seemingly unaware of his fate, took a practice swing and looked up to see plate umpire Tony Senia informing him that he was out.
" . . . I just said to him that it was a foul with two strikes, and therefore, an out," Senia said in a statement. "He said, 'Are you kidding me?' "
With a look that alternated between surprise and dejection, Burroughs walked back to the dugout, hanging his head. But he worked out a three-pitch walk with one out in the third.
The Auster rules giveth and the Auster rules taketh away.
"They were completely ridiculous," Burroughs said. "It was something that takes away from the history of the game . . . Hitters are already in a hole enough. You're up there battling and then you foul a ball off and you're out, that's a joke."
Ducks designated hitter Trayvon Robinson was the first batter of the game to benefit from these funky guidelines, working a three-pitch walk to lead off the second inning.
Although it was an idea worth trying, the Atlantic League has no plans to adopt Auster's rules in the regular season.
"We send so many players to big league organizations, we really have to be following the same general rules of play that are in big league baseball in order to make our league viable," Atlantic League president Rick White said Friday in a phone interview with Newsday.
New rules or not, it's still spring training. And in spring training, nothing counts . . . not even three-ball walks.