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'Stealing' first base seems like an interesting new rule to Ducks

Long Island Ducks D'Arby Myers lays down a

Long Island Ducks D'Arby Myers lays down a bunt single against the Lancaster Barnstormers, Sunday, July 21, 2019 at Bethpage Ballpark. Credit: George A. Faella

D’Arby Myers can’t wait to ‘steal’ first base. The new experimental Atlantic League rule is a minor league speedsters dream — get on any way you can and then let your legs do the work. The rule — which came to be as part of the agreement between Major League Baseball and the Atlantic League that allows MLB to test experimental rules in the independent league, allows batters to run to first on any pitch not caught in flight, regardless of count. Of course, this comes with the risk of being thrown out.

Now, it doesn’t have to just be a dropped third strike — players can go at a moments notice on a wild pitch, passed ball, or basically anything that doesn’t land in the back of a mitt. The rule went into effect on July 12 — the beginning of the league’s second half — and, entering this weekend, had not been attempted by any Ducks player. But, at least for Myers, it isn’t for lack of desire.

“I’m still waiting for the pitcher to throw the ball behind the catcher,” Myers said. “It hasn’t happened to me yet, but when it does happen, I will run to first base…That’s my game — speed. So, if there’s an opportunity for me to get on base, I’m going to get on base.”

According to the official rule, provided to Newsday by Ducks president and general manager Michael Pfaff, the batter has until the first defensive player touches a wild pitch or passed ball to elect to run to first base. Batters who reach will be credited with a base-on-balls and, thusly, will not record an at-bat.

Myers’ teammates are less enthusiastic about the whole idea. Catcher Ramon Cabrera — who logged 74 games with the Reds in 2015-2016 — isn’t a big fan, from either a catching or hitting perspective. Primarily because he thinks it’s such a high percentage play for the runner.

“Catcher is a tough position and, with that rule, it’s more tough because you have to block everything, even with nobody on base or the hitter not having two strikes,” Cabrera said. “You have to be ready to block everything and try to be smart when those kind of plays happen and be ready, because you never know who’s going to run and who’s not…The hitter is ready to run. You have speedy guys and if, right away, they see the ball go back to the backstop, they’re going to be safe. No way you can throw somebody out at first like that.”

As a hitter, Cabrera doesn’t understand why anyone would give away a plate appearance to get on first without swinging the bat.

“I really want to hit and help my team by hitting,” Cabrera said. “But, to just have a ball in the dirt and you just run to first, it doesn’t make sense to me. Every at-bat you get, you want to get a base hit, a double, triple, or a homer. You want to get on base for your team, but when you’re hitting and you [steal first], it changes everything.”

L.J. Mazzilli and T.J. Rivera both said they’d only try it late in the game, when the situation calls for it. Mazzilli said he would most likely wait until playoff games to even consider it. From what Pfaff has been told, the new rules implemented this season — with the exception of a runner on second base to begin extra innings — will continue in the playoffs. But, he said, the Ducks will seek further confirmation before the playoffs beginning in late September.

“I want to try my best to have a good at-bat,” Mazzilli said. “I’m not looking to get on cheap. I want to get on and do something to help the team, but if that’s going to be the case in certain situations, then yeah I’ll take [first], but it’s not like I’m looking to do that whenever I get a chance.”

Ducks manager Wally Backman agreed that the play will most likely be situational but, generally, he would rather it be utilized only by batters at the top or bottom of the lineup.

“If I’m winning or losing by a run and I have my 3,4,5 guys, or even my 3,4,5,6 guys [up], I want those guys to hit,” Backman said. “There’s a saying I learned from [former MLB manager] Jim Leyland, ‘walks don’t score runs, hits score runs.’ Even though a walk can score a run, hits are how you [score].”

Ducks test new ball

During Wednesday\’s Ducks game against New Britain Bees — a 3-1 “camp-day” matinee loss — MLB tested a new ‘consistent grip’ baseball. The same agreement that allows MLB to test new rules in the Atlantic League, allows them to try out new equipment.

The Rawlings ball which, thanks to the presence of a softer leather around the outside that is treated with a substance to make it consistently tacky, theoretically is resistant to mud and, thus, impossible to ‘rub up’ or alter the grip. The ball also stays whiter throughout the game, making it easier for hitters to see.

“The big difference for me was that they felt a little bit softer than the other ball,” Cabrera said. “…I really liked it.  But when we’re hitting, the balls don’t jump like the regular ones. So, we hit a couple line drives and a couple balls really hard and the balls didn’t go anywhere.”

“They didn’t feel too different,” Ducks pitcher and Islip native Rob Rogers said. “…They stayed whiter longer, which was something they were looking for. For the most part, they were pretty similar. The seams were a little bigger, but nothing too crazy.”

Pfaff said that the MLB collected the baseballs that were used and took feedback from those involved in the game, but did not indicate when the next test or new ball usage would be.

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