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Baseball’s Savior Is Right in Our Backyards

Progress, thy name is pitch-back.

College Point Ballfield by Tordonte10 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Baseball’s Savior Is Right in Our Backyards

Estimated Reading Time: 5 Minutes

The game of baseball just can’t seem to get out of its own way. Recent memory brings up a slew of on-field issues that tend to get fans’ and players’ blood boiling for one reason or another. Inconsistent officiating behind home plate raises the discussion of robot umps. Sign stealing calls into question the legitimacy of championships. Collisions at home plate can still be dangerous, no matter the rules the MLB tries to put in place. And don’t get me started on the pace of play.

It’s enough to make one’s head spin. There’s just so much going wrong, and the easy solutions continue to be out of reach.

Troubled by these things, I couldn’t help but reflect on my younger years. On countless games of whiffle ball in the backyard with friends, when such problems just didn’t exist. God, those were the days. So innocent, so wholesome. There was no sign stealing in those times. No collisions at the plate. Balls and strikes may have been argued from time to time, but not every pitch like in today’s pro game. So what changed?

And then, like a bolt of lightning, it hit me. There is one thing that kept order back then that does not exist in today’s game. A strong, and silent guardian, keeping the laws of the sport in tact no matter how hard you tried to bend them. You couldn’t argue with it. You couldn’t reason with it. It was the be-all-end-all, the Alpha and the Omega, and it protected the sanctity of the game in ways MLB umpires and league officials just can’t seem to manage in 2019.

Former backyard baseballers and whiffleballers, you already know what I’m talking about.

That’s right. The pitch-back. Move over umps, and move over catchers. It’s time Major League Baseball saved the sport and put pitch-backs behind the plate.

Isn’t she beautiful?

Simple. Elegant. Unwavering. It really is a thing of backyard-sports legend. And MLB could learn a lesson from our collective past and incorporate the use of pitch-backs to solve all of the aforementioned problems.

Believe it

Balls and strikes? Easy. Was it in the red rectangle or not. That’s all we need to know. Clear and objective. And go ahead, let’s try to see a player argue with the pitch-back’s decision. That’s a losing battle, my friend. I don’t care how fast you or you manager comes flying out of the dugout, arms flailing, hootin’ and hollerin’ for the whole world to see. The pitch-back won’t budge a damn inch. (I also propose that bumping a pitch-back in the course of an argument results in an automatic suspension for the player or manager)

And you can forget about sign stealing, because signs would become a thing of yesteryear. The pitcher can decide on whatever he wants to throw, when he wants to throw it, because guess what? The pitch-back doesn’t care. It doesn’t have to. It can’t be fooled. High cheese, back-door cutter, slider down and away. The pitch-back was born ready. Literally zero way for a hitter to get any sense of what’s coming, save for the pitcher actually tipping his pitches. So go ahead Houston, bang on all the garbage cans you want. Film the pitch-back from center field. Know what you’ll get on camera? Nothing but a resolute metal beauty preserving the integrity of the game within its spring-loaded twine. 

Two words: Cheat Proof

And say goodbye to collisions at the plate. All plays at home would be handled like those in the olden days. A fielder throws the ball at the pitch-back, and if it hits the pitch-back before the runner makes it home, he’s out. A wide throw, or one that doesn’t make it in time, and he’s safe. And they’ll be no human behind the plate for the Astros to hurt. The pitch-back is just as much a proponent of player safety as it is the rules, and that’s why it’s the hero we don’t deserve.

Not to mention that the pitch-back improves pace-of-play. As if its powers know no bounds. If a batter swings and misses at that 95mph heater, that ball springs off the pitch-back just as fast as it came in. That bad boy is back in the pitcher’s hand before you can say “MLB ticket sales are declining year over year.” Think about how much time that will save. No more shaking off catchers, no more mound visits. Pitch-backs may single-handedly get game times to back under 3 hours again.

“But wait, what about catchers?”

Fear not, there is still a place in the game for catchers. They can, of course, keep their place in the batting lineup. And as for their on-the-field duties, they will likely have to man the area behind the pitch-back. Because the pitch-back demands accuracy. It provides us perfection in it’s judgment, and therefore requires perfection from the players that use it. It’s not going to run after a wild-pitch, an errant throw from a fielder, or a bunt. That’s where the catcher comes in. It’s a big change, don’t get me wrong. But one that would need to happen to make this whole thing work.

You’re probably thinking, “boy, why didn’t I think of this before? It’s the perfect solution.” I encourage you not to blame yourself. It happened to all of us. We just couldn’t see the forest through the trees. We often get caught up in the notion that more technology is the answer. But I hate to break it to you. Technology is how we got here in the first place. Trying to solve these numerous and complex problems in baseball with gadgets and gizmos and robot umps only gives the Astros more things to hack.

To improve the game of baseball, we need something better. We need metal, and steel, and plastic, and twine. Honor, and courage, and dignity, and truth.

Folks, we need pitch-backs.

Ryan Kelly lives in Cambridge, MA, a stone's throw away from his beloved Boston teams. When he is not working as an editorial assistant, he is providing commentary on the Boston Red Sox and Boston Bruins for The Turf.

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