Mark Knudson’s Three Strikes Blog: Rockies can shock MLB just by being mediocre; High School sports and club sports could be on collision course, and its past time for tech to help home plate umps

Mark Knudson’s Three Strikes Blog: Rockies can shock MLB just by being mediocre; High School sports and club sports could be on collision course, and its past time for tech to help home plate umps

Strike One: “Are the Colorado Rockies a play-off team?” Before you answer, think of it this way: “Are the Colorado Rockies in the top half of teams in the National League?”

However you want to phrase it, the Colorado Rockies are now in a position – with the play-offs being expanded to eight teams in each league – to play in the post season, even if they have only a little better than mediocre regular season. All they really have to do is finish with a slightly better than .500 record. Win 32 or 33 games, and they’ll get in. There are 15 teams in the NL. Will more than half of them finish with a winning record?

That changes the season outlook dramatically.

You would think that a club that returns all but one key player from a team that won 91 games in 2018 should be considered among the top half of the teams in their league, right?

Depends who you ask. Around here, many of us who look at this stuff closely see the Rockies as having one of the top eight rosters in the NL. But nationally, the “pundits” (who’ve apparently had way too much time on their hands over the past four months) see it differently. They see the Los Angeles Dodgers as the class of the NL West of course, with Arizona being considered a play-off favorite…along with…the San Diego Padres? This is where it gets a little bizarre.

What’s this Padre optimism based on? It’s all guess work and hope at this moment. For whatever reason, some pundits are infatuated with a team that has finished dead last in the NL West for the past four seasons, never winning more than 70 games. The last time San Diego had a winning season was 2010.

For those making predictions, a little history lesson may be in order.

The current Padres look very much like a newer version of the 2012 Anaheim Angels. Think back to that season. The Angels were debuting one of the game’s brightest stars, rookie Mike Trout, who would go on to make the first of many All-Star teams that year. They also went out and signed future Hall of Fame first baseman Albert Pujols to a ridiculously huge free agent contract. This dynamic duo was supposed to take over the American League West.

Instead, eight years in, and they’ve yet to make the post-season.

Fast forward to 2019. The Padres were debuting one of the games brightest young talents, Fernando Tatis Jr. who would go on to hit .317 with 22 homers as a rookie. They also went out and signed future Hall of Famer Manny Machado to a ridiculously huge free agent contract. Another dynamic duo. Even though they finished last – again – in the division last season, suddenly this year they’re supposed to make San Diego into a play-off team.

Do I have this right?

These odd infatuations don’t stop with the Padres. The Cincinnati Reds are supposed to suddenly be a contender. The New York Mets have already been made a play-off team by the east coast media. Some even think the lowly Miami Marlins will rise up this season. And many are picking the Rockies to finish behind the pitiful San Francisco Giants in the NL West. Smh.

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All this should actually be good news for the Rockies. There’s no weight of expectation on their shoulders for this shortened season. They can rally around the “no one believes in us” thing again. And they can shock the baseball world in 2020…just by being mediocre.

Strike Two: The uncertainty that surrounds kids returning to classrooms this fall obviously spills over onto the playing fields. Right now, there’s a better than decent chance that there will be no high school sports played the rest of this calendar year.

The Colorado High School Activities Association continues to monitor the spread and subtle rise in the number of cases of Coronavirus in our state. While we have not seen the kind of spiking that has plagued neighboring Arizona, for example, any rise, even slight, is cause for concern. And as we’ve seen throughout this pandemic, local authorities are all about erring on the side of caution.

There’s a contingency plan available that officials believe would provide all student athletes with a chance to compete in their sport even if it doesn’t happen before the New Year. That plan would involve moving fall sports to the spring, and spring sports into the summer months. Assuming things improve and our medical community is able to come up with a remedy for this virus by the end of the year, it would work like this: Winter sports like basketball would start in January and play out over two months; Fall sports like football, volleyball and soccer would then shift to what has normally be the spring sports season, with the spring sports like baseball, track and soccer being pushed into the early summer months. There would be no overlap, and everyone would get their full allotment of games.

This plan could work for all the high school athletes. But it wouldn’t be without its detractors.

High school spring sports took the hit in 2020. Under this proposal, “Club sports” might be asked to take a similar hit in 2021. Since many club sports are businesses that need consistent revenue, taking that hit isn’t something they’ll likely do willingly.

Over the past couple of decades, the rise of club sports has been a big deal for young athletes who want to excel in single particular sport. It’s not been so good for the growth of multi-sport athletes. There really isn’t time to play more than one sport during any high school sports season, and club sports emphasize competitive seasons that do not directly conflict with a high school seasons. That means when it’s high school football season for example, it’s typically club sports basketball season. A kid that wants to play both sports is forced to choose one or the other.

Under this alternative plan, things would only get more complicated…and not just for kids that want to play multiple sports. It could also get dicey for the kid who want to play a single sport for both their high school and club teams.

The most obvious example would be in baseball. Club baseball often has tournament competitions in the fall (which conceivably could go on this fall if fields are available) but more prominently in the summer, after the high school spring baseball season has ended. That’s when much of the travel associated with club sports takes place. Clubs typically tell their players that they, more than high school, can provide the platform for players to be seen by college and pro scouts.

That’s disputable, but for the sake of argument, let’s say it’s true. That means that in the summer of 2021, high school student-athletes could face a dilemma: Do I stay true to my school and play baseball for my school team in the summer months, or do I play for my club team so I get increased exposure for my future?

Don’t expect either side, the high school coaches, or those who run the for-profit club programs (and some do both) to play nice on this. Each side will want the top players for themselves. There may be some tug of war, placing significant pressure placed on these kids, especially the seniors, to choose one or the other. In that case, no one wins.

Yet more miserable fallout from the pandemic that keeps on taking.

Strike Three: The first weekend of Major League Baseball games was…interesting to say the least. Those in charge have gone to great lengths to make the fan-less games look and sound as authentic as ever, from the cardboard cut outs in the seats to the piped in crowd noise that makes  the game broadcasts at least, seem almost like business as usual. All that’s missing is the wave.

Players are “high gloving” which fits in with protocol, although there have been plenty of guys seen spitting and doing low fives on the low down.

Much as also changed, however, from the masks many are wearing in the dugout – and even on the field – to the Designated Hitter being used across the board.

Something that hasn’t changed? The erratic strike zones of the home plate umpires. The Rockies opening three game series in Texas featured some downright hideous ball-strike calls from behind the plate.

We should probably cut some slack to the men in blue. After all, they’ve been shutdown for four months too. But with the technology now available for those watching on TV – and there are A LOT of us watching on TV in 2020 – it’s become apparent that the time is at hand for the guys behind the plate to benefit from all these cameras too.

Yes, it’s time for the electronic strike zone, at least is some fashion.

No one wants to remove the human element from the game entirely. But as I’ve written and said many times before, it should not be that difficult to fashion goggles or a visor like attachment for the home plate umpire that can show him the same electronic strike zone we see on TV. Pitch comes in, pitch touches the red line, bright light goes off, umpire raises his hand and calls the pitch a strike.

Certainly, it would not be that simple, but it’s doable. Maybe there are less expensive ways to do it, like the system that was tested last season in the independent Atlantic League. But that system failed more often than it worked, and it appears to be a few seasons away from being dependable enough to be used in the big leagues. The goggles idea seems cleaner and easier to do.

All we know is that watching at home, many of us could calls balls and strikes better than the home plate umps are doing, strictly because of the technology that’s available to us. And even though MLB is having official scorekeepers working remotely, they sure don’t want umps to do that, right?

For decades, fans in the stands have been offering their glasses to the home plate umpire. Now, we’re finally at a point where we could fix something that’s ailing the game by giving them all special goggles instead.

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