The bambino-to-be is safe in the womb of his baseball-loving mother’s belly, yet close enough to hear the pop of bat on ball during batting practice at Fenway Park.
“The future of baseball is kids that haven’t even been born yet,” says Bethany Couto, the mother, and also secretary of the Wareham Gatemen of the Cape Cod Baseball League. The league motto is “Where tomorrow’s stars shine today.”
With more than 1,400 CCBL alumni having made it to the major leagues, Couto thinks it’s a great idea to ask the young collegiate stars of the league what baseball will be like when her rookie grows up.
“They are not just some kids with a dream, they also have the skills to make it, so I think their perspective is more grounded realistically,” says Couto. “I hope baseball doesn’t change too much for Mac [a boy, due in October], because everyone in our family loves baseball so much.”
Unsurprisingly, not one of the half-dozen players interviewed thinks the game is boring. But most acknowledge that baseball needs to change the swing-for-the-fences mentality that has sent strikeout rates soaring. They know that fans want more action: shorter games, more doubles, triples, and stolen bases. They acknowledge that adding pitch clocks in the minors has trimmed games by nearly a half-hour and that is part of the future, like it or not.
Matt Shaw, 20, this year’s Cape Cod League MVP, grew up in Brimfield, 60 miles west of Fenway Park and the “Laser Show” that was Dustin Pedroia.
“I think the game is missing a few of those kinds of players who are willing to get dirty, who are willing to put in the work, who are kind of just like Pedroia-esque ballplayers,” says Shaw, who won the batting title, hitting .360 for the Bourne Braves with a 1.006 OPS, and stole 22 bases in 25 attempts. “I think the game is going to kind of go back towards those type of players.”
But it will go forward with technology. Shaw predicts robot umpires behind home plate in the near future.
“Going to robot umpires would be a huge change in the game,” says the University of Maryland junior. “I think that would be a ginormous change.”
The Worcester Academy alum is not happy with not-so-instant replays that annoy fans.
“In football, they do a really good job of making it really quick, and I think for some reason in baseball, it takes them, like, two minutes,” says Shaw. “But from a fan [viewpoint], you see the play and you could probably figure it out in about 15 seconds. I think there’s probably a way to make that faster.”
He also wants MLB to cater more to young fans than TV ratings.
“I think the 6 p.m. start that the Cape League does is perfect, in my opinion, because they’re done before 9,” he says.
Tie games and celebrations
Some Cape players suggested deciding games that are tied after nine innings with a home run derby rather than starting extra innings with a runner on second. Shaw, though, thinks games should just end as ties.
“I can see that happening in the future,” he says. “It’s kind of more like European soccer where during the regular season you just tie and your ties count as points, just like the Cape League does it now.”
Shaw’s teammate, Nelson Taylor from Polk State, also believes that robot umpires are the way of the future. Baseball would then become a No Whining Zone.
“There will be no arguing, no glaring, no showing up the ump,” says the center fielder. No excuses.
Taylor wants baseball to ditch the baggy uniforms and get form-fitting ones to flaunt those physiques.
“I would love that,” he says. “Show off what you work for.”
He also thinks baseball should embrace celebrations, citing the flamboyant Fernando Tatis Jr., Ronald Acuña Jr., and Jazz Chisholm Jr. as the spirit of baseball’s future.
“I think we could make the sport more fun and entertaining,” says Taylor.
Taylor scoffs at criticism that longer games have made baseball boring.
“It’s only a boring sport if you don’t watch enough of it or don’t know enough about the game,” he says.
He also speculated that as pitchers become increasingly more dominant, the mound may have to be moved back.
“I definitely see 110 m.p.h. in our future,” he says.
Will Sandy, 22, a Bourne pitcher, says moving the mound back would be a big mistake. The independent Atlantic League moved the mound back a foot last year, and the results were negligible statistically.
“I’ve been throwing [60 feet 6 inches] my whole life,” says Sandy. “So I think it would kind of change the way we train, the way we throw, everything.”
The Washington Post reported that pitchers experienced muscle soreness after their first couple of appearances at the longer distance. The experiment ended after one season.
The fate of starting pitchers
Sandy, a University of North Carolina senior, loves pitching duels and starting pitchers who throw seven strong innings. He wants to watch star pitchers win 300 games.
“I’m staying faithful,” he says. “I think that starting pitchers are going to stay around. I want to see a resurgence of crafty pitchers becoming more effective, more dominant, more appreciated.”
Sandy says the increasing reliance on Sabermetrics is important, but he always follows his heart.
“I would put what I’m feeling over any of that,” he says. “I’m not just going to throw my pitch somewhere because the numbers say you should.”
Jacob Walsh, 19, of the Falmouth Commodores says pitchers are already risking injury by throwing so hard.
“Arms can only take so much of stress baseball,” he says. “I think in 20 years, the role of the starting pitcher will be gone.”
He envisions “an endless parade of pitchers throwing two innings each.”
Nor does Walsh like pace-of-play clocks already in use in NCAA baseball.
“No, I’m not a big fan of that,” says the University of Oregon first baseman. “This year, I got rung up for stepping out of the box.”
Cameron Chick, center fielder for Wareham, says all the experiments about reducing the time of games are bewildering.
“I feel like they’re changing so much stuff right now and making it so much different than it usually is,” he says. “Sometimes a four-hour game is nice.”
Chick especially doesn’t like the recent experiment in the Low A Florida State League that put pie-shaped chalk lines fanning out from second base to the outfield grass to restrict defensive shifts, so infielders couldn’t scoop up balls destined to be base hits up the middle.
“It’s awful,” he says.
Alex Mooney, 20, a shortstop for Falmouth, says all this shift controversy is ridiculous.
“If I was getting shifted like some of the guys in The Show do, I would essentially sling it down, get a free hit,” says the Duke sophomore. “But, I mean, that’s just me.”
Mooney also wants the freedom to cut loose.
“Personally, I’m a fan of the flair that’s in baseball right now,” he says. “If I hit one and I know it’s gone, I’ll maybe flip my bat or try to do something to get our dugout going. But at the same time, if someone strikes me out and they want to yell and celebrate, I’m cool with that, too.
“If you don’t want someone to flip their bat, don’t give up a home run. If you don’t want someone to celebrate striking you out, don’t strike out.”
He also thinks MLB should borrow from the old NHL.
“People are going to hate me for this, but let brawls happen,” he says. “Just let them go at it. People would love it.”
Chick thinks gambling will be part of the equation in baseball stadiums in the future, like it or not.
“It’s a way for people to make more money, I guess,” he says. “To make it more fun and bring more fans to the game.”
Just before sunset, Falmouth reliever Evan Harmon, 20, and the bullpen catcher pause to watch a rainbow arching over Spillane Field in Wareham. It’s a Baseball is Life moment.
Harmon, a junior from Central Arizona College, is asked what his one wish for the future would be. His answer is rooted in the past.
“Pitchers should be able to hit again,” he says.
Bethany Couto & Co. watched the game as well. It was their 36th contest and second rainbow of the season. A good sign for sure.
“It was magical,” she says.
Later, she wrote in an email that baseball rule changes will be inconsequential “as long as the magic and family environment and nostalgia remain. The game can change as long as the experience remains.”
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.