With Robot Umps and Dog Days, minor league baseball returns after 2 years
It only took four batters at George Steinbrenner Field before one fan yelled “Come on, blue!” towards home plate umpire Kaleb Devier after two consecutive close pitches have been called balls.
It didn’t matter that a computer was making the calls.
It didn’t matter Tuesday night as the Tampa Tarpons faced the Dunedin Blue Jays. Because from Omaha to San Jose to the Jersey Shore, minor league baseball was back after a lost season, with fans, crazy promotions and even those robot umpires.
The Tarpons were already found in the canine days on the day of the opening. They hosted the Dunedin Blue Jays on “Tail Waggin ‘$ 2 Tuesday” where fans could bring their dogs to the park for two dollars.
New York Yankees Vice President Vance Smith greeted and spoke with fans as they entered the stadium to see the Class A affiliate, calling him back home after a minor league season wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic.
The smell of hot dogs – the kind with mustard, not dogs – signaled a sense of normalcy. Masking and social distancing have shown that there is still a way to go.
Side attractions like Speed Pitch are gone and the concessions are cashless, but the games were finally back.
“Super excited to start the minor league season,” said Kevin Reese, senior director of player development for the Yankees. “I was one of many who was not convinced this would happen in due course.”
There was a cheer when the AP announcer said, “Are you ready? Let’s welcome your 2021 Tampa Tarpons,” as the Yankees’ hopes took over.
First design of the range in almost 2 years! We are so back #MiLBMajorFun
Have a good opening night👏 pic.twitter.com/H9xvp4QsOq
But there have been some significant changes since Tampa and the Minors last played in September 2019.
A major League Baseball reorganization saw the long-standing High-A Florida State League, in which Tampa played for a quarter of a century, become the Low-A Southeast League.
And after experiences in the Atlantic Independent League and the Arizona Fall League, the Southeast League is the next testing ground for the automatic ball hitting system.
Devier was roasted after Blue Jays hitter Zach Britton mistook those two pitches for balls.
No more displaced Blue Jays
Dunedin follows the leadership of his team of nomadic parents. With the Toronto Blue Jays playing Big League games at TD Ballpark in Dunedin until at least May, the D-Jays are scheduled to play their first 24 games away from home.
This follows the lost 2020 season and the 2019 campaign where they played home games in nearby Clearwater, while Dunedin baseball stadium underwent a major renovation project.
“The other uniqueness we’re dealing with this year is that there’s a shortened minor league season,” said Gil Kim, director of player development for the Blue Jays. “There is a lot of planning and processing that we can do a little differently this year.”
The Dunedin Blue Jays Twitter site summed it up when posting the lineup:
“First design of the line in almost two years! We’re so back. Have a good opening night.”