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Time was on my side

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 3, 2009 - My family heads south to Oklahoma for an annual late-summer visit to in-laws, leaving dad to fend for himself for a few days.

This was that week. Sometimes the baseball gods smile on me and the St. Louis Cardinals are home. Some years, they are away. This is a good year. The Cards vs. Astros on a spectacular Saturday night was all mine.

Well, mine and about 48,000 other fans.

On this cool Aug. 1 evening, I enjoyed nine innings of baseball, a Redbirds’ win, a great game and a gem of a pitching performance by Chris Carpenter. The Cardinals won 3-1 and Matt Holliday smacked two home runs, had three hits and drove his Redbirds’ batting average up to .602.

But there was something even more special about this game, something that took me back to the days of my youth when Bob Gibson would match up against a Juan Marichal, Ferguson Jenkins or Don Drysdale.

What, pray tell, could that be, you ask?

The game took just two hours and 15 minutes. AND the first pitch was at 6:10 p.m. The standing room only crowd and I were on our way out of the stadium at about 8:30 p.m. While baseball remains wildly popular and a money-making machine, it could still be improved. One way to do so would be to speed up the games.

The American League is time challenged because it is a glorified slow-pitch softball tournament. This is the result of the designated hitter. Offense is everything over there and it leads to three-hour 30-minute games as the norm.

The National League does not have that excuse and as a result should have more games coming in at under three hours.

  • Batters should be forced to remain in the batter’s box between pitches. If they step out longer than 10 seconds, they should forfeit a strike.
  • Pitchers should have to actually throw a pitch within 10 seconds of receiving the ball back from the catcher or they should forfeit a ball.
  • All players should be forced to hustle on and off the field, just as they are at every level of baseball from Little League to college to the minor leagues. The only place that a lackadaisical between-inning attitude is allowed is Major League Baseball.

If I were commissioner of baseball, I would enact these rules. A game does not have to be more than three hours to be exciting. It also doesn’t have to be a pitcher’s duel to end in a decent amount of time.
Fans at Saturday’s game were treated to a fun evening, and they still had time to enjoy the bulk of it away from Busch Stadium. There was more time to revel in the Cards’ victory downtown, something I’m sure the many bars and restaurants near Busch Stadium appreciated.

For those fans heading home, there was time to stop at a neighborhood establishment or simply spend more time with family. I’m sure there were dozens of unplanned cookouts on Saturday because people found themselves at home at 9 p.m. on a fall-like night.

For me, there was time to catch the end of the Chicago Cubs’ game with a few friends. They tried to blow a 6-0 lead to the Florida Marlins, but prevailed 9-8 in 10 innings. The lone Cubs’ fan among us was in agony, but we were friendly toward him as they almost found a way to lose and drop to 1 ½ game behind the Cards in the NL Central Division. But Derrick Lee’s home run saved the day.

And the swift game at Busch allowed me to witness something else great on Saturday night. The Pittsburgh Pirates are a train wreck, having traded their best players for prospects once again. The fans there have the NFL and NHL champions, but a baseball franchise that is a laughing stock.

So without any real reason to go to the Pirates vs. Washington Nationals game, about 26,000 bothered to venture to PNC Park.

And a young man with a thin frame and braided hair named Andrew McCutchen hit three home runs. The Cards’ Holliday has received two curtain call ovations since arriving in St. Louis. McCutchen got the first one of the season for a Pirates’ player on Saturday night after his third home run.

He went 4-5, adding a bunt single. In his last at bat, he hit into a double play, but received a lengthy standing ovation.

I would have missed that moment if the Cards’ game had been a four-hour monstrosity. Instead it was a delightful two hours and 15 minutes. If only all games could be such.

Alvin A. Reid is editor of the St. Louis Argus and a weekend host on the new ESPN 101.1 FM. His weekly Major League Baseball - St. Louis Cardinals column, which is now published on The Beacon website, was honored by the Missouri Press Association as Best Sports Column in 2004 and 1999. He is co-author of the book, "Whitey's Boys: A Celebration of the 1982 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals" and was a member of the inaugural staff of USA TODAY Baseball Weekly.