TAMPA, Fla. (AP) – It took only four batters at George Steinbrenner Field for a fan to scream “Come on, blue!” balls were called towards home plate referee Kaleb Devier after two consecutive close pitches.
It doesn’t matter that a computer made the calls.
It didn’t matter on Tuesday night when the Tampa Tarpons took on the Dunedin Blue Jays. Because from Omaha to San Jose to the Jersey Shore, minor league baseball was back after a losing season, with fans, crazy promotions, and even those robot referees.
The tarpons were already in the dog days on the opening day. They hosted the Dunedin Blue Jays on “Tail Waggin ‘$ 2 Tuesday” where fans could bring their pooches to the park for two dollars.
Vance Smith, vice president of the New York Yankees, greeted and spoke to fans as they entered the ballpark to see the Class A partner. He called it a homecoming after a season in a small league wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Excited, but also hesitant” Said Smith. “We follow some protocols but are glad we have baseball back. That’s the only thing I’m excited about because it’s been 18 months since we had Tarpons baseball and minor league baseball. “
The smell of hot dogs – the mustard type, not the mutts – signaled a sense of normalcy. The masking and social distancing showed that there was still a long way to go.
Side attractions like speed pitch are gone and concessions are cashless, but the games were finally back.
“Super excited to start the season in the minor league,” he said. Kevin Reese, Yankees senior director of player development, said. “I was one of many who wasn’t too confident that this would happen in time.”
There was a cheer as the PA spokesman said: “Are you ready? Let’s welcome your 2021 Tampa Tarpons.” when the Yankees prospects took the field.
“It’s great fun to go out there and watch these guys do what they love to do.” said Tampa manager David Adams, who played 43 games for the Yankees Big League in 2013. “I think everyone will agree.”
However, there have been significant changes since Tampa and the Minors last played in September 2019.
A major league baseball reorganization made the long-running High-A Florida State League, in which Tampa played for a quarter of a century, the Low-A Southeast League. Some cities have completely lost their teams as the total number of member organizations has been reduced from 160 to 120.
And after experiments in the independent Atlantic League and Arizona Fall League, the Southeast League is the next test field for the automatic ball-hitting system.
Devier was toasted after Blue Jay’s batsman Zach Britton took these two ball pitches.
“I thought it was pretty good” Tampa catcher Austin Wells said about the automatic system. “There have been a couple of calls here and there where the referee and I might think strikes and balls, but it’s a good opportunity to work on different things.”
Just before the first field of play, Wells helped Devier adjust part of the system on the back of his belt.
“I manipulated it in our favor” Wells said with a laugh.
Wells, who was taken over by the Yankees in the first round of the 2020 draft, hit a homer in two runs and scored an RBI double in the Tarpons 11-7 win, which lasted nearly four hours – long games, some things never change.
The Tarpons punched their fists after the win and left the field while the PA played against Frank Sinatra “New York, New York.”
“It was the best feeling in a long time to be able to play under the light again,” he said. Wells said.
Dunedin follows the lead of its nomadic parenting team. With the Toronto Blue Jays playing major league games at TD Ballpark in Dunedin until at least May, the D-Jays are expected to play their first 24 away games.
This follows on from the lost 2020 season and 2019 campaign in which they played home games in nearby Clearwater while the Dunedin Ballpark underwent a major renovation project.
“The other uniqueness we’re looking at this year is that there’s a shortened season in the minor league.” Blue Jay’s director of player development, Gil Kim, said. “There’s a lot of planning and processing that we can do a bit differently this year.”
The Dunedin Blue Jays Twitter site summed things up when the lineup was posted:
“First lineup graphic in almost two years! We are so back. Happy opening night. “
NOTE: The ball used in the game was the official minor league ball, signed by former MILB President Pat O’Connor, who retired last year when MLB worked to improve the minors.
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