HILLARY SMITH: Baseball pranks fool some, not all happy

2014-04-06T18:30:00Z 2014-04-06T21:09:27Z HILLARY SMITH: Baseball pranks fool some, not all happyHillary Smith Times Columnist nwitimes.com
April 06, 2014 6:30 pm  • 

A news release from the Frontier League was loaded with hints if the reader was looking in the right spots.

Last week, the independent baseball league pulled an April Fool's Day prank that left some fans laughing, some fans sighing and more than a few irate.

On March 31, before anyone was paying attention or planning their April Fool's pranks, the league released a note that it would be voting on a new rule that would start all batters with a 1-1 count in an effort to speed up games.

The 1-1 count isn't a new option, many youth or adult slow-pitch softball leagues incorporate the same system for the same reason. It's also a great way to save a pitcher's arm.

But pure baseball, it's not.

The release didn't come from a specific team, but from the league as a whole. When The Times received the release, I quickly made a phone call. The Schaumburg Boomers are the Frontier League's defending champion, are owned by RailCats owners Pat and Lindy Salvi and are managed by former RailCats pitcher and pitching coach Jamie Bennett. In fact, Bennett was quoted in the release as being against the rule, adding a little more credit to the release's validity.

After speaking with Ed McCaskey, former RailCats media relations expert and current director of marketing and media with the Boomers, I reread the release.

Here's what stood out:

“We are Happy to announce the approval of this innovative decision by a 4/1 vote of our rules committee,” said League Commissioner Bill Lee. “While all of the owners in the league still need to confirm this amendment at the annual meeting in April, we’re confident we have the votes to take a leading role in putting Frontier League fans first in professional baseball.”

A "4/1 vote"? That's not how 4-1 is typically written.

Then there's this quote from Bennett: “As a former pitcher, I know first-hand the need for a pitcher to be able to manipulate a pitch sequence to Fool a batter with an out pitch,” Bennett explained.

Who capitalizes "Fool"?

It didn't take long for McCaskey to call me back, and I quickly asked him: "Is this some elaborate April Fool's joke?"

He laughed and let me in on the prank. Baseball will remain baseball in the Frontier League.

Not everyone was laughing when the league announced that the release was all a prank on April 1.

JJ Cooper, writer and editor of Baseball America, tweeted that he was receiving calls from Frontier League managers who were not as happy with the joke.

As this is the prime recruiting month for independent teams, anyone trying to sign a pitcher had some explaining to do. Not only do managers have to sell their teams, they have to sell the league, and that's a tough discussion about the sanctity of baseball when there's a release that the pitchers will already be at a disadvantage. 

To that end, I blame the front offices that didn't warn their managers in advance. A few well-placed phone calls could have nipped that in the bud sooner rather than later.

Having said that, this is independent baseball. Without franchise players making rehab trips or top draft picks on their way up, the leagues need to remind fans they still exist.

Absent promotions that fall flat like the previous Schaumburg team's allowance to let the fans set the lineup, there's rarely a bad idea in the independent leagues.

Baseball fans were talking about the Frontier League last week, and that's exactly what the hijinks were all about.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach her at hillary.smith@nwi.com.

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