With Ripken's help, MLB and USA Baseball modify youth game to pick up the pace

From staff and wire reports

When Major League Baseball named former Orioles great Cal Ripken Jr. as a special adviser to the comissioner in 2015, he was tasked with creating strategies and initiatives aimed at growing interest in baseball and softball at the amateur and youth levels.

And, apparently, helping speed up games.

On Tuesday, Ripken announced a new MLB and USA Baseball initiative called “Hit and Run Baseball,” a modified version of youth baseball. It picks up the pace and gets players more active with fewer innings, batters and pitches.

“When we were kids, we had a chance to be creative in how to play,” Ripken told the Associated Press during a promotional tour in New York. “There is a little creative opportunity in the structure of this game. Nowadays, everything is structured for our kids.”

Hit and Run Baseball encourages youth organizations to use “alternative formats” for games, practices and tournaments, according to MLB. Some of the recommendations for players ages 8 and under include:

— Six-inning games.

— Four batters per inning.

— Three swings per batter, with no balls or strikes called on taken pitches. If no contact is made in three swings, a tee is used or a coach can side toss to the batter.

— Six players rotating positions each inning, with no outfielders. The center fielder roams behind the infield. No catchers. Coaches catch pitches.

“It's not trying to teach kids how to play the game faster,” Ripken said. “It's a way to get more reps. To present the game that's more fun. To get to make it more interactive for kids. It's a teaching opportunity. There's a lot of value in there.”

Hit and Run's recommendations encourage coaches to add scoring bonuses for defensive plays and reward teams with an extra batter when players hustle to the field in 20 seconds. There's no stealing, and runners are placed on base in the third inning.

MLB said pilot programs for Hit and Run Baseball show players getting more turns at bat and more balls are put in play.

“Hit and Run Baseball was created as a teaching tool designed to remind baseball participants that playing our game does not require a one-size-fits-all approach,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said. “There are many different ways to structure practice, games and tournaments so that players get the most out of their experiences.”

Baseball is trying to address slow play and lack of action at the highest levels of the game, along with how those issues affect youth baseball and drawing young fans.

Since retiring from playing in 2001, Ripken has been dedicated to helping youth baseball grow.

The Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, named in honor of Ripken’s father, uses baseball-based programs to draw youths to the game in underserved areas. The program builds youth development parks — multipurpose fields in areas of need that give children a safe place to play sports — across the country.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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