It was among manager Mike Redmond's favorite spring training drills when he played. To prepare catchers for collisions at the plate, teams would employ tackling dummies or padded cylinders about the size of a boxing heavy bag to simulate contact.
"That's over," said Redmond, a former major league catcher. "All the funs stuff we got to do in spring training…that's totally out."
It's over because Major League Baseball by Opening day should have new rules in place eliminating home plate collisions. Owners were expected to sign off on the guidelines at their quarterly meetings in January, but league officials still were working out the particulars. The MLB Players Association and World Umpires Association have to approve it as well.
The delay is creating a quandary for teams. Managers and coaches have some sense of what's coming down the pike, but aren't acquainted with specifics. Thursday, league officials are scheduled to visit the Marlins as part of their spring training rounds to go over the new instant replay rules. Redmond anticipates getting more information on the home plate collision guidelines as well.
"I'm assuming there's going to be zero contact," Redmond said. "I'm hoping we find out what's going on here so we can prepare. Right now, we're just going to focus on catching the ball and making the tag to give ourselves a little head start. We have to try to prepare them for what's coming.
"What can and can't happen at home plate? That's going to be the thing everyone wants to know. Do you have to give them a lane? What exactly is a lane? A lot of questions."
And a lot of concerns. Most catchers understand the impetus for eliminating home plate collisions, but guys like Jeff Mathis and Brian Schneider, a long-time major league catcher who the Marlins hired to manage their Florida State League affiliate, are worried about implementation.
Catchers have just over a month to re-wire their approach to that plate.
"I was always taught [the plate] is ours and you have to go through me to get to it," Schneider said. "You're going to have some guys caught up in the heat of the game, guys are going to catch it and I'm not saying block it and be dirty, but they might take a drop step.
"It's going to make a lot of people mad. There are going to be some ejections and some fines that aren't warranted. I understand the reason why they're doing it. It's just going to be interesting to see how they do it."
Like all catchers, Schneider has taken his share of blows. During his final major league season in 2012, Rays' infielder Sean Rodriguez leveled him. Schneider landed on the disabled list with a stress fracture in his leg.
Mathis as a member of the Angels suffered a separated rib after a collision with hulking first baseman Chris Davis, then with a Rangers. Mathis' manager at the time was Mike Scoscia, the long-time Dodgers' catcher renowned for his toughness. Scioscia used the sit-on-the-plate method, which Mathis employed as well.
"A lot of people are out in front of the plate and let the ball bring them back," Mathis said. "We were more waiting on the ball to get to us. The way it sounds, now we're going to have to be in front of the plate. I'm not saying it can't be done or I won't get used to it, but it's something I'll really have to work on.
"There have been so many times where me sitting on the plate and being taught the way I was taught prevented a run, and that means a lot to me and that pitcher out there and all those guys watching in the dugout."
Added Redmond: "It will be a big adjustment. For guys, their first tendency is always going to be to block the plate…You're just used to catching the ball and dropping your knee down to block the plate. It will be interesting to see how guys adjust."
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