Spring has (almost) sprung, which means my favorite season of the year is just around the corner: baseball season! Players have all reported to their spring homes in Florida and Arizona to prep for the 2014 regular season, one that will see a couple changes to the longstanding rules of the game.

The first new rule beginning this season involves collisions at home plate. The new rule does not outright ban all collisions, but rather “prohibit the most egregious collisions at home plate.” In essence, runners may initiate contact if the catcher is blocking the plate. Catchers cannot block home plate without possession of the ball; doing so results in an automatic safe call for the runner. Likewise, if the runner goes out of his way to make deliberate contact with the catcher, he will be automatically out. This rule is designed to protect the safety of the players, and understandably so. The past few years have seen a number of vicious hits at home plate, including a 2011 incident that resulted in a season-ending broken leg for Giants catcher Buster Posey.

Also starting this season, the highly debated expanded instant replay rules will come into play, allowing managers to challenge questionable calls. Each manager will be allowed one challenge in the first six innings. If a manager successfully challenges a call in the first six innings, he will get another challenge to use in the first six innings. From the seventh inning on, umpires will decide which calls need to be reviewed.

Sounds pretty cut and dry right? Here’s the tricky part: Let’s say a manager heads out on the field to argue a call. As he makes his way onto the field, the crew in the team’s video room quickly evaluates the play in question and communicates to the dugout whether it is deserving of a challenge. Meanwhile, the manager is buying time with the ump, hopefully enough time that he can glance to the dugout for a signal indicating whether or not he should issue a challenge.

Critics question whether the new system could extend MLB games, which are already criticized for dragging on too long. In my opinion, human error is part of the game, it always has been. The occasional blown call and subsequent manager temper tantrum are part of the drama that makes baseball so much fun to watch.

Toma Talks Turf

If you weren’t one of the 111.5 million people who tuned in to Super Bowl XLVIII on February 2, you missed a great game and an impeccable playing surface. Super Bowl guru George Toma took a minute to share his thoughts on the big game before heading to sunny Ft. Myers, Fla., to prepare for the Minnesota Twins’ spring training. Toma, who celebrated his 85th birthday on Super Bowl Sunday (Happy Birthday George!), had nothing but rave reviews about the field and the work of Ed Mangan and the rest of the 32-man crew tending to the turf at MetLife Stadium.

“The Super Bowl was terrific, with all the snow removal and getting the hard, frozen turf in tip-top shape. … The best artificial turf playing field we have ever had for Super Bowl,” Toma said.

Here are some quick facts about the Super Bowl turf:

UBU Speed Series S5-M Turf

  • MetLife’s field has 102,692 square feet of turf, over 1.4 billion blades of synthetic grass.
  • The field is made from 8,320 miles of fiber, enough to stretch from New York City to Paris and back.
  • The infill consists of 200 tons of crumb rubber, the equivalent of 36,504 tires.

Katie Meyers