Neal: Bringing pitch clock to MLB had to be done

·4 min read

La Velle's 3-2 Pitch: Three observations and two predictions on Sundays.

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In 1961, Twins fans could arrive home from work, have dinner, check on the family and then head to Metropolitan Stadium for an 8 p.m. first pitch during the summer break months.

Games then would end around the two-hour mark, occasionally 2½ hours, so fans would be headed home around 10:30 p.m. at the latest.

When I became a baseball fan in the early 1970's, games started at 7:30. By the time I started covering the Kansas City Royals in 1995, first pitch was at 7 p.m., which made making deadline easier.

The Twins currently schedule midweek games to start at 6:40 p.m. after watching fans leave Target Field at 10 p.m., regardless of the score, because of work in the morning or the kiddos having to be put to bed.

This year, MLB games are averaging 3:04. The sport has been bogged down by replay, commercial breaks, pitchers and hitters taking as much time as possible between pitches. Last season, I timed Matt Shoemaker and Hansel Robles taking as many as 23 seconds between pitches — with the bases empty.

We can debate the strategic impact of implementing a pitch clock some other time. The point here is that games are 28 minutes shorter in the minors this season because of a pitch clock. To clean up a phrase from Lizzo's hit song for this family newspaper, It's about darn time!

Despite the league's efforts to speed up games, they continued to trudge along. Something had to be done. And the league finally has acted.

I saw it for myself on Aug. 19 when I attended a suite party at a Saints game and was delighted to see that North St. Paul's Louie Varland was on the mound.

Varland, who ended up making his major league debut on Sept. 7, hit 96 miles per hour on the gun as late as the sixth inning. He gave up two earned runs over 5⅔ innings while fanning seven batters.

The game had been delayed by rain and did not start until 7:32 p.m. The Twins were home that night against Texas, but their game started on time. I tracked both games. There were a couple of late lengthy innings at CHS Field on Friday, but the Saints game, despite the rain delay, finished at 10:05 — just one minute after the Twins game ended. I was able to see an up-and-coming Twins pitcher in a game that lasted 2:33.

Players might grumble about how they might have to change their on-field habits with the arrival of the pitch clock. Parents leaving Target Field at 9:30 next season will have the option of giving their kids dessert first instead of sending them straight to bed.

Way to go out

Some athletes love competing so much they will play until injuries or declining skills end their careers. That is not the case for Lynx center Sylvia Fowles.

Fowles averaged 14.4 points and a WNBA-leading 9.8 rebounds a game this past season and could probably play another two seasons at a high level. Heck, she led the league with a 62.2 field-goal percentage.

But Fowles, 36, has retired following a 15-year career during which she starred for both the Lynx and Chicago Sky. She was an All-Star in four or her last six full seasons with the Lynx. She retires as an eight-time All-Star, four-time Olympic gold medalist for Team USA and 11-time WNBA All-Defensive team member.

And there's more.

On Thursday, she was named to the second-team All-WNBA team. It's the eighth time she's made the first or second all-league team.

Fowles is retiring on her terms but doing so while still at the height of her powers.

Who is going to Philly?

What will be interesting to me about the Vikings' "Monday Night Football" game against the Eagles is not what Justin Jefferson plans for an encore after his Week 1 thrashing of the Packers secondary, or what Dalvin Cook does carrying the ball against a defense that gave up 181 yards on the ground to Detroit last week.

It will be how many Vikings fans will travel to the City of Brotherly Shove to watch the game in person — or how many of them will enter Lincoln Financial Field in team colors.

In Philadelphia, insults aren't tolerated, they are graded. And their fans will be combining happy hour and pregame tailgating, a toxic mix.

"It's a crazy environment," Cook said. "I know their fans will be ecstatic. They be crazy. But it is just about controlling the environment. I've played enough football to know it is just another road game."

Two predictions

Cook powers Vikings win

The Vikings will encounter an Eagles team on Monday that will be better prepared that Green Bay was last week, but Cook will run the ball effectively and the Vikings will leave Philadelphia with a 27-24 victory.

Loons are playoff-bound

The Loons will win their final two games of the regular season over Vancouver and San Jose and safely qualify for the MLS playoffs.