With college baseball starting next Friday, it's good to review all of the new rules that go into effect this season.  Many of them are designed to accelerate the pace of the game.  Here are some of the things fans may notice while watching at Russo Park this season.

THE INTENTIONAL WALK--Like the Major League rule, it will be no longer necessary to throw four wide ones.  Instead, the coach will signal his desire and the player will be awarded first base. The coach can request this at any time during the at-bat.

TIME BETWEEN INNINGS--From the time the final out is made to the beginning of the next inning will be 120 seconds.  When the two minutes are up, the pitcher must be ready to pitch and the batter must be ready to get in the box.  If the pitcher isn't ready, a ball is awarded to the batter.  If the batter is at fault, a strike is called.

NO MORE 3-1 MOVE--You know...it's the play that never works.  The pitcher, from the set position, fakes to third base and throws to first.  That move is outlawed and will be ruled a balk.  Just as a pitcher cannot fake a throw to first, he also cannot fake a throw to third.

THE SIX DEFENSIVE CONFERENCES--You're not going to see the catcher or the infielders conferencing with the pitchers nearly as much any more.  Umpires will be keeping track, just as they always have when the coach visits the mound.  Of the six conferences, three can be held involving the coach.  On the coach's fourth conference or the seventh overall, a pitching change must be made.  The offense can all get together during a pitching change, but cannot have a summit meeting during a visit.

GETTING HIT BY A PITCH--If you went to games a year ago, you may have noticed umpires not awarding first base if he felt the batter was trying to be hit by the pitch.  This year, there is a penalty for that.  If an umpire discerns a player was purposely getting hit by a pitch, a strike will be called.  If it happens with two strikes, the batter will be called out. The decision by the umpire is final and cannot be questioned by the head coach.

THE SET VS. THE WINDUP--The rule has been clarified to discern the difference between pitching from the windup and the set.  In the windup, a pitcher must have one foot on the rubber and the other must be also on the rubber or to the side of the rubber.  You may have noticed many pitchers were facing the side and rocking back and throwing.  It looked as though the pitcher was going to pitch from the stretch.  That will no longer be allowed and an illegal pitch or a balk will be called.  In the set position, the pitcher must have one foot on the rubber and the other in front of the rubber.  As always, you have to come to a complete stop before delivering a pitch.  Pitchers will still be allowed to pitch from the stretch with no one on base if they so desire.

THE OBSTRUCTION RULE--The rule was already in place where the catcher could not block the base without the ball.  This will now be enforced at all bases.  A fielder must have possession of the ball before being allowed to block a base.  This will also apply to pickoff throws to first base.

Many of these rule changes won't even be noticed by the fans.  But those who are students of the game will notice some of the subtleties.  Play ball.

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