During a game between the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs and the Lancaster Barnstormers, Tony Thomas, 33, was at bat in the bottom of the 6th inning when an errant pitch bounced behind the catcher and toward the backstop.
Thanks to a new experimental rule change in the Atlantic League, he was able to steal first and make history.
The rule stated that batters may “steal” first base on any pitch not caught in flight and the batter may be thrown out if he tries to run, according to an MLB/ALPB press release that described the changes.
“It was just something that I never thought I’d be a part of,” Thomas said. “The [pitcher] was on the mound, wasn’t consistent around the strike zone and I found a way to get our team on base and the opportunity presented itself. It wasn’t something I thought about going into, but when I saw the ball stuck underneath the backdrop I knew I had no shot of getting me out at first base, so I took off and went.”
He continued, “In the process of looking back to see where the ball went, I actually saw [the catcher] Anderson sticking his hand up to the umpire for the ball because it’s [usually an] automatic passed ball. I saw it submerge and I took off because I knew at that time in the game our team needed base runners.”
The outfielder made it to first base without a throw from the catcher on a 0-1 count.
Other rule debuts in the independent league included the use of electronic strike zones, which have been labeled “robot umpires.” In the Atlantic League All-Star game this past Wednesday, the home plate umpire had an earpiece hooked up to an iPhone that tracked balls and strikes using radar.
Other changes include moving the pitcher’s mound back to increase offensive production and allowing a player one foul bunt on two strikes before he’s called out. In the MLB, if a player bunts the ball foul on two strikes, he is automatically ruled out.
“We need to see how it works, first in the Atlantic League and then probably other places, meaning other parts of minor league baseball, before it comes to Major League Baseball. We kind of feel it’s incumbent on us to figure out whether we could make it work. And that’s what we’re doing,” said Manfred.
By David Aaro