OGDEN — It'll be a different season for the Ogden Raptors for many reasons this year after last season was canceled due to COVID-19.
Gone are the Los Angeles Dodgers affiliation and its place in the Minor League Baseball pipeline, and gone now are extra-inning contests at Lindquist Field.
The Pioneer Baseball League announced a handful of interesting new rules coming to the league this season; among them, abandoning extra-inning affairs and replacing it with "knock out," which can best be described as a "sudden death" home run derby between teams until a winner is crowned that evening.
League officials said the move was made to avoid any "excessive strain" on Pioneer League teams pitching staffs.
Under the new rule, if a game remains tied after nine innings, each team will designate one hitter who will receive five pitches. The result of the game will be determined by the team whose hitter clubs the most home runs. If both teams' "knock out" hitters end in a home run tie after five pitches, both teams will select another hitter and the rounds will continue until a team emerges with more home runs.
Changes to pinch hitters and pinch runners were also announced Tuesday. A new "designated pinch hitter" and "designated pinch runner" rule means a player that is substituted at the plate or on the base pads can return to their defensive position unless otherwise substituted during the game. A team would be allowed to do this once in a game and the pinch hitter or runner selected would be ineligible to return to the game.
Under traditional baseball rules, a pinch hitter or pinch runner is an official substitution for someone in the lineup. It means the pinch hitter or pinch runner must replace that individual unless otherwise substituted by someone else that hasn't entered the game.
The league will also allow batters to appeal to umpires on calls about check swings. In the past, the league only allowed pitchers and catchers to request appeals among teams. The league will also have three-person umpiring crews to allow for better coverage of calls on the field.
Pioneer League President Michael Shapiro said in a statement Tuesday that he was "thrilled" about the new rule changes coming to the league this year.
"The Pioneer Baseball League is committed to developing ideas that enhance the strategy of the game, protect the safety of our players and add to the fun and engagement of our fans," he said. "We believe this focus will help assure the future of the game among a broader and more diverse audience."
The league begins play next month. The Ogden Raptors, for example, are slated to open the 2021 season May 22 against the Boise Hawks.
The game will be its first since Major League Baseball approved sweeping changes to the minor league system of the offseason. The Raptors, which were previously a Rookie League affiliate of the Dodgers, and other Pioneer League teams were cut from the minor league pipeline.
The Pioneer League, which dates back to 1939, instead became an independent league with a professional partnership with MLB. Other teams in the league are located in Boise, Idaho; Idaho Falls, Idaho; Billings, Montana, Great Falls, Montana; Grand Junction, Colorado and Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The Northern Colorado Owlz, which were previously located in Orem, are set to rejoin the league next season.