Baseball team uses wider bases

Originally Published: April 1, 2010
By Special to Page 2

MISSISSIPPI -- Only the most hardcore baseball fans pay attention to the Mississippi Delta Baseball League. It's a fairly typical college baseball summer league, where players go to hone their skills after the school year is done.

But over the last few years, the MDBL has become known as a haven for aspiring speedsters. Each summer the fastest young college players in the country descend to The Delta to play what is possibly the quickest style of baseball in America.

In fact, the league is going to continue last season's experimental dimensions and again push the bases 95-feet apart.

"It got to the point where players were just bunting every time up and beating the ball out," said Champ Tolleson, manager of the Delta Blues. "Nobody was even trying to get the ball out of the infield anymore. These guys are so fast they changed the game down here."

With the extra five feet added to the base paths in 2009, games became far more manageable. The average nine-inning game lasted two hours and 51 minutes last season, as opposed to three and a half hours in 2008, the league's final season with regulation bases.

"It's nice to know you can throw guys out at first now," said Ryan Clearwater, shortstop for the Tunica Blackjacks. "Used to be a guy hit the ball on the ground, you didn't even try to throw over there. You'd just see a blur of Nike Air Huaraches barreling down the line and you knew he was going to beat it out. Now you have a fighting chance."

Stolen base totals have also come down. In 2008, teams averaged 11 stolen bases a game throughout the eight-team league. Last season with the new length, that number dropped to 6.5.

"It's amazing how speed can change the game," MDBL Commissioner Thorne Standish said. "We had no choice but to slow it down a little bit. These guys come down here just to run all summer. It's fun to watch, but it's demoralizing on the catchers. College catchers around the country used to joke around about coming down here to play, now there's a chance some of them might actually do it."

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