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The Steering Committee of World Baseball Classic, Inc., has approved a controversial rule to help break a potential tie in a long extra-inning game during next month’s WBC tournament, and it does not sit well with at least one Italian fan.

According to a WBC news release, “A variant of the IBAF extra-inning rule, used in the 2008 Olympics, will be utilized. Beginning with the 13th inning, each half-inning will begin with runners on first and second base, with the batting order intact. The applicability of the rule to the championship game of the tournament is under review by the Rules and Regulations Committee.”

In an e-mail, Vincenzo Russo wrote in response: “I’m a fan of the game from Italy. These days I’m looking for a way to express all my disappointment with the approval of the extra-inning rule by the WBC Committee on a proposal of IBAF President Harvey Schiller. I really can’t believe such an absurd, asinine rule has been passed. It seems just like a Sepp Blatter-type rule for European football purposes.

“Imagine a semifinal, USA vs. Japan, tied in the 13th inning; a great game for a baseball fan but too long for Schiller-Blatter. Now imagine that 13th inning beginning with runners put on first and second base, not via hit or walk or a hit-by-pitch, but by a (ridiculous) rule.

“I think the glamour of the game would evaporate. The culture of sport and of baseball is reaching a goal, a step (a base), thanks to your own skills . . . not for a rule.”

Russo’s point is well taken, and it seems there has been a trend in recent years to avoid marathon games in sports, as fans have apparently — perhaps subconsciously — set their own time limits for watching the play-by-play.

Postgame shootouts in hockey and soccer, with enormous pressure put on the goalkeepers, have been criticized as an inappropriate way to quickly end tie games or matches after 60 or 90 minutes of action.

The NFL’s overtime rule, which awards a sudden death victory to a team scoring first even if the opposing team never gets its hands on the ball, has also attracted some disapproval.

Now we have the “13th inning” regulation in baseball, and I have to agree I hope this never gets into pro ball. I do not think it will, and I doubt if any baseball fan likes this rule but, for the WBC, I suppose they have to do something to avoid a long, drawn-out game where the health and safety of the players — especially pitchers — preparing for their regular season is first and foremost.

This is the World Baseball Classic, not the World Series.

Hopefully, the WBC games will all be exciting but not go beyond 12 innings, so the 13th-inning rule does not need to be applied.

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Diamond Dust: How much will the weakened economy have an effect on professional baseball during the coming season?

Will attendances go way down because some fans may not be able to afford to buy tickets to major league and Japanese games?

That remains to be seen, but the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks report their Field Closeup Seats are already sold out for the year. These are the ones on the field down the left- and right-field lines.

The S, A and B seats go for ¥18,000, ¥12,000 and ¥10,000, respectively.

The new Hiroshima Mazda Stadium, opening April 10, will indeed be Japan’s first asymmetrical park in pro baseball — but just barely. Dimensions will be 101 meters to the left-field foul pole, but only 100 meters down the right-field line and 122 meters to straightaway center. The capacity of Mazda Stadium will be 33,000.

Another former Fukuoka Softbank Hawks pitcher from 2008 will be throwing in South Korea this coming season.

That situational lefty and temperamental Internet blogger C.J. Nitkowski has signed with the SK Wyverns of the Korean Baseball Organization after two years in Fukuoka. He joins ex-Hawks mound mate Rick Guttormson who, as reported here last week, will be with the KBO’s KIA Tigers.

Some schedule changes for 2009: The Chiba Lotte Marines will start Friday night home games at Chiba Marine Stadium at 6:30 p.m. The starting time for other weekday night games remains at 6:15 p.m. with Saturday night games during the hot summer months starting at 6 p.m.

All the “nighters” played at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium by the Yakult Swallows will begin at 6 p.m. In the past, the Swallows scheduled a lot of home games to get rolling at 6:20 p.m., following Tokyo Big 6 university league games which also take place at the midtown ball park.

In addition, the Yomiuri Giants have increased the number of home day games they will play this season to 17, up from 10 in 2008.

Finally, Japanese baseball hopes to cash in on a “second Golden Week” created by a change in holidays on the calendar.

The April 29-May 6 GW has always been a big draw with sellouts at all or most of the six games scheduled each holiday. The weather is usually great, and just about every team is still in the pennant race.

Now, there will be a “mini-Golden Week” in late September, since the Respect for the Aged national holiday has been moved from a fixed Sept. 15 to the third Monday of the month which this year will be Sept. 21.

Since Sept. 23 (Wednesday this year) is the Autumn Equinox holiday, a citizen’s holiday will be designated on Tuesday, Sept. 22.

Tack on the previous Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 19-20, and you’ve got five consecutive days off from work and a full slate of six Central and Pacific League games daily.

Enjoy.

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Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wayne@JapanBall.com

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