It begins for real on March 30, when the Dodgers visit the Padres.
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. - Everything but the carpeting is in place in the New York fortress that is going to change baseball.
That said, major league officials are crossing their fingers they already have everything covered when expanded replay begins in just over a month. "I'm curious," says Joe Torre, MLB executive vice-president, baseball operations, who has led briefings on replay's implementations for 15 major league teams, with the rest to be completed this week.
"This has never been done before. The reception from all the clubs has been very positive. That makes us happy." Torre and a group that also included former managers Tony La Russa and Jim Leyland briefed five teams Sunday at the Tampa Bay Rays' spring training complex.
The reviews were strikingly positive.
"Really well thought out," was Rays manager Joe Maddon's reaction. "They thought about everything, or at least it seems that way."
The key is the command center in MLB Advanced Media headquarters in New York, which already is operating. Sixty of the 70 umpires who will rotate through as replay officials have been trained.
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MLB added two new umpiring crews because two crews will work in the command center during every series.
Every major league team will be involved in five spring training games during which the technology will be tested. Then it begins for real on March 30, when the Dodgers visit the Padres. The two season-opening Diamondbacks-Dodgers games the previous week in Australia will operate under last year's rules.
The new program will allow managers' challenges on the majority of plays in a game. The exceptions, Torre said, are balls and strikes, checked swings, trapped balls in the infield, whether a runner tagging up on a fly ball left too soon and the so-called neighborhood play at second base.
Torre said the neighborhood play, in which the fielder moves off the base too soon while trying to avoid a runner, is being left out because of safety concerns for infielders. And MLB has determined trying to sync up cameras on the tag-up plays isn't perfect - though some telecasts try it.
"Trust me, we know that for sure," Torre said.
One other area – new rules involving home plate collisions that will be announced Monday – will fall under replay, but not under the challenge system. Torre declined to be specific about the new guidelines, but managers who have been briefed during these sessions have indicated the significant change is runners can't choose to crash into the catcher rather than try to touch home plate.
"The general spirit of it is that you don't want a collision potentially initiated by the base runner," Maddon said. "The catcher can still block the plate if he gets the ball in time."
A manager can challenge safe or out on those plays, but the umpires will decide on their own to look at possible violations of the new rule. The same goes for home run calls that previously have been subject to replay. Umpires will review those without a manager being required to challenge.
Mini command centers are being set up in both clubhouses in every major league ballpark. They will have the same dedicated video feeds at the same time as the New York headquarters. Teams can designate whoever they want to watch from the clubhouse and, just like the crew in New York, those people will have the same ability to choose from every camera angle in the ballpark.
"For a Fox game maybe there are going to be fewer cameras than for a Yankees-Red Sox game where, between NESN and YES, there might be 30 cameras. It's the same for both teams, no matter what it is on that particular day."
Torre said MLB also will provide cameras and crew for the very few games not televised by either team's rightsholders. He said he expects the message for a challenge should get to a manager within 30 seconds.
Then, the umpire who made call and the crew chief will go to technician near home plate, who will provide a headset, much like the National Hockey League does for goal reviews from its command center. The umpires will not leave the field, nor will they see the replay.
The umpire handling their game in New York – each ump there will be responsible for two games at a time but can ask for help from other umps there who are available – will make the ruling, including placing any baserunners. A camera high behind home plate has been installed in every stadium to help place runners.
"It may be easier to do it when you're watching from up high than having umpires on the field do it," Torre said. "And not only where was (the runner), but what was the effort." Of prime importance to MLB is not disrupting games.
Torre expects the crews in New York to anticipate challenges and already be looking at different angles before the challenge is made. "If it's something close, they're going to be on it and we feel that the process is going to work quickly," he said. "We don't want to upset the rhythm where nobody wants to watch this thing. But we want to make sure we get the game-changing call right."
"What really stood out to me is the detail in it," Maddon said. "The fact that they agree and understand it's a living organism, that there are things that may have to be addressed as we move it along. But I've got to give them credit. For the first attempt at something like this, I thought it was pretty well done."