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Guido: Penalties will escalate in high school baseball

| Tuesday, March 22, 2016, 10:30 p.m.
Springdale head coach Jim Hastings instructs players during their practice at the high school on Thursday, March 17, 2016.
Jason Bridge | Tribune-Review
Springdale head coach Jim Hastings instructs players during their practice at the high school on Thursday, March 17, 2016.

High school baseball revised its penalty progression procedures.

Starting this season, umpires will be required to issue a warning to coaches before bench and/or dugout restrictions or outright ejections.

It's the only basic rules change — home plate celebrations also will be restricted — this season as local teams prepare for their nonsection openers Thursday.

Previously, issuing a warning to an offending coach was optional for umpires. Now, umps will restrict coaches to the bench or dugout, or eject coaches who commit a violation after previously being warned for a minor offense, according to the National Federation of State High School Sports Associations.

Coaches, however, still can be ejected on a first offense if it is deemed to be major. In Pennsylvania, any coach or player ejected also has to sit out the following contest. Coaches who receive a written warning will be confined to the bench for the remainder of the game. This will impact high school baseball, as most coaches also serve as third base coaches.

“The new rule change has initiated a penalty progression, starting with a written warning, restriction to the bench and or dugout and subsequent ejection from the contest,” said Eliot Hopkins, National Federation of State High School Associations director of sports and student services and a former PIAA assistant executive director. “A successful game official practices preventive officiating, and this new progression will allow the opportunity to remain in the game and teach his players.”

A revision also states that and a coach, player, substitute, attendant or bench personnel shall not have “any physical contact, spitting, kicking of dirt or any other physical action directed toward an umpire.”

The penalty is immediate ejection and possible sanctions by the school district or a governing body such as the WPIAL.

For players celebrating home runs and walk-off hits, team members must stay clear of home plate so umpires can observe the runner legally touching the plate.

An emphasis on catchers' helmets is also in effect. Helmets must cover the ears and include a throat protector. Nearly all high school catchers already use the required equipment.

Incidentally, baseball is the fourth-most popular boys sport in the nation, according to NFHS. There were 482,629 participants at 17,789 schools during the 2013-14 season.

Softball substitutes

The only meaningful rules change in softball clarifies the use of projected substitutes.

Projected substitutes, or players who are not immediately game participants, are prohibited.

In the past, a coach would tell the umpire before an inning that Player A will be batting for Player B, but Player B would be going back out defensively at the end of the half inning.

Now, the coach has to wait until the team is done batting, then make the defensive substitution.

The NFHS felt the need to clear up substitution procedures.

Also, the strike zone has been defined as from “the batter's forward armpit to the top of the knees,” and each batter's strike zone will be defined by the batter's normal stance.

Fast-pitch softball is the fifth-most popular sports for girls. In the 2014 season, the latest for which statistics are available, there were 364,297 softball players at 15,225 schools.

Starting the season

WPIAL baseball teams begin section play April 4.

Softball teams with seven or eight section teams begin play Tuesday, and the others start April 4.

In all sections, the top three teams qualify for the WPIAL playoffs.

George Guido is a Valley News Dispatch scholastic sports correspondent. His column appears Wednesdays.

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