MLB Adds Flexibility For Proposed MiLB Start Times, Travel Rules

Image credit: (Photo by Brian Westerholt/Four Seam Images)

Major League Baseball has sent a new proposal to Minor League Baseball teams that provides some improved flexibility for the start times of games on getaway days.

In MLB’s previous proposal, start times on getaway days when either team had more than 150 miles to travel for the next day’s game was limited to 4 p.m. local time or earlier. MLB’s proposal also prohibited teams from starting games before 12 p.m. local time without the agreement of the MLB affiliates of both participating teams. Such a proposal appeared designed to improve travel conditions for players.

But it also caused a variety of concerns for minor league teams. In hot and humid climates in the South and Southwest, the idea of having a game start between noon and 4 p.m. in June, July or August seemed unappealing both for fans and players.

Such a rule also would make it much harder or impossible for teams to run traditional “Thirsty Thursday” or other 2-for-1 drink promotions on Thursdays, which is often a getaway day. Those promotions are key in Thursdays being a significant attendance driver for many teams.

MLB’s revised proposal would allow teams to start as late as 7:05 p.m. if neither team is traveling farther than 150 miles for the next day’s game. If the next day’s trip is further than 150 miles, the start time will need to be rolled back one minute for each additional mile beyond 150 miles (measured by the team traveling the furthest distance). For example, if one team has to travel 210 miles for the next day’s game, the getaway day game cannot start later than 6:05 p.m. local time.

In recognition of weather issues, MLB’s proposal to minor league teams also now allows that if the average daily high temperature is 90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher in that half month of the year (July 1-15 or July 16-31, for example) minor league teams cannot be required to start a game before 6 p.m. local time. The distance rules still apply on getaway days, but the earliest possible start time would be 6 p.m. 

The new proposal also opens the door for teams to do at least one morning start, which have proven popular in getting schools to bring groups to otherwise sparsely attended early week games. 

The previous proposal said no games could start before 12 p.m. local time without permission from both participating teams’ MLB affiliates. Now, teams are allowed to schedule one game per season that starts between 11 a.m. and noon, as long as that game is preceded by an off day or a day game. No team can be scheduled for more than two such games in a season (one at home and one on the road) and no other games may start before noon without permission from both teams’ MLB affiliates. 

As in the previous proposal, teams must have an off day every 15 days, up from the current one per month. Also, as in the older proposal, all-star games have been eliminated from each league’s schedule unless the league gets MLB approval.

The rules on bus travel have also been adjusted in the new proposal. While two buses will still be required, any trip of 250 miles or more now requires either one sleeper bus or one luxury bus configuration (which usually means a bus with fewer seats and more space per passenger) depending on availability and MLB team preference. The adjustment to the sleeper bus requirement seems to be made in recognition that the supply of sleeper buses from charter companies is limited.

As in the earlier proposal, teams are required to either have an off day to travel more than 350 miles to a game or they must fly for that trip. But one key addendum has been added. Now, that requirement can be waived by the MLB club. With the MLB club’s permission, minor league teams can travel farther than 350 miles by bus for a next-day game.

Many of the proposals fulfill MLB’s promises to improve player conditions. They will also likely bring increased costs to minor league operators.

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