(written several weeks ago, published today)
Baseball's "dropped third strike" rule (on any third strike not caught on the fly and held by the catcher, the batter is allowed to advance to first base, unless first base is occupied with less than two out) has played a big part in our family over this last year, especially this last weekend. Our 9 year old son was introduced to the rule last year with a travel team he played with, then this year with his 9-10 yr old "house ball" team (regular league). The 9-10 division has the rule as part of regular play.
Now, on his 10U travel team, the "dropped third strike" is a common occurrence. I don't quite like the term "dropped third strike," as it implies that the catcher drops the ball. The majority of these cases at a young age have a batter swinging and missing at a ball that is in the dirt or somehow out of the reach of the catcher.
This weekend, the Mets visited AT&T park. A 9th inning rally was started on a dropped-third strike, as Angel Pagan started running to first. The Mets catcher picked up the ball and threw wide to first, allowing Pagan to reach base. I used the opportunity to explain to him the importance of making the putout on such a play as it could easily lead to a score.
The next morning, he was catching for his team, and the very first batter reached on a "dropped third" that was a wild pitch. We had just talked about it. Later in the game, however, an exciting play took place. With a runner on third and one out, a batter swung and missed at a ball in the dirt for strike three. The ball bounced in front of the plate by about a foot. The batter started running to first, my son picked up the ball, bluffed the runner back to third and threw to first to get the out. But the runner took off for home immediately. The first baseman picked up on the play and instead of covering first with a stretch, he swept across first base like a shortstop would and fired a bullet home, six inches off the ground in front of the plate and just got the foot of the sliding runner. Double play!
It is amazing how a rule I knew my whole life was suddenly intensified to me overnight. I'll never look at the dropped third strike the same way again.