Robot umps and dogs, minor league ball back after lost year

Full Screen
1 / 4

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

One of the cameras used for automatic balls and strike calls is shown during the first inning of a Low A Southeast league baseball game between the Dunedin Blue Jays and the Tampa Tarpons at George M. Steinbrenner Field Tuesday, May 4, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. The game is one of the first in the league to use automatic calls. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

TAMPA, Fla. – It took just four batters at George Steinbrenner Field before a fan yelled “C'mon, blue!” toward home plate umpire Kaleb Devier after two consecutive close pitches were called balls.

Never mind that a computer was making the calls.

Didn't matter on Tuesday night as the Tampa Tarpons took on the Dunedin Blue Jays. Because from Omaha to San Jose to the Jersey Shore, minor league baseball was back after a lost season, with fans, crazy promotions and even those robot umpires.

The Tarpons found themselves already in the dog days on opening day. They hosted the Dunedin Blue Jays on “Tail Waggin’ $2 Tuesday” where fans could bring their pooches to the park for two bucks.

New York Yankees vice president Vance Smith greeted and talked with fans as they entered the ballpark to see the Class A affiliate, calling it a homecoming after a minor league season wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Excited, but also hesitation,” Smith said. “We’re following some protocols, but we’re happy to have baseball back. That’s the one thing I’m excited about because it’s been 18 months since we’ve Tarpons baseball and minor league baseball.”

The scent of hot dogs — the kind with mustard, not the mutts — signaled a sense of normalcy. The masking and social distancing showed there was still a way to go.

Side attractions like Speed Pitch are gone and concessions are cashless but the games were back, finally.