Opening Day 2023: How the pitch clock will revolutionize MLB

Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire

THE DRIVE FROM Tempe, Arizona, to Orange County takes roughly six hours, so Tucker Davidson had plenty of time to talk as he trekked from spring training to his home in the Los Angeles area. Just like everyone else in baseball, the 27-year-old left-hander has time at the forefront of his mind these days. The next pitch Davidson throws for the Los Angeles Angels will come with a digitized clock winding down and a penalty for its expiration.

A new brand of baseball will reveal itself to the world Thursday, when the Angels and 29 other teams inaugurate the 2023 season, or, as it will be known in future years, the beginning of the pitch clock era. It will be the most significant change to the on-field game since Jackie Robinson's arrival altered the player population.

Baseball has existed for more than a century and a half without any time constraints. The game for so long had regulated itself, but in recent years especially, the mechanics went haywire. Major League Baseball saw game times swell beyond the modern appetite, with three-hour-plus affairs the norm. The league, cognizant of fans' aversion to the game putting the time in national pastime, rolled out testing of a pitch clock across the minor leagues in 2022.

The first thorough, substantive, fair critique of the clock came last spring from Davidson, then at Triple-A in the Atlanta Braves system. In a dozen tweets, he laid out the entirety of the pitch clock experience through a player's eyes. The game was faster. That was necessary. But maybe too fast. He felt rushed. The clock was in his head. And he worried that the drama baseball naturally produced -- the downtime between pitches that let the game breathe and infused late innings with tension -- would be lost, and with it would go baseball's soul, the element that makes it different from all the other sports.

Then, in August, the Braves traded Davidson to the Angels, and he spent the final two months of the season in the big leagues. He couldn't help but notice the difference.

"Games were taking forever," Davidson said. "I was used to the fast pace. Every night, you're home at 10. There was too much dead time [in the major leagues]. I found myself looking around and wondering what we were doing.

"Now, I think the pitch clock is great. I'm still nervous about some of the unintended consequences. Are fans going to be mad they paid the same and got less baseball? Maybe. But I really like the pace, and I think they will, too."

MLB's bet on the pitch clock -- 15 seconds with the bases empty, 20 seconds with runners on, a ball assessed if pitchers don't begin their windups before it flashes triple-zero, a strike if batters aren't "alert" and facing the pitcher at the 8-second mark -- depends on people like Davidson metamorphosing from skeptic to convert to true believer. And if early returns hold up, that bet is likely to pay off.

People inside the game of baseball love the pitch clock so far. Like, love the pitch clock. Like, really love the pitch clock. Like, love-the-pitch-clock-as-much-as they-love-their-kids kind of love. Players love it, coaches love it, executives love it, owners love it. And even those who don't love it -- who think it needs to be a little longer, and umpires, who have been told to enforce it strictly, a little more lenient -- respect it for what it's doing to game times.