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Sports 101

When Major League Baseball players stepped up to the plate on opening day this week, they encountered some changes. For the sixth time since 1961, MLB expanded - this time from 28 to 30 teams (new teams are the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays); one team leapt from the American to National League; and in an effort to speed up the game, new rules have been issued.

Q: Which Major League Baseball team is the only one to switch leagues in this century?

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A: The Milwaukee Brewers, formerly of the American League, will begin play in the National League Central Division this season, as part of major league baseball's realignment plan. The Brewer's new division rivals include the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Q: New rules have been introduced to eliminate time-wasters and speed up the pace of Major League Baseball games. What are some of the new rules?

A: 1. With no runners on base, a pitcher must deliver a pitch within 12 seconds after the batter is in the batter's box ready to hit; the former rule was 20 seconds.

2. When possible, pinch-hitters (a player who is sent in to take another player's turn at bat) should be warmed up before entering the on-deck circle.

3. Umpires should not grant time for batters to step out of the box, unless, in the umpire's judgment, it is necessary. When a batter is granted time, he may not stray more than three feet from the batter's box.

4. Breaks between innings will be limited to 2 minutes, 5 seconds from the third out to the first pitch of the next half inning; the first batter will be announced after 1 minute 40 seconds.

5. When a manager or coach leaves the dugout for a second visit to the mound in one inning, which would require a pitching change, he must indicate the new pitcher.

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Q: How many new stadiums have been built for this season?

A: Three - in Arizona, Tampa Bay, and Anaheim.

Q: And how many are under construction, scheduled to open by 2000?

A: Five - Detroit, Seattle, Houston, Milwaukee, and San Francisco.

Q: Has baseball's national attendance decreased since the 1994 strike?

A: Yes, by almost 11 percent. The average attendance before the strike in 1994 was 31,612; in 1997, it dropped to 28,276.

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Some sharp readers caught me sleeping on the court. In my March 27 column, I said that if a basketball player loses control of his dribble and it goes out of bounds, his team still retains possession. This is incorrect. Rather, the other team gains control of the ball.

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