Baseball's crystal ball: Colorful bats, rejiggered rotations
Neon green bats with lightning bolts, helmets paying homage to Cal, Clemente and Cool Papa Bell. A rotation full of relievers, a designated runner for pitchers.
Hard to imagine any of that in the big leagues, right?
Just like some of those far-fetched ideas in other sports - long-distance extra points in the NFL, 3-on-3 overtime in the NHL, globe-trotting games in the NBA.
''I think the exciting thing about baseball is we don't know what's coming,'' Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. ''If you asked me five years ago, I would not have been able to predict some of the changes in our game.''
Replay reviews, interleague play, crazy shifts, they once would've all been impossible to foresee in Major League Baseball.
That said, let's try to look into the future at what someday might be as routine as a two-hop grounder. Who knows, that Havana vs. Montreal matchup in the World Series could be only a decade away:
BRIGHTEST OF ALL
NL MVP Bryce Harper is the face of baseball. One of them, anyway. The Nationals slugger wants to see the game ''embrace the emotion'' of its players, not restrict their flair.
A little thing he'd welcome - eye-poppin' batting helmets.
''I love the goalie masks that Corey Crawford wears with the Blackhawks. They're fun, colorful. We could do that, too, with the helmets,'' he said.
''It's sad that some younger players don't know about Reggie Jackson and even Ken Griffey Jr. You could put their pictures on there, faces of the greats,'' he said.
And what about bright, personalized bats, the kind often seen on softball fields?
''Why not?'' Harper said.
SHHHH ... THROW A SLIDER
NFL coaches call plays into the headset of a quarterback's helmet. Maybe baseball could borrow that model.
No more catchers sauntering out to the mound to talk about what to throw on a 2-2 count. Instead, he merely covers his mouth and whispers the choice.
''There's no telling where the sport could go with technology,'' Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. ''We may even laugh at what we're doing today, and we think what we're doing today is pretty cool.''
OK, this would be really radical: An All-Star Game approach to pitching, where the starter goes two or three innings, followed by a half-dozen relievers. It might take a 14-man staff, different training techniques and certainly a new salary structure.
Remember, though, the concept of five-man rotations and situational lefties took a long time to evolve. A few years ago, the Rockies limited starters to 75 pitches, and that didn't work out too well.
''Obviously, everyone is looking for an edge,'' St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.
''It would take a lot of buy-in for a team with a lot of young players and an organization willing to try something like that,'' he said.
CAUGHT THE CORNER, BY 1/1,000TH OF AN INCH
For years, a lot of baseball lifers laughed at the idea of a computer calling balls and strikes. Suffice to say, MLB umpires aren't totally dismissing the concept now.
Former outfielder Eric Byrnes oversaw an experiment like this last summer for a couple of games in an independent minor league. A bunch of kinks to work out, for sure.
''I could see it someday,'' New York Yankees star Mark Teixeira said. ''I'm not saying anytime soon, but I could see it.''
Six weeks of practice and prep time, plus 30 exhibition games. For players who usually report to camp in shape.
Could the whole thing be cut down?
''I sort of hope spring training will be different,'' Hinch said. ''I think we can condense some of our traditional rituals.''
''We're always interested in the health of the players, and you're asking them to tack on a lot to an already long season,'' he said. ''I think teams are starting to change. Some people believe in a shorter spring already.''
OFF YOUR FEET
No telling whether the yes-or-no debate over the designated hitter will get resolved. But there's no doubt teams in both leagues worry about their $15 million pitchers getting hurt while running the bases.
A possible solution: A designated runner.
Maverick A's owner Charlie O. Finley floated this idea in the `70s. Not just for pitchers, either. Finley employed track star Herb Washington solely to run - he got into 105 games, never came to bat, stole 31 bases and played in the 1974 World Series.
''I don't know if I want to see that. I don't think that's necessary,'' Texas manager Jeff Banister said. ''I like the brand of baseball that we play. Let's continue to keep our guys complete athletes.''
AP freelance writers Dick Scanlon and Jose M. Romero contributed to this report.