LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Braves catcher Gerald Laird appreciates Major League Baseball's new rule regarding home-plate collisions, but he did not see the need.
"I wasn't even really a big fan of the rule [changing] because, honestly, how many times do you really get run over a year?" Laird said. "I mean, I remember last year that, maybe, I don't think I got run over last year. Knock on wood, it may happen this year, but it just doesn't happen enough for me to have to change the rule."
The rule prevents runners from deviating from a direct line to the plate to make contact with catchers. Runners do not have to slide. Catchers cannot block the plate unless they are in possession of the ball. Otherwise, they must provide a lane for the runner.
Plays at the plate will be subject to the home-plate umpire's judgment, including whether or not a runner has malicious intent when colliding with the catcher. Expanded instant replay rules, which go into effect this season, will also be used.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez is in favor of the new rule.
"We're trying to keep the integrity of the game a little bit with that play at the plate -- that's exciting," Gonzalez said, "but also trying to give a little safety to our catchers."
Laird said it is "comforting" to know that runners cannot specifically target the catcher, but he believes the rule affects runners much more than catchers. Gonzalez echoed Laird, saying the Braves would not change how they coach their catchers defensively.
"It's going to be a little different outlet for the runners now knowing that they've got to slide and can't come in with intent to really hurt someone with their shoulder or push them, use their arms," Laird said. "So, it's going to be an adjustment for them.
"For me, I'm just going to go about it the same way. I still expect some hard slides in there and contact, but they've got to do the best for the game and try to take care of some of the athletes and their health, so I'm OK with it."
In recent years, the prevalence of concussions in sports has increased. Both the National Football League and the NCAA have implemented new rules to reduce the number of head injuries sustained on the football field.
Laird appreciates MLB taking action to reduce head injuries, but he believes catchers deal with a greater risk of suffering a concussion during at-bats.
"Foul tips are a bigger part of the concussions that you'll get around the plate," Laird said. "I feel like using that hockey mask doesn't help either, because when the ball foul tips you off your face, the mask has nowhere to go but ring your bell. So that's why I've stayed with the old-school mask. I think if you're going to try to change one thing, you've got to change all of it."
The Braves had a team meeting Tuesday regarding the rule change to give players the chance to learn and discuss the new guidelines.
As far as runners are concerned, Gonzalez said the Braves will ask their players to get down and slide, but they do not have to do so as long as they make "good contact" with the catcher at the plate.
"I believe there is a difference of going in there hard and a difference of going in there and trying to hurt somebody," Gonzalez said. "I think we all know when those situations happen."
"I think it's going to take out the nasty collisions and the big ones," Pastornicky said. "Cut down on some injuries, and that'd be big for us players to help our careers stay longer and hopefully take those bad injuries out of the game."
Prior to the team meeting, Atlanta third baseman Chris Johnson also voiced support for making home-plate collisions safer as long as the new rule "doesn't change the game too much."
"It's a pretty cool game," Johnson said. "It's like football. As long as we don't change it to two-hand touch, then we'll be OK. I just don't like changing too much, because the game's been so great for so long."
Gonzalez recognizes that rule changes regarding home-plate collisions have been in effect for several years on the high school and college levels. In time, he believes that the Majors, too, can adjust.
"In two or three years, it's going to be a norm," Gonzalez said. "It really is going to be a norm, and I think we're going to cut down a lot of the possibility of some of our catchers getting hurt."
Joe Morgan is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less