- - Tuesday, August 6, 2019

WALDORF, Md. — The independent Atlantic League did not set out to make the Baseball Hall of Fame.

But that is what happened for an outfielder in Waldorf with the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs after he became the first player to steal first base in a pro baseball game in the United States last month.

“I just took off,” Blue Crabs outfielder Tony Thomas said. “I tried to take advantage of the situation.

Thomas, who once made it to Triple-A in the Red Sox system, ran to first base on an 0-1 pitch on July 13 after the Atlantic League implemented some new rules a few days earlier in the conjunction with Major League Baseball.

The Blue Crabs and the Atlantic League announced this week that the cleats Thomas wore in that game against the Lancaster (Pa.) Barnstormers were headed to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

A couple of other Blue Crabs have stolen first since the Thomas theft, namely infielder Josh McAdams on July 23 and infielder Edwin Garcia on Saturday.

“I feel honored to be accepted into the Hall of Fame,” Thomas said. “We play this game to be there, no matter how you get in. It’s a blessing that something that I did will be a legacy that lasts forever

The second half of the Atlantic League season began July 12 and the independent circuit is trying out some changes as part of an experimental partnership with Major League Baseball. Atlantic League teams are unaffiliated, which means their players are not in the minor league system of MLB clubs.

In addition to the new rule on stealing first base, batters can race for the base on any pitch not caught.

Other tweaks include:

⦁ A pitcher is required to step off the rubber in order to attempt a pickoff move.

⦁ One foul bunt is permitted with two strikes before a strikeout is registered.

⦁ Robot umpires are being used to alert the human home plate umpire whether the pitch was a ball or strike.

The TrackMan system was in use this past Friday in Waldorf, when the Blue Crabs hosted Somerset.

Lancaster leadoff hitter Darian Sandford said the changes are a plus for speedy base runners.

“Speed is part of my game,” said Sandford, who stole 21 bases in 50 games in 2017 for the Nationals’ Double-A affiliate Harrisburg.

After Sandford was let go by the Nationals in 2017, he joined the Barnstormers, and last season stole 82 bases in 123 games.

The changes are also bringing eyeballs to the Atlantic League.

“The good part is the publicity,” Sandford said. “It is on ESPN now. Fans are starting to know what league it is and want to come out and watch.”

Lancaster infielder Dan Gamache played in the Atlantic League All-Star Game on July 10 in York, Pennsylvania, where the robot umpire system was used.

Gamache said he took some pitches he thought were strikes and were called balls, and vice versa.

“I don’t think it was totally perfect,” Gamache said.

Gamache played in the Nationals’ farm system in 2017 and 2018.

He hopes the partnership with MLB helps Atlantic League players get back to the majors.

Gamache signed with Oakland just days after playing in the AL all-star game.

Washington Nationals closer Sean Doolittle has mixed feelings about the experiments.

“I feel for the guys in the Atlantic League,” Doolittle said. “They are trying to extend their careers and get back to affiliated teams. Now they are test subjects and guinea pigs. That doesn’t sit well with me (but) I am trying to keep an open mind.”

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