Baseball history made: Robot umpires call Balls & Strikes

Baseball history made: Inside the debut of robot umpires


PA announcer at Atlantic League All-Star game directs fans to computer technology used to call balls and strikes and plate umpire Brian deBrauwere discusses his role. (July 10) AP, AP

It came on the first pitch in an all-star game in York, Pennsylvania, in a front of a few thousand fans.
York Revolution starting pitcher Mitch Atkins fired a fastball just off the center of the plate.
The home plate umpire signaled a "strike."
It came during Wednesday evening's Atlantic League of Professional Baseball All-Star Game at PeoplesBank Park, home of the York Revolution
The lead-off batter watched the first pitch of the game sail into the catcher's mitt. Despite the historic change, most everything at least seemed to go as usual, at least to fans watching.
This was the long-awaited debut of the automated ball-strike system (ABS), the beginning of a testing ground for the rest of this summer. This rules initiative trial results from a recent partnership between Major League Baseball and the Atlantic League.
Here's how the new balls and strikes technology works: An official in the press box monitors a laptop running the TrackMan radar system that electronically determines balls and strikes. That information is immediately relayed to the umpire using a wireless earpiece.
The pitches are tracked through a large Doppler radar screen high above home plate. The radar system measures a player's height and creates a strike zone.
No doubt, the change will take a while for pitchers and hitters to adjust.
Atkins seemed unsure about it after throwing his one inning on Wednesday. He said it will take a while to adjust to getting high and low strikes called in his favor. Same for a truer but tighter strike zone on inside and outside pitches.
He also noticed a delay in balls and strikes calls that fans may have not.
“Some of the pitches they call strikes (now) don’t look like strikes. It looks like a ball and TrackMan calls it a strike," Atkins said. "It’s just different.  
"Every pitch I've thrown (high in the strike zone) has been a ball my whole career, since I was 6 years old until now. It's different to see them called a strike.
“I like the human umpire, but I’ve been playing a long time. I’m old school."    
The push continues for the balls-strikes system to follow instant replay into the minor and major leagues. The potential positives include speeding up game play by eliminating the urge for batters and managers to argue balls and strikes.  
A main calling point is the hope for a more consistent strike zone for batters and pitchers. 

“We want to get it right. So if this helps the game and the officiating of the game, that’s what we’re here for," said Tuesday's home plate umpire Brian deBrauwere.
"Yeah, it takes something out of the umpire’s hands, but it places additional focus on other things we’re responsible for. Every other decision we have to make will now be magnified. Every check swing, every fair-foul, every safe or out will be even more important now."
Umpires' jobs actually won't change much, deBrauwere said, because they must be ready to make their own balls-strikes call if the new radar system malfunctions or stalls.
He confirmed that the computerized strike zone will expand in the upper and lower zones but shrink a bit on the inside and outside. He said umpires are taught not to call low strikes on breaking pitches that drop out of the zone.


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