The Return of Robo Ump

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Last week The Lioness and I spent Friday night at a baseball game. Our local team, the San Rafael Pacifics, were hosting the Pittsburg Diamonds for a three-game series.

It was a surreal event in several ways: One, it was the middle of June and the temperature was in the low sixties and getting cooler; Two, the PITCHf/x Automated Strike Zone was back in action and a computer would be calling balls and strikes; Three, HBO was there to film a segment for their series, “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel”.

Last year the Automated Strike Zone was impressive and exciting, but this year took it to a new level…The goal this year was to have the system be aesthetically identical to baseball as all fans have come to know it, and we accomplished that tonight. —Eric Byrnes

Former major league player, Eric Byrnes, returned to Albert Field to host a benefit for the Pat Tillman Foundation and to work as home plate umpire for the evening. His goal this year was to make the automated system more transparent.

PITCHf/x is installed in all 30 major league stadiums. It consists of three cameras and a central tracking system that can digitally record the entire trajectory of live baseball pitches to within an inch of accuracy. Currently, this data is streamed in real time to TV broadcasters, but on this particular night it was part of the ball game.

Last year Eric was there to watch the monitor and announce the call—ball or strike—from the press table. This year a light was installed behind the fence in Center Field. When it flashed on, he called a strike. If no light appeared after a pitch, it was a ball.

I liked this year’s Robo Ump game even more than last year’s. The home plate umpire looked like less of a “puppet” since he was calling the pitches himself (based on the computer analysis).

Our home team won, 11—1, and I think that the idea of automating the calls at home plate took another step forward. Stay tuned for more info on this game-changing concept.

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