SUGAR LAND – Baseball has always been a sport stuck in time, where things don’t change a whole lot.
But 150 years into its existence, technology is creeping into the game, for better or for worse.
The new age of baseball officiating came to Sugar Land on Tuesday, as the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball began its implementation of an automated ball-strike system, designed to give a more accurate call of balls and strikes.
The Skeeters had their first opportunity of trying out the new system at home in Tuesday’s game against the Lancaster Barnstormers at Constellation Field. The system had to endure a two-hour rain delay, and a glitch in the first inning, but it started to work after the second inning.
The new TrackMan system will rely on a big square set on top of the stadium, connected to a computer manned by a league official that will signal ball or strike to the home plate umpire through an earpiece. The umpire can overrule the system on any pitch, but the strike zone is supposedly a textbook strike zone.
Umpires will have control of the game on everything else, like checked swings and calling time.
The early reactions from the players and coaches are cautiously optimistic.
“To implement it this way, it’s like a learning curve, because it’s a lot different than what you’re used to,” Skeeters pitcher Matt Purke said. “I think we’re adjusting to it, you just got to find ways to hone your craft to make it work with what you’re presented with.”
Skeeters manager Pete Incaviglia understands that the experiment is part of baseball evolving, and he thinks it will work in the long run.
“You have to roll with the punches and be acceptable that things are going to change,” Incaviglia said. “Like any other business you’re doing. So it’s not surprising that the game is making some upgrades and doing some different things.
“I don’t really worry about things I have no control over. I’m just worried about how I’m going to manage a game and worry about how it affects my players.”
The system is part of a three-year agreement between the ALPB and Major League Baseball, as the two leagues are testing new experimental rules to mainstream the game. Other new rules include a time clock between at-bats and batters being allowed to steal first base on a wild pitch or passed ball.
The new rule is supposed to make the umpires’ life easier, or at least that’s the feeling of 25-year veteran Reggie Ligons.
“It’s not replacing us at all. It’s assisting us,” he said. “We’re going to do our best. It’s what the league wants, so that’s what we’re going to do.”
Most players see the automated system as a learning experience, for batters to not chase bad pitches, for pitchers to hit their spots, and for umpires to form a consistent strike zone.
“This would be more beneficial in the minor leagues because it can be a tool to train more umpires where they can get better,” Purke said.
“If you watch the big leagues, you know those guys understand the zone and they’re almost on. But in the minor leagues, you have guys that trying this out as a new gig or have been around a while and don’t want to do it any more.”
But at the end of the day, the game of baseball hasn’t changed a whole lot. It’s still a batter vs. a pitcher, one-on-one. Even if there are some changes.
“It takes that little chess match away from the game,” Skeeters outfielder Anthony Giasanti said. “That’s my thing, 17-inch plate that I work for two hours a day before the game.”