Tech support in the ballpark

Long Island Ducks Outfielder Ezequiel Carrera hits a pitch while the umpire watches carefully at Bethpage Ballpark on Wednesday, July 24, 2019. Traditionally, the umpire decides whether the play is a ball or a strike, but starting on July 25, 2019, they will start using Trackman Radar technology to make the calls, which will be communicated to the umpire via earpiece. The home team was winning 6-0 at the time. Photo by Kiana Wright.
Long Island Ducks Outfielder Ezequiel Carrera hits a pitch while the umpire watches carefully at Bethpage Ballpark on Wednesday, July 24, 2019. Traditionally, the umpire decides whether the play is a ball or a strike, but starting on July 25, 2019, they will start using Trackman Radar technology to make the calls, which will be communicated to the umpire via earpiece. The home team was winning 6-0 at the time. (Photo by Kiana Wright.)

A major change has been occurring within minor league baseball.

Traditional baseball in the Atlantic League is transforming to fit in with new technologies as an Automated Ball-Strike System will be calling strikes and balls instead of umpires.

Umpires behind the plate will now wear an earpiece that relays whether a pitch is a ball or a strike based on a reading from the ABS system. It generates the call via a solar-like panel hanging towards the top of the ballpark. Fans have dubbed it “robo-ump.”

The main goal of this system is to increase the accuracy of calls made during games. The umpire still stands behind home plate and still has to pay close attention to the game and the calls being made. But “this technology allows them to be more relaxed throughout the game,” said Michael Polak, Long Island Ducks director of media relations and broadcasting.

After being tested in the Atlantic League All-Star Game, ABS is making its way to all Atlantic League games beginning Thursday, July 25.

Fans have mixed opinions. Older spectators call it unnecessary. Younger fans find the new technology beneficial.

“The game should still have the umpire; they need a human element,” fan Craig Harlow said. “The umpire is part of the game and they should stick to tradition. There are good and bad calls. People have to just live with it.”

“Human error is part of the game and the human element is being taken out of the game,”  fan Sal Cataldo said.

The Trackman technology board, which uses radar technology to analyse whether a play is a ball or a strike, is seen at Bethpage Ballpark in Long Island on Wednesday, July 24, 2019. The board reports the results back to the umpires via earpiece. The technology starts working this week at Long Island Ducks games. Photo taken by Grace Torgersen.
The Trackman technology board, which uses radar technology to analyze whether a play is a ball or a strike, is seen at Bethpage Ballpark in Long Island on Wednesday, July 24, 2019. The board reports the results back to the umpires via earpiece. The technology starts working this week at Long Island Ducks games. (Photo by Grace Torgersen)

Some fans will miss seeing the players and umpires having heated disagreements on the field over a call but think ABS will make for the best game experience overall.

“Now people cannot get mad at the umpires or gang up on them for making any bad calls,”  Stacie Crane said.

This is not the only recent change in minor league baseball. There were five rule changes or initiatives implemented in the first half of the season, Pollock said. They include an electronic strike zone and give players the option of stealing first base if the catcher does not catch the ball.

“Personally, I feel like it allows the umpire to be less worried about making sure they are extremely focused on every pitch to know whether it is a ball or a strike,” Polak said. “Obviously they are still going to be very focused on their job, as they should be. They are still going to be behind the plate and they still have a lot to do.”

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