The Technology of Baseball

Here's how the game goes from field to screen.

Spring is in full swing, which means one thing: baseball is back. — And it’ll be with us through September 28; over the coming months each team will battle it out over 162 games, which equates to roughly 7,300 hours of play — plus playoffs.

While you might be suitably psyched to tune in and watch, we’re geeking out just as much about the technology involved with thrusting America’s favorite pastime onto our screens. Today’s ballpark contains a veritable feast of statistic capturing machinery, phantom cameras, and it seems wearable tech may also adorn the athletes of this season. The Connectivist spoke with Michael Davies from the field operations division of FOX Sports to go inside baseball on the inside of baseball.

While there may be some high tech additions to baseball these days, the foundations of sports broadcasting remain relatively unaltered, “In order to put a baseball game on TV you need roughly six cameras — that doesn’t really change things too much from the last fifty years, but on top of that we add all kinds of things,” said Davies.

“We’ve taken the technology that we use for putting cameras on NASCAR tracks”

One of the focuses of novel technology in stadiums has been to gather Intel to quantify players’ performance. “There are ball-tracking technologies that determine whether a pitch is a ball or a strike — but we’re also getting more granular data too, such as the ball’s rotation, spin axis and speed. We’re trying to parse these stats together to see what helps the viewer digest the story of baseball,” he said. Meanwhile, there are also moves towards tracking the athletes too. They want to identify individual players on the field and calculate how long it takes for them to respond to a ball, what area a fielder can effectively occupy and whether a player took the optimum route to catching a ball. “We’ve got a technology called ‘player pointer’ so we can already do that, but it might become more commonplace,” said Davies.

Beyond the measureable world of sporting statistics, there’s also the innovative placement of cameras, “We’ve taken the technology that we use for putting cameras on NASCAR tracks. We’ve put some cameras in the dirt so we can see the actual field of play.” Meanwhile, they’re experimenting with a means to take this one step further with wearable cameras — the idea is to make the viewer feel like they’re actually playing alongside the athletes. The challenge lies in making the technology easy to wear and non invasive so they don’t interfere with the sport itself. “We also have to make these cameras HD and wireless — it’s not easy,” said Davies. Nevertheless he anticipates implementing the technology at some point during the 2014 season, “The All-Star game is always a great time to test some of this stuff out,” he said.

“It has to pass the smell test, viewers will let you know if it’s superfluous” 

It’s clear there’s a coordinated effort to pimp up the technology within baseball stadiums, but will there ever be a point where enough is enough? At the end of the day, we’re all tuning in to watch the game not the stats anyway. Davies says they’re mindful of this and try to make sure they don’t overload the viewer’s attention span with technology for technology’s sake. “It has to pass the smell test, viewers will let you know if it’s superfluous.”

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