major league outfielder Eric Byrnes uses a
computerized video system to call balls and strikes
at an independent minor league baseball game between
the San Rafael Pacifics and Vallejo Admirals
Tuesday, July 28, 2015, in San Rafael, Calif. On
Tuesday night, the computer system stood in for
pitch calls in what is considered to be the first
professional game without the umpire making those
decisions. A full umpiring crew will be there for
SAN RAFAEL, Calif. —
"St-riike! ... And we're talking outside of outside
"St-riiike! ... Inside
of inside corners."
Eric Byrnes sat behind the
large monitor some 90 feet from home plate watching the
screen as the computer told him exactly what to announce
for the intimate crowd watching independent league
baseball at Albert Field, a full moon in the distance.
For the second straight
night Wednesday, Supermicro computers in a nearby van and
overseen in the ballpark by the former major league
outfielder called balls and strikes in what is believed to
be the first time in professional baseball an umpire
didn't handle those duties.
The visiting Vallejo
Admirals and San Rafael Pacifics were thrilled to be part
of an experiment using the Pitchf/x automated system
designed by Fremont-based Sportvision.
The batter's box is broken
down into nine tiny squares, and a yellow spot lights up
where the pitch goes, then Byrnes serves as the strike
zone umpire by relaying the call. Between innings, he
obliges regular autograph requests.
"That actually caught
more than I thought," Byrnes quipped into the
microphone at one point.
Byrnes is a longtime
proponent of an automated strike zone, something he
insists is "seamless" and barely changes the
Three cameras record the
velocity, trajectory and location of every pitch to
determine how closely each pitcher comes to hitting the
"To know you're
getting every single call right, it takes away all the
injustices, in my opinion," Byrnes said.
When the Pacifics' Jeremy
Williams struck out looking in the third, Byrnes yelled
The small crowd booed
loudly — capacity at the ballpark in the heart of
Northern California's affluent Marin County is about 940.
The level is comparable to high Class A ball, with some
former Double-A and Triple-A players in the mix.
Byrnes stood up and
offered: "I'm just the messenger, I mean, yell at
this! Blame the computer! Blame the camera!"
Then the public address
announcer sought donations for "paper towels and
Windex for Eric to use on his TV screen."
In the bottom of the first,
the computer retired Pacifics shortstop Danny Gonzalez on
a called third strike.
Byrnes stood up and
hollered down to the caged-in dugout below with
"Gonzo!" curious what the player thought the
pitch was. Gonzalez thought it was low.
Later, another close one on
"Strike, wow. Nicked
it. Shocked, looked like a ball to me, too," Byrnes
"You call them as the
computer calls them. This isn't rocket science," said
Byrnes, who figures he would have been better than a
career .258 hitter with this technology. "It promotes
action. Hitters have to swing basically from the bottom of
the knees to the armpit."
Wednesday's plate umpire, likes the idea of a power pack
transmitter and ear piece that would give each pitch to
the umpires, who could still make the calls.
"Might as well try
it," Pacifics catcher Ricky Gingras said. "It
seems like it's real good technology. Might as well see
how everybody likes it and try to promote it. It's kind of
Byrnes razzed Acerogiles in
the second with, "Easy, Wayne, got a little excited
"Tempo was tricky, and
tricky for the batters, too," fellow umpire Eric
Thompson said of how Day 1 went. "We have fun being
on the field. If we get replaced by robots, we're not on
the field anymore, so we're not going to have fun. It's
fun to argue."
The crew came into the
stands afterward to thank Byrnes, shake his hand and offer
Byrnes was joined by his
wife and three children, and 3-year-old son Colton won a
musical chairs contest between innings before announcing a
couple of pitches late in the game. Byrnes is donating
$100 for each walk and strikeout to the Pat Tillman
Foundation and would have given $10,000 if he ejected a
player for arguing balls and strikes.
He raised $2,700 the first
night, $1,900 more Wednesday.
The first game drew about
850 people and took 2 hours, 48 minutes, after breezing
through the first six innings in roughly 1:30. Wednesday's
8-2 win by San Rafael went 2:44.
Pacifics Tuesday starter
Wander Beras noticed on the screen before his outing how
big the strike zone was and immediately made a mental
Hitters had a lesson, too.
The technology is more
likely than the human eye to call a strike on a breaking
pitch that touches the outside of the plate before cutting
through the plane.
"We have the
technology now to do things like this," Vallejo
manager Garry Templeton II said. "It was a pretty
cool experience to be a part of. You kind of get to see
where some of these umpires are not making calls or making
calls. The hitters got a real good experience to what a
strike zone is really is. There were pitches they were
taking that would usually be called strikes and aren't
strikes, so they enjoyed that a lot. At the same time
there were pitches they don't usually swing at that were
Milwaukee Brewers manager
Craig Counsell was intrigued enough he would have liked to
be there Wednesday after playing an afternoon game in San
Francisco, but the team was flying home to Wisconsin.
"I think it's
fascinating, I really do," Counsell said. "It's
very interesting and I'm anxious to see the result. I'd
love to be able to watch the game even. Now that the
technology is available to do something like that, and I'm
sure the accuracy will be brought into question, but the
fact that there is technology to be able to at least
attempt it, it's fascinating. It's something that kind of
makes your head spin, really."