After a prolonged delay, Major League Baseball has finally kicked off its 2020 season. And it hasn’t been easy. The obstacles imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic have been formidable to say the least. From positive player COVID tests to necessary restrictions placed on large sporting events, notable changes had to be made. But with incredible planning and effort, a system to protect players, coaches and fans alike is now in place. As you might suspect, baseball technology solutions will play a significant role moving forward.
Without question, sports technologies have come a long way in the last several years. Innovations in virtual reality and 3D imaging are among some of the most intriguing developments. Likewise, advances in cloud computing and digital infrastructures have also made an impact. Even robotic umpires are being explored as a baseball technology for the future. Thus, it’s not surprising that these same innovations are now being used to launch MLB’s season amidst the pandemic. It’s truly an experiment that could have tremendous effects on the future of the sport.
“The idea is to enable the clubs with as much as possible as it relates to creating a realistic environment.” – Ryan Zander, Vice President of Broadcast Products and Services, Major League Baseball
The New MLB COVID-19 Ground Rules
With the additional time off, MLB has been busy adapting to a post-COVID world. This is evidenced by the 100+ page new set of rules to which all MLB teams must now adhere. Though fans may not be aware of the majority of these changes, they are nonetheless substantial. Not only must fans watch games remotely, but players and staff will have a number of hurdles to overcome. For example, access will be severely limited to stadiums with MLB teams permitted a finite number of those in attendance. Likewise, everyone will be subjected to fever-checks and health questionnaires upon entering. And all players will be COVID tested every other day.
As far as the actual games, fans will no longer be present in the stands. This creates a rather surreal for players accustomed to thousands of cheering patrons. But likewise, social distancing measures will be in place that will change some of the ways the game is played. For example, base coaches must stay in designated areas 6 feet away from players. Also, first basemen will need to step away from base runners after play has ceased. And baseballs will be replaced and sanitized if multiple players touch the ball during play. Without a doubt, everyone will experience a rather steep learning curve thanks to COVID-19.
“What we’ve done this season is qualified a bunch of technologies and devised a plan and framework to make this technology available for all clubs who want to take advantage of the program.” – Ryan Zander
Enhanced Audiovisual Sports Technologies for MLB
MLB already had a fairly extensive video baseball technology platform as part of its play review protocols. But given the changes, these sports technologies have received a notable boost. For one, MLB has employed new 4K cameras around all major league parks for comprehensive field overage. As part of Sony’s Hawk-Eye Tracking System, this will effectively eliminate any potential blind spots. At the same time, Mitel Telecommunications helped MLB develop its new Replay Center located in New Jersey. The new system will be able to accommodate 48 video feeds at once. These baseball technology changes will significantly speed up play reviews and keep the game moving along.
MLB also considered audio sports technologies in its revamped 2020 season changes. Here again, Sony came to the rescue. After taking around 75 samples from prior games, Sony has devised a way to reproduce crowd noise for the games. These sounds will be “pumped” into the stadiums allowing a more familiar feel for players and fans alike. In addition, MLB has a baseball technology app for fans that lets them boo or cheer while watching. This input is then used to adjust in-stadium crowd noise effects. This should provide an interesting experiment to see just how far sports technologies can go in recreating a normal atmosphere.
“We’re trying to set a foundation here with this new deployment that is a foundation that we can innovate on for the next five years as technology continues to progress.” – Jason Gaedtke, Chief Technology Officer, Major League Baseball
Other Baseball Technology Advances
While audiovisual improvements are necessary baseball technology updates, MLB has taken some additional steps as well. In 2016, MLB partnered with Apple and began allowing teams to use iPads. This year, the number of iPads allowed in the dugout will be increased. Because all in-stadium monitors showing the game will not be permitted, this seemed like a reasonable adjustment. Not only can each team have up to 15 iPads, but these will be equipped with new sports technologies. Specifically, some analytics and full scouting reports will be loaded on these devices as well.
More recently, MLB also partnered with Google in the spring of this year. Not only does Google now manage all team websites and online ticket sales in the future. Google also provides cloud computing for MLB operations including its video play review system. Google has also provided MLB with its 3D Statcast platform, which offers man new baseball technology features. This includes the ability to provide new virtual perspectives of play including unique pitching and catching angles. It also provides imagery of home run trails and how weather impacts ball movement. Virtual reality enhancement is one area where sports technologies are expected to evolve in the future.
Since COVID-19 arrived, all of us has had to adapt and evolve in this strange new world. Baseball is certainly no different. Not being able to attend a live game in person will be strange. And players will have an unusual experience playing to empty stadiums. But the use of various sports technologies will help ease our pains and hopefully allow MLB to move ahead safely. The baseball technology solutions employed might not only allow play this year but could enhance the sport in the future. In this way, MLB is seeing this COVID-19 challenge as an opportunity toward even greater success ahead.
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