The San Rafael Pacifics in Northern California are leading the charge in baseball innovation, recently becoming the first professional baseball franchise to hand over strike-zone duties to technology.
USA Today filmed a segment on the independent league team and its decision to use a "robo ump" to determine strikes and balls during games.
Utilizing three cameras stationed at different points around the ballpark, the robo ump forms a new strike zone for each batter as he sets up at the plate. It then tracks each pitch and lights up with the call of a ball or strike.
Relaying the calls is a human—in this case, former major leaguer Eric Byrnes, who used a microphone to announce the robo ump's call to the players and crowd at a recent game.
Byrnes admits it's unconventional but thinks it's only a matter of time until more teams pick it up.
"As much as the baseball traditionalists want to resist it, it's coming," Byrnes said.
As noted in the USA Today segment, the home plate umpire isn't entirely replaced. He's still there, monitoring foul balls and making calls at the plate. He just doesn't have to worry about, well, being wrong as often—a nice thing, according to umpire Dean Poteet.
"Since we found out more about it, how it's going to work, where it's going to work, I've had more positive feedback than I have negative," Poteet said.
The best thing about this entire system is the inevitable conflict, where a player or manager takes exception to a call and begins arguing with a computer.
Pacifics outfielder Zack Pace says he's already looking forward to becoming the first ballplayer to get tossed from a game for yelling at software.
"It is different," Pace said. "I don't know. I almost want to be the first one to get tossed out for [yelling at the computer]. That would be pretty cool."
Go ahead, Zack. Someone has to take one for the team and rage quit on the robo ump. It'd be a lot cooler if you did.