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‘Robot umpires’ debut at indie ASG

The Associated Press

A radar device is set up high behind home plate at PeoplesBank Park during the Atlantic League All-Star game on Wednesday.

The Associated PressYORK, Pa. (AP) — “Robot umpires” have arrived.

The independent Atlantic League became the first American professional baseball league to let a computer call balls and strikes Wednesday night at its All-Star Game. Plate umpire Brian deBrauwere wore an earpiece connected to an iPhone in his pocket and relayed the call upon receiving it from a TrackMan computer system that uses Doppler radar.

He crouched in his normal position behind the catcher and signaled balls and strikes.

“Until we can trust this system 100 percent, I still have to go back there with the intention of getting a pitch correct because if the system fails, it doesn’t pick a pitch up or if it registers a pitch that’s a foot-and-a-half off the plate as a strike, I have to be prepared to correct that,” deBrauwere said before the game.

It didn’t appear deBrauwere had any delay receiving the calls at first but players noticed a big difference.

“One time I already had caught the ball back from the catcher and he signaled strike,” said pitcher Daryl Thompson, who didn’t realize the technology was being used until after he disagreed with a call.

Infielder L.J. Mazzilli said a few times hitters who struck out lingered an extra second or so in the batter’s box waiting on a called third strike.

“The future is crazy but it’s cool to see the direction of baseball,” Mazzilli said.

The umpires have the ability to override the computer, which considers a pitch a strike when the ball bounces and then crosses the zone. TrackMan also does not evaluate check swings.

Former big leaguer Kirk Nieuwenhuis doesn’t like the idea of giving umps veto power.

“If the umpire still has discretion, it defeats the purpose,” said Nieuwenhuis, who batted .221 with 31 homers in 978 at-bats with the Mets, Angels and Brewers.

About 45 minutes before first pitch, the public address announcer directed fans to look up at the black screen hanging off the face of the upper level behind the plate and joked they could blame the computer for any disagreements over calls.

“This is an exciting night for MLB, the Atlantic League, baseball generally,” said Morgan Sword, MLB’s senior vice president of economics and operations.

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