Is this the future? Somerset Patriots begin using 'robotic umpires'

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BRIDGEWATER -

It appears not even America’s pastime can avoid the emergence of automation.

The Somerset Patriots have become one of the first professional baseball teams to embrace advanced technology through the use of robotic umpires behind home plate. As part of an agreement with Major League Baseball, the Atlantic League is trying out an automated strike zone to determine balls and strikes.

“From what I’ve seen in there, I would say 95% accuracy,” says umpire Thomas Gandolfo. “Out of 300 pitches, if it misses five to sever per game, that’s a small number.”

Here’s how it works: A trackman situated above home plate registers the pitch using radar and sends the information to a computer in the press box. The automated call is then relayed to the umpire through an earpiece.

“It will take about two seconds. With my timing and the computer, it's about half a beat off from when you would normally call it,” Gandolfo says.

Baseball officials say that the goal is to improve accuracy and the pace of play. Patriots manager Brett Jodie says that it will reduce the need to argue calls.

“You’re always on edge during a game when you're watching an umpire and he calls a pitch,” Jodie says. “So it takes that element out of the game which is good because that's an easy ejection when you argue balls or strikes. So now I don't have to worry about that one.”

Patriots players say that they are so far happy with the automated system. Last Friday, pitcher Rick Teasley became the first Patriots player to ever pitch a nine-inning perfect game.

“Honestly, they were swinging a lot. Now maybe that made them swing more often because they knew a strike was going to be called a strike now, so I think that in some aspect it helped because hitters were more aggressive,” Teasley says.

The Atlantic League says that they will continue to use the system on a trial basis. But the umpires say that they are not worried about job security.

“This could be the way of the future but we still need someone back there to call the pitches that bounce, don't get tracked and checked swings and plays at the plate," Gandolfo says.

The team started using the technology last Friday.

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