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Predict weather patterns, and home runs

July 14, 2009


I’ll start off by admitting that I love baseball. Along with tacos and relatives, it was one of the things that America had that England didn’t, and a main reason behind why I decided to return to the Colonies. I’ve always seemed to miss the showpiece of the American Classic, the All-Star Game, every single year (not going to happen this year, I’m determined – only a few hours to go!), but as a consolation I always seem to be able to catch the Home Run Derby. Last night was no exception. I saw some powerful efforts by Prince Fielder, Nelson Cruz, and a heartbreaking 3rd place finish for home boy Ryan Howard, but I also saw some attempts by ESPN to bring sportscasting into the 21st Century. They’ve had silly attempts in the past with ESPN Axis, where they tried to make 3D images out of 2D replays that just looked dated when the technology was new. Last night they debuted a few new tricks, with varying results. More after the jump.

First up was a live distance tracker that showed how far each ball hit was going in real time. Given the bizarre camera angles for most of the show (behind the pitcher like regular ballgames, instead behind the batter so you could see where his shots were going), it was the quickest way to know if the shots were going to be home runs or deep pop-ups – the ticker numbers also changed from white to yellow when it was over the wall.

ESPN’s fanciest new tech of the night was supposed to make it much easier to follow HRs and determine if they had the distance before they landed. Using the same doppler radar technology that the Weather Channel has been using since forever, ESPN intended to have an orangey-yellow line trailing behind the hit balls that would turn green when they flied over the wall. Chris Berman showed off the tracker, which was rather reminiscent of the trail lines that used to follow hockey pucks on old televised NHL games, on an instant replay of one of the early homers. It looked great on the replay, but then barely worked when used live. Out of the 82 dingers that went out last night, I’d say it worked correctly on about ten of them. Most of the time, the camera didn’t switch away from the pitcher quick enough for whatever algorithm ESPN was using to register where the ball was going. There were also a few times where the camera was set behind the batter, but because of an overhang high up at Busch Stadium III, the tracker got caught on the ceiling and lost the ball. All in all, ESPN showed off a novel idea that just didn’t seem to be ready for last night’s showcase.

I’m not sure if it’s going to make the list of technological firsts that EPSN is proud of, unlike the only other sweet piece of high-tech-iness they used last night, the super-super slo-mo. Of course, this was first utilized on Monday Night Football (America’s favorite way to watch people hurting each other, next to perhaps MMA), but it was used to great effect last night to analyze each participant’s swing, and show how impressive it is that a piece of maple wood can withstand multiple 90mph projectile attacks.

Maybe we’ll see something actually impressive tonight during the All-Star game, hopefully something involving laser beams or robots, but I’m not really holding my breath.

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