'Robot umpires' debut in independent Atlantic League

A radar device is seen on the roof behind home plate at PeoplesBank Park during the third inning of the Atlantic League All-Star minor league baseball game, Wednesday, July 10, 2019, in York, Pa. Home plate umpire Brian deBrauwere wore the earpiece connected to an iPhone in his ball bag which relayed ball and strike calls upon receiving it from a TrackMan computer system that uses Doppler radar. The independent Atlantic League became the first American professional baseball league to let the computer call balls and strikes during the all star game.

YORK — Invisible from the cheap seats at PeoplesBank Park, two white Apple AirPods poking out from the ears of home plate umpire Brian deBrauwere made the 2019 Atlantic League All Star Game different from any other in baseball history.

TrackMan radar technology called the balls and strikes for the first time, relaying the decision to deBrauwere’s ear in a fittingly robotic monotone, as the Freedom Division beat the Liberty Division, 4-3, thanks to a tiebreaking home run derby, which resolved a 3-3 deadlock after nine innings.

“This has turned into an extraordinary proposition, because it not only showcases the best players in our league, it also is showcasing our relationship with Major League Baseball,” Atlantic League President Rick White said before the game.

“It really puts us on the cusp of the future of baseball,” White added.

A large square screen fixated to the PeoplesBank Park facing tracked each pitch, relaying it through a computer system, which conveyed the call to deBrauwere behind the plate.

DeBrauwere said he was instructed to defer to the TrackMam system’s call unless there was a clear error made or the technology failed to make a call.

But that didn’t stop him from taking the brunt of the complaints when Joe Terdoslavich, a Lancaster Barnstormer, had a gripe.

Terdoslavich took a called third strike that he perceived to be low. The TrackMan system did not agree, and Terdoslavich expressed his displeasure accordingly as he walked back to the dugout.

TrackMan’s strikezone is larger from top to bottom, deBrauwere said, but is slightly thinner than a conventional zone.

DeBrauwere added that many pitches low in the zone tend to be called balls by umpires because catchers struggle to frame them well, a possible factor in Terdoslavich’s dismay.

Freedom Division starting pitcher Mitch Atkins, of York, said the technology caused a small delay in the umpire making the call, adding a little suspense to every pitch.

He said there was only one call that he was surprised by, though, a pitch he thought caught the inside corner. TrackMan deemed it did not.

Atkins was one of several Atlantic League All-Stars who ascended into the press box during the game to listen to the ball and strike calls on an extra set of AirPods.

“I think it’ll be something that I can look back on and say I was there,” Atkins said.

Terdoslavich, Gindl and Dan Gamache all started the game at third base, left field and second base, respectively, while Anderson De La Rosa entered behind the plate in the fourth.

Terdoslavich went 1-for-2 with a double and a run scored for the Freedom Division. Gindl doubled in a 1-for-4 showing, and Gamache collected two hits in two at-bats, while De La Rosa singled in the ninth.

Barnstormers pitcher Cody Eppley allowed a solo homer with two outs in the ninth that tied the game during his lone inning of work.