MLB finally ready to reap benefits of new replay digs
In January, Major League Baseball both relocated and centralized, with its Park Avenue corporate headquarters and its MLB Advanced Media home in Chelsea coming together at a new space on the Avenue of the Americas. The league spent untold millions of dollars to construct a fantastic base featuring every amenity imaginable. Shoot, they even included a little coffee shop that they called…wait for it…Field of Beans. (I laughed.)
Hence they enjoyed the fruits of their labor and planning for a good two months or so before the pandemic turned most of the planet into remote employees.
Now, however, with the game up and running (for the moment, at least), MLB will put its new digs to good use. Its new replay operations center, created to accommodate the replay challenge system, made its debut with Thursday night’s action. The hope, naturally, is that this ROC, as they call it, with its upgraded technology, will lead to better, more efficient use of the eternally controversial instant-replay rules.
Let’s start with the efficient part, because that creates much of the controversy: MLB is confident enough in its new tech that it has lowered managers’ challenge decision time from 30 seconds to 20. And, on the other side, it’s hopeful to render judgments more quickly. This results from the increased usage of high-frame-rate TV cameras, the feeds of which will go directly into both team replay rooms and the ROC. In the past, both sides had to wait for the high-frame-rate shots to be deployed by the broadcaster.
There also is a doubling of isolated camera angles, from 12 to 24, and the high home-plate cameras (those you see, well, high and behind home plate) will carry a 4K resolution, which the powers that be hope will be particularly helpful when placing runners in a situation when replay overturns an original call.
In normal times, I would’ve seen all of these details in person, as I did the old ROC, in Chelsea, back in 2016. Alas, we had to settle for a socially distanced Zoom presentation by MLB. As you can hopefully deduce by comparing the photos of the new ROC to its predecessor, this one is about twice the size even though it added only two umpire stations, going from six to eight.
“The biggest thing we did is, we really expanded the space for our technicians who are doing a lot of the video delivery — the cutting, the clipping, the monitoring, the feeds — because it’s a much more robust system that requires more integration from our tech staff,” Chris Marinak, MLB’s executive vice president for strategy, technology and innovation, explained in a telephone interview.
I asked Marinak how much this new ROC was born of need versus the logistics of moving.
“It was sort of a perfect storm of all the different activities,” he said. “The technology typically lasts for about five years in the video space. With 2014 being our first year of replay, we were brushing up on that five-year cycle for refreshing a lot of our technology.
“We tweaked a few things in 2019. 2019 was actually the sixth year. We made a couple of tweaks to make sure we still had a good year in 2019, because we knew we were going to the new facility for 2020. So I would say 2019 was a bridge year into 2020 where we made a few tweaks, and this year was the year where we had everything fully synced together with the infrastructure in the ballpark and the brand new facility in New York. It all sort of came together.”
Last year, Marinak said, they did much “parallel testing,” using the new ROC to prepare for this season.
Of course, they didn’t know last year that baseball would try to play amid a still-thriving coronavirus, and the league is making accommodations for the umpires on site. Umpire crews will be regionalized just as the teams are, so no ump situated out West will work a replay shift. Moreover, many umpires will hitch a ride on team planes, trains or buses from a different Eastern city to New York; next week, for example, when the Yankees travel from Philadelphia back home, they could take a crew with them.
In the ROC, the umpires will be working in “distanced fashion,” Marinak said, even if some of the other MLB officials start coming to the office more regularly. Added Marinak: “Our goal is to minimize the level of interaction in the office with the actual umpiring staff.”
That part will be a challenge, and it’s always a challenge to get replay right in all sports, as we know. If you can’t guarantee results, you can judge intentions, and MLB clearly wants to make replay, a vital component of competitive integrity, more palatable to the masses. We’ll find out together whether the good intentions speed up the game and get more calls right.
This week’s Pop Quiz question came from Gary Mintz of South Huntington: In a 2019 episode of “Schooled,” one teacher gives another a baseball autographed by a famous Phillies player. Name the player.
Enjoy our terrific baseball preview section! It features a wonderful tribute to our fallen photographer Anthony Causi. It’s hard to believe that back when spring training opened in February, Anthony was covering Mets camp like any other and now he has been gone for over three months.
Your Pop Quiz answer is Lenny Dykstra.
If you have a tidbit that connects sports with popular culture, please send it to me at [email protected]
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