Baseball

Area baseball beat: Folsom High grad David Dinelli favors automated strike zone

Although David Dinelli (Folsom High School, Sierra College) of the Vallejo Admirals was the losing pitcher Tuesday night, he endorsed a computer calling balls and strikes.

For the first time in baseball history, a computerized video system was used to call pitches as the visiting Admirals fell to the San Rafael Pacifics 7-3 in a Pacific Association independent league game Tuesday at Albert Park. The system also was employed in Wednesday night’s game between the teams.

Using a camera atop the grandstand along each baseline and one behind the center-field fence, Pitch F/X judged the speed and trajectory of the ball as it crossed the plate.

“I was skeptical when I heard about it at first,” said the 28-year-old Dinelli, who allowed three runs in six innings. “I’m more of a baseball purist and was even against replay when it first started. But after throwing to the zone tonight, you can’t deny what’s happening.

I was skeptical when I heard about it at first. I’m more of a baseball purist and was even against replay when it first started. But after throwing to the zone tonight, you can’t deny what’s happening. I think baseball will need to take a serious look at this.

Vallejo Admirals pitcher David Dinelli

“I think baseball will need to take a serious look at this. I was more confident in the way I pitched because I knew that consistency was going to be there. Sometimes as a game goes on, an umpire will shade off a little to the left or right of the strike zone, but not tonight.”

Added Dinelli, a sixth-round draft pick of the Houston Astros in 2007 who was 2-5 in two seasons in their minor-league system: “I tried not to focus too much on where I was getting my pitches called and not called. But I did notice I was getting the upper part of the zone more than usual.”

Admirals manager Garry Templeton II still favors the human element of the game but said as long as technology improves, change is inevitable.

“Before the game, I told Dinelli that he has no excuses tonight. He’s going to get the biggest strike zone of his life,” Templeton said. “I think as a coach you want consistency. You want to know if an umpire makes a call early if we can make an adjustment to it and if that call will be there all game.”

Before the game, I told Dinelli that he has no excuses tonight. He’s going to get the biggest strike zone of his life.

Vallejo Admirals manager Garry Templeton II

There still were two umpires on the field and another behind the plate, the standard setup for independent league games, but the plate umpire’s job was limited to calling balls fair or foul and plays at the plate.

“They told me to stick my thumb in my belt loop so I couldn’t call strikes,” said Dean Poteet, Tuesday’s plate umpire.

Eric Byrnes, an analyst for MLB Network who played 11 seasons in the major leagues, monitored the pitches on a computer screen, announced the calls to the players and fans, and added a bit of commentary.

When the Admirals’ Lydell Moseby (Granite Bay High, American River College) swung and missed for strike three in the first inning Tuesday, Byrnes said the pitch was “about a foot outside, Lydell. You’re OK, though.”

Byrnes, who played for the River Cats from 2000 to 2002 and the A’s for all or part of his first six major-league seasons, has long urged an automated strike zone.

“To know you’re getting every single call right, it takes away all the injustices, in my opinion,” Byrnes said. “This is a change that needs to happen. I’m not trying to eliminate umpires, just assist them. We’ve already seen that instant replay is 30 years too late.”

Tuesday’s game took 2 hours, 48 minutes, and Wednesday’s game went 2:44.

The games benefited the Pat Tillman Foundation. Byrnes, an aggressive fundraiser for the foundation, donated $100 for every walk and strikeout. He also said he would donate $10,000 if he ejected a player or manager for arguing balls and strikes.

He raised $2,700 the first night, $1,900 the second night. No one was ejected either night.

Mark McDermott is a freelance writer specializing in Sacramento-area baseball. Contact him at egmacker@yahoo.com.

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