The massive undertaking of finding a way to make a Major League Baseball season work in the midst of a global pandemic is into the home stretch. Those naysayers who played no on the prop wager as to whether the 2020 World Series would be played are holding onto a losing bet slip. The World Series and the conclusion of the MLB season is just around the corner.
Big-league baseball has achieved its goal but not without being required to overcome some big-time obstacles. Both the Miami Marlns and St. Louis Cardinals were left to briefly pause their seasons after each fell victim to COVID-19 outbreaks within their ranks. But as if to display their resiliency, despite being forced to endure a raft of doubleheaders in order to make up for postponed games, both teams qualified for the MLB playoffs.
The MLB season was shortened from 162 to 60 games and commenced in late July. Schedules were organized geographically to try and reduce the need for travel. Western teams only played other western teams, for example.
There were other obstacles to overcome. The Toronto Blue Jays were left to relocate to Buffalo, N.Y. since players weren’t permitted to cross the international border into Canada without enduring a 14-day quarantine each time.
Nonetheless, they got it done and technology played a major role in making it happen. Some of the world’s biggest tech firms – Apple, Google and Sony – partnered up with MLB to help make baseball’s shortened season a reality.
Here’s how each of those tech giants contributed to ensuring that baseball would be played.
Watching video plays a significant role in improving a player’s performance. Everything from hitting strokes to pitching mechanics are frequently anaylzed and corrected by studying video of each particular player’s technique.
This can also be advantageous when a player is recovering from injury. Trainers can assess pre- and post-injury footage of a pitcher to ensure that they haven’t altered their delivery subconsciously to favor the part of their body that was damaged.
However, as part of the league’s Covid-19 health and safety protocols, MLB said it would ban traditional video stations that are shared by players and teams throughout clubhouses. This issue could’ve proven especially problematic in the visiting clubhouse, where equipment would be shared by a variety of teams throughout the season.
To overcome this concern, MLB worked with Apple to expand baseball’s dugout iPad program. These devices are used by both players and staff for performance examination, as well as for scouting and analytics. Apple and MLB became partners in this program in 2016. Oddly enough, prior to that it was against MLB rules to have mobile devices of any sort in the dugout during a game.
Accessing Google’s strength as a processor of large-scale data and the company’s excellence in machine learning and analytics, MLB partnered with Google prior to the season in March.
All 30 of MLB’s teams used Google Cloud to operate MLB’s stats-tracking system Statscast this season. Google also provided digital infrastructure to enable all sorts of behind-the-scenes technology such as online ticket-selling programs and team websites to continue to work smoothly and operate seamlessly.
The MLB Statscast 3D platform enables the broadcast of games from a number of virtual perspectives. It can display pitching angles from the perspective of the catcher or the umpire. The program can also follow the trajectory of a home run ball. It can even assess how a game might be impacted by weather conditions.
Unable to have fans attend most games due to COVID-19 restrictions, MLB teamed with Sony to help give live broadcasts from empty stadiums more of a usual feel.
The company provided MLB with 75 samples of crowd sounds that it utilizes in its MLB The Show video game. These were provided to all 30 MLB teams on an iPad and the samples were introduced into live broadcasts of games by an audio technician.
Each MLB ballpark was outfitted with a dozen 4K cameras that feature Sony’s Hawk-eye tracking system. This technology tracks player positioning and movement around the diamond to give viewers a better feel for what is unfolding in all areas during game play.