Jury Out On 1-Way Communication Devices

Editor/Collegiate Baseball

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — The NCAA Baseball Rules Committee proposed the use of one-way electronic communication devices for the purpose of calling pitches and plays.

It was then approved by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel.

The rule goes into effect for the 2022 season.

Examples of what could be implemented next season include teams utilizing electronic display boards from dugouts that show a numerical code to call pitches and offensive/defensive plays.

Teams also are allowed to use a one-way, in-ear communication device that would be limited for use from a person in the dugout to the catcher.

Several conferences, including the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Pac-12, Southeastern and Sun Belt, experimented with these devices in 2021.

Experimentation with one-way wireless communication from a coach in the dugout to the catcher has been taking place since 2018 by Southeastern Conference teams.

The coach tells the catcher what pitch to throw and what location.

However, the jury is out on how helpful this technology will be for college baseball with time-honored pitch calling systems just as effective and a lot less expensive.

History Of Calling Pitches
For decades, pitching coaches have signaled in pitch calls to catchers by touching parts of their head or body.

Unfortunately, some signs have been picked by opposing players or coaches which allowed hitters to know what pitches were coming.

In the Fall of 2004, the game changed forever when Head Coach Boomer Walker and Pitching Coach David Carter of College of Southern Idaho devised an ingenious plan that would scuttle any hope an opponent had for stealing signs with pitch calling from the dugout.

Walker said that both he and Carter came up with the idea of having their catcher wear a quarterback wrist band with a clear, acetate panel which housed a small code sheet that could translate locations and pitch selections. The small sheet also had codes for pitchouts, pickoffs

Walker said he was surprised how much time this system cut off games compared to the old system of hand signals touching parts of the body.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if 30 minutes a game were cut off. We really liked this system and thought about expanding it to other parts of the game such as offense and defense.”

Getting More Sophisticated
As word spread in college baseball in 2004 about the new, uncrackable system for relaying pitches to catchers, different computer programmers become involved.

Brian Bancroft, former computer guru for the Texas A&M athletics department, wrote a program in Microsoft Access which regenerated the numbers so that an infinite number of 3-number combinations (0-5) could be used.

“I worked with Jim Lawler (legendary pitching coach at the time with the Aggies) on the program,” said Bancroft, who holds two degrees in electrical and computer engineering and has worked at Lockheed Martin and the NASA space shuttle program with navigation systems.

Ultimate Sign System
The ultimate quarterback wrist band system had its birth in 2006.

It is now called the Own The Zone Sports wristband sign system.

After the coach signals in the pitch from the dugout with three numbers, the catcher looks at his wristband to see which pitch he has been asked to throw. Then he relays the sign to the pitcher.

Numerous national championships have been won on all levels of college baseball and softball with this time-honored system which also includes numeric codes for offense and defense.

Currently, over 750 colleges, universities and junior colleges use Own The Zone software along with thousands of high schools, travel teams and clubs.

The brains behind this system are former Western Oregon University baseball players Liam Woodard and Bryce Gardinier.

“Bryce is a computer software guy for his day job,” said Woodard.

“One day back in 2006, I wondered out loud if he could write a computer program that could do everything we wanted. He gave it a whirl and came up with the general concept. We worked with Dan Hubbs and David Esquer at the University of California and the coaches at Oregon State University, among others. We slowly refined it to where it is today.”

It has been an efficient way to call pitches for years with no delay in games.

For more information on this system, go on the internet to: www.ownthezonesports.com

To read more of this article, purchase the Sept. 3, 2021 edition of Collegiate Baseball or subscribe by CLICKING HERE. The rest of the story explains how Iowa Western Head Coach Marc Rardin took pitch calling to another level in 2020 by having pitchers and catchers receive signs from a coach in the dugout after this was approved by the NCAA Rules Committee. Since no additional signs to the pitcher from the catcher were necessary, it allowed his pitchers to throw at a faster pace than ever before. How he implemented the system and the success his pitchers had with it is enlightening.