On the Pirates: Root Sports gives fans something new this season


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Some people like those boxes and some hate them.

When watching a game -- either on television or on an Internet gameday cast -- there's often a tracking tool relaying to the viewer the exact speed and location of every pitched ball. Depending on how intricate the tool, the tracking device also can include the precise break of the pitch and details as complex as the ball's speed when it left the pitcher's hand in relation to when it crossed the plate.

For Root Sports, which televises Pirates games, their technology is called StrikeZone (pictured in inset at right).

"StrikeZone strengthens our fan-viewing experience by displaying the exact location and speed as the ball crosses the front of home plate," Root Sports senior vice president and general manager Shawn McClintock said. "In addition, StrikeZone allows the game announcers to better analyze the game for the fans at home by showing a pitch-by-pitch sequence on a pitcher-batter matchup, or how a pitcher worked a batter in a previous at-bat. The feedback has been positive as the fans enjoy the added experience without it being intrusive to viewing the game."

What do pitchers think about the information being shuttled to the viewer?

"I don't pay attention to it," Pirates pitcher Paul Maholm said. "Some guys might, though. The people at home, I'm sure they enjoy it. It provides a lot of information to the fan. But, if you look at it, it seems like the strike box is the same height no matter how tall or short a batter is."

Last week, in a loss against the Colorado Rockies, reliever Mike Crotta had a rough inning, failing to get anyone out. walking three. One of the walks brought in the winning run. The pitch-tracking tool showed a few of his pitches -- called balls -- fell within the confines of what the tool considered the strike zone.

In such a situation, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle understands that's where the relationship between new technology and old-school baseball might not be a full-fledged marriage.

"It's baseball, and you have to earn your way," Hurdle said. "Players have to earn their ways, teams have to earn their ways. Good teams get more calls than bad teams."

Hurdle understands the need for a deep study into everything that is happening, but ... "I'd ask the fans, how would you like to walk around your office space and have a little graph on everything you do all day and have it flipped back to everyone at home watching?" he said.

"That's the reality of it. Part of this game has come to the point where it is reality TV."

The number: 46 - Walks issued by Pirates pitchers in the first 10 games

This number was the highest in Major League Baseball.

How does it get fixed?

"Well, No. 1, you don't say 'we have too many walks.' That is coaching the obvious," Hurdle said. "What can we attribute it to?"

Jeff Karstens, the swingman on the staff who had four walks in his first 52/3 innings, understands things must change but couldn't finger the problem. Undeniably, there is a problem when Charlie Morton had 10 walks in his first two starts, James McDonald seven and Ross Ohlendorf five.

"I think it's different with every guy," Karstens said. "Charlie is throwing more sinkers. He's going to get a lot of movement. Sometimes, you have too much movement."

There is something Hurdle doesn't want to turn into: "That coach behind the chain-link fence screaming 'throw strikes!' They know they need to throw strikes. ... Fans are going to yell 'throw strikes,' and they mean it. I've heard a bunch of it."

The concept that walks will kill this staff has been hammered home by Hurdle and pitching coach Ray Searage. That said, there is a danger in trying to throw strikes for the sake of throwing strikes.

"I'm not going to give in," Karstens said. "If the situation in the game dictates itself and I can throw you a fastball, I will, but, other than that, if it is a close ballgame, I am just not going to give you something to hit. I am going to make you try and hit my pitch."

This week:

What's its name?

There have been two constants with the Florida Marlins since the franchise began play in 1993 in the Miami suburb of Miami Gardens, Fla.

First, it has been virtually impossible to keep track of the name of the venue in which they play.

Secondly, there have been very few people there -- no matter what the place has been called -- to see the Marlins play.

Since 1993, the stadium -- which the Pirates will play in for the final time in a three-game series beginning Tuesday -- has been called (grab a pen and paper, now): Joe Robbie Stadium, Pro Player Park, Pro Player Stadium, Dolphin Stadium, Dolphins Stadium, Land Shark Stadium and now Sun Life Stadium (see below).

The other constant: Since 1998, the Marlins have been no better than 14th out of 16 National League teams in attendance and have not drawn more than 1.8 million in a season in that span -- even when they won the 2003 World Series.

The Marlins, however, have broken ground on a new ballpark two miles west of downtown Miami in the Little Havana neighborhood on the site of the former Orange Bowl. Plans are for that ballpark to open for the beginning of next season.

Could the new ballpark change the attendance woes?

One person who has some insight on what a new ballpark might be able to do for the Marlins is John Wehner. The current Pirates broadcaster and former Pirates player played for the Marlins in 1997 and '98.

"Just for the practical purpose of being closer to the population, and, with the new ballpark being closer to the masses, I think it will help with attendance," Wehner said. "I know when I was with the Marlins, we did a parade through Little Havana, and people were crazy about baseball, just crazy about it. In my mind, the location, plus it being a baseball-only stadium, has to help with everything."


Colin Dunlap: cdunlap@post-gazette.com .


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