WASHINGTON – Consider Andrew Kneisner switched to Beechcom.
The St. Louis Cardinals catcher heard the chatter but didn’t turn his eyes to the PitchCom until more than a month into the 2022 MLB season. The Cardinals were the last team to implement anti-theft technology that allows the catcher to communicate with the pitcher and three other players by pressing a button.
“Before we used it, it was like, ‘Oh, you can never use that, call a regular game,'” Kneisner told USA TODAY Sports. It’s much easier.
“It’s pretty much second nature.”
Most major leagues have adopted PitchCom in its inaugural season. This season provided baseball fans with images of a gloved bowler to hear about the matter and other incidents related to the device. Overall, PitchCom has received positive reviews, even from skeptics like Max Scherzer, who believes it should be “illegal”.
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The Cardinals may have been late to the party due to hunting veteran Yadier Molina, the 40-year-old Hall of Famer who leads a pitching crew like Bobby Flay in his kitchen.
“I think it might have had a little something to do with it,” Kneisner said. Even me, I was kind of like, ‘Ah, that’s fake I’m not really talking about. “But now with so much of the placard-stealing scandal and drama, everyone is trying to get an advantage – which they always have – which takes that out of play. It allows Ramena to relax and (receive) the pitch off the pile.”
Molina’s longtime battery colleague, Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright, praised Beachcomb. He said it makes sense, but it’s a pity that something like it should be used at all.
“I heard two guys say a few days ago that stealing signals is part of the game,” Wainwright said, referring to Scherzer’s comments. “I couldn’t disagree more.”
Scherzer prides itself on using a complex of signals with second base runners — the original mode that PitchCom was created for — and considers it an advantage. But Wainwright believes that PitchCom is actually keeping the spirit of the competition alive.
“(Stealing banners) could be part of the game. I hope you’re not part of the game. It doesn’t have to be part of the game. It takes away from the best part of the game, in my opinion,” Wainwright said. “The best part of the game is the one-on-one batting versus the bowler.”
One of Wainwright’s concerns is that, at break time, shooters won’t be able to hear the command from the transmitter that shooters often place in the lining of the cap—although some have devised their own methods.
“It will be interesting to see how it goes in noisy weather because it’s hard to hear when it’s really loud,” Wainwright said.
PitchCom co-founder Craig Filicetti said volume improvements have been made throughout the season by improving the software within the hardware and how the sound is engineered to better reduce crowd noise. Felicity said there was still “more room to go”.
“We think we’d be ready for that,” he told USA TODAY Sports.
Filicetti and partner John Hankins designed and built each unit individually. They are the only two people who work with MLB teams and provide system support regarding PitchCom. The hours are long.
Duos typically have calls with two or three teams per day, ranging from five minutes to an hour, to help the clubs create “paths” – the sequence of options that PitchCom will offer – according to their desires. Felicity and Hankins also meet with league officials twice a week.
As the season progressed, Felicity said there was a decrease in user error. Early on, delays were not usually attributed to PitchCom itself, but players may have forgotten to turn on the receiver, the device wasn’t charging properly or they simply forgot to put the receiver in the lid (or somewhere else).
It’s not foolproof, but players have discovered the benefits.
“The only downfall of this thing is that you have some technical glitches now and then,” said Kneisner, who won’t often have to adjust his striking stance for call signs, a welcome relief in his lower body. “But that’s too little.”
Knizner loves how accurate he can be with location; PitchCom has nine squares in the strike zone for the location of the pitch as well as the pitch type command.
“It’s efficient, fast, and more specific, and I’m looking too,” Kneisner said.
The site was initially a concern for some of the top league players when it came to PitchCom. But Hankins said gamers have the ability to determine location — it’s just another example that players are becoming more comfortable with technology.
Placing the device behind a stalk guard was a racket-level innovation, for example. The New York Yankees used PitchCom to improve their defense while running, according to The Athletic. Using one of the receivers, Cincinnati Reds player Nick Senzel appraised his positioning and improved his defense at PitchCom.
“It’s all about PitchCom, man,” Senzel said in April.
Cleveland Guardians catcher Austin Hedges the device to make a positive show, after frankthe assurances go back to the archer.
The flexibility of the system, and the monitoring teams using PitchCom in their own creative ways, were the most useful parts of the PitchCom campaign for its founders.
“We love the way the teams are taking this and making it their own,” said Hankins, who said softball prototypes are being developed. Other systems with less improved software are available for baseball travel and are cheaper, Felicity said.
Silencing PitchCom skeptics, from Scherzer to cardinals, to believers is another cause for celebration.
“I never have to worry about the whiteness of my nails again, that’s a plus,” Kneisner said.
Follow Chris Bombaka on Twitter @BOOMbaca.