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“Play Ball!” is not likely something that’s going to be heard this next month at Santa Fe’s E&G Baseball Academy.
But thanks to technology and a competition-starved group of athletes, baseball of sorts will be played.
“The main reason, especially for the kids who have been working with us through the summer, is we’ve been doing one-on-one and small group stuff,” said E&G co-owner Ian Farris. “The training and the practice gets a little boring after a while. So we wanted to work on the same kind of stuff and in the same kind of groups, and make them more competitive, let them play something that would be meaningful.”
So, for the month of February, teams of players each will be going at each other, smacking the ball around while a Rapsodo machine tracks the flight of hits.
“When we announced it, we filled it up in about a week,” Farris said. “It’s not really a game, but competition, and they have to work together sandlot style. They make their own teams of four, no coaches, and we let the kids play against each other old school, like we used to gather at the park, get a team together and play.”
Old school, but with new technology.
“The technology we’re using for this league, we’ve been using for a year and a half now; it’s pretty accurate, too, which is cool,” said 16-year-old Tiger Johnson, who attends the master’s program at Santa Fe Community College and would play for Santa Fe High School. “When you hit, it tracks where the ball goes and how fast off the bat. It keeps a record of your scores, and what your highs and lows are.”
The key aspect will be the head-to-head, pitcher-versus-hitter struggle, Farris said. That is something that, while it can be simulated with a pitching machine, is not the same as doing it for real, Johnson said.
“It’s a good way to get back into live at bats,” he said. “Before, we were just hitting off a machine and that’s a lot different than hitting off a real person throwing.”
It should make for a fun experience for everyone involved, Farris said.
“We can simulate a game without any fielder or base runners. One group pitches and the other hits,” Farris said. “There’s just a pitcher. Not a catcher, just a target. And the groups don’t mix. That’s the guidelines. We’re able to simulate everything else. It all boils down to between pitcher and hitter. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a hitting game but, for pitchers who haven’t faced a batter, it’s different.”
Karsen Patten, 12, a sixth-grader at Nina Otero Community School, falls into that category.
“Once in a while just throwing it around with my dad,” he said of letting loose. “A couple of times, we’d go to the park and I’d throw a few pitches. I feel like I’m trying to get my arm back into it. It’s like riding a bicycle, it comes back to you.”
His mom, Susan Patten, said there was never a doubt about letting her son play in the league.
“We had him participate in one of the summer camps that they did and they conducted it in a very safe way,” she said. “That’s a big component. Equally important, it’s an opportunity to get back into some sports and have an opportunity to interact with some of his buddies.”
And while a game is meant for fun, it also helps batters by highlighting both strengths and weakness of at bats, allowing them to improve as the league moves along.
In keeping with the spirit of it all, Farris said regular stats will be kept and posted, and there are plans in the works to livestream the games for parents, who are not permitted in the facility while the games are going on.
“It’s been a long time between games, a long time,” he said. “I hope we can play real games soon, but we’re looking at expanding it, and making it better, and playing it in the summer. We just wanted to make it as real a league as we could without playing defense.”