MLB umpires will have a new view this season — on Zoom

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NEW YORK – Umpires will have a new view this season: on Zoom.

Major League Baseball struck a deal with Zoom Video Communications Inc. allowing on-field umpires to watch the replay operations center evaluating contested calls.

MLB first adopted instant replay in September 2008 for home boundary calls and expanded it to a wide variety of decisions for the 2014 season. There were 1,434 video reviews last season that included 1,261 team challenges with 50.2% leading to overturned calls.

Until now, the on-field crew chief listened to the replay umpire in New York with audio only, joined by the umpire who made the initial call if different from the crew chief. The umps walked over to the side of the field through 2013 to listen on a headset, then from 2014-21 an attendant brought out a headset to the field for them. Last year, umps switched to a wireless belt pack and MLB for the first time allowed then to announce replays and decisions over ballpark public address systems.

On-field umps this year will have 12.9-inch iPad Pro tablets brought out to them by a technician. They will be connected to the Zoom contact center and the replay operations center so they can see what replay is being viewed. The replay umpire still gets the final call.

“You’ll be able to see who’s in the chair, who might be with that person, what plays they’re looking at, and be able to pair a visual interaction with the traditional audio interaction that they have discussing the call in the field,” MLB Chief Operations and Strategy Officer Chris Marinak said.

A limited number of broadcasts will have access to the Zoom videos being seen by the umps: Apple TV+ and MLB Network Showcase telecasts. Marinak said the new technology could become available for postseason telecasts, and ballpark videoboards will have access to the Zoom views on the telecasts – which will have the company’s branding.

Zoom also will be used by MLB during the first day of the amateur draft in Seattle on July 9. It’s too early to determine whether Zoom can be incorporated into robot plate umpires, the automated ball-strike system being tested throughout Triple-A this season.

“That whole ecosystem is open for innovation and experimentation,” Marinak said. “We’re absolutely going to try things out and see what sticks. For ABS, I think it’s too early to say that we’re settled on one particular process and technology in the long-run. We’re still I think doing a lot of experimentation and open to really anything as we try things out at the minor league level.”

Zoom, launched in 2011, was increasingly used by MLB teams during the pandemic. For much of 2021 and ’22, Zoom replaced in-person media availabilities for players and managers.

“They’ve been a customer for many years utilizing our meetings, our rooms our phone technology and then deeper integrations as we know over the past few years, the way in which people have leveraged video has really evolved,” said Janine Pelosi, Zoom’s chief marketing officer. “What I think it’s going to do is add that technology where it’s not getting in the way of the game. I think that that’s critical. And it’s going to bring the fans into the experience.”

Royals’ John Sherman optimistic about new ballpark, current team

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The first thing that Kansas City Royals owner John Sherman thinks about when he wakes up each morning is how the club, stuck in what seems like an interminable rebuild, will play on that particular day.

Not where they will play four or five years down the road.

Yet given the modest expectations for a team that lost nearly 100 games a year ago, it makes sense many Royals fans are just as interested – quite possibly more so – in the plans for a downtown ballpark than whether infielder Bobby Witt Jr. can double down on his brilliant rookie season or pitcher Brady Singer can truly become a staff ace.

That’s why Sherman’s second thought probably moves to the downtown ballpark, too.

“This is a huge decision, and I look at it as maybe the most important decision we’ll make as long as we have the privilege of stewarding this team,” Sherman said before the Royals held a final workout Wednesday ahead of opening day. “I’m probably as anxious as you to get moving on that, but it’s a complicated process.”

The Royals have called Kauffman Stadium home since the sister to Arrowhead Stadium, the home of the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, opened 50 years ago next month.

And while most stadiums are replaced because they have become outdated, the unique, space-aged look of Kauffman Stadium – built during an era in which teams trended toward impersonal, multisport concrete donuts for their homes – remains beloved by Royals fans and visitors alike.

The problem is that despite numerous renovations over the years, the very concrete holding the ballpark together has begun to crumble in places. The cost simply to repair and maintain the ballpark has become prohibitive.

So with the decision essentially made for them to build an entirely new stadium, the Royals revealed plans to build an entire development in the same mold of The Battery Atlanta, where the Braves built Truist Park, and the Ballpark Village in St. Louis, where the new Busch Stadium is merely the centerpiece of a whole entertainment district.

No site has been secured, but several of the most promising are in downtown Kansas City, where the Power & Light District along with T-Mobile Center have spearheaded a successful era of urban renewal.

Sherman has said that private funds would cover the majority of the stadium cost and the entire village, each carrying a price tag of about $1 billion.

But if any public funding will be used, as it was to build and maintain Kauffman Stadium, then it would need to be voted upon, and the earliest that it could show up on a ballot would be August.

“You look at Atlanta, they took some raw ground – they started with 85 acres – and that has been a complete home run,” said Sherman, who purchased the Royals in August 2019, shortly before the pandemic wreaked havoc on team finances.

“This is one of the reasons we want to do this: That’s helped the Braves become more competitive,” Sherman said of the vast potential for increased revenue for one of the smallest-market teams in baseball. “They have locked up and extended the core of their future, and the Braves are in a great position from a baseball standpoint.”

So perhaps the first two thoughts Sherman has each day – about performance and the future – are one and the same.

When it comes to the team itself, the Royals were largely quiet throughout the winter, though that was by design.

Rather than spending heavily on free agents that might help them win a few more games, they decided to stay the course with a promising young roster in the hopes that the development of those players would yield better results.

In fact, Sherman said, the club has been discussing extensions for some of the Royals’ foundational pieces – presumably Witt, who was fourth in voting for AL rookie of the year, and Singer, who was 10-5 with a 3.23 ERA last season.

“We’re having conversations about that as we speak,” Sherman said. “We have a number of young players that we’re trying to evaluate and we’re talking to their representatives about what might work.”

Just because the Royals’ roster largely looks the same, that doesn’t mean nothing has changed. The Royals fired longtime general manager Dayton Moore in September and moved J.J. Picollo to the role, then fired manager Mike Matheny in October and replaced him with longtime Indians and Rays coach Matt Quatraro.

Sherman said the new voices created a palpable energy in spring training that he hopes carries into the regular season.

“When we acquired the team, we had three primary objectives,” Sherman said. “One was to win more games; we’re working on that. The second was to secure the future; that’s what (the stadium) is. And the third was to do good in the community.

“But the first priority,” he said, “is really the on-field product. That’s what really lifts everything else up.”