Video: iPads in the dugout

The Major League Baseball season hasn’t completed its first month, but there is one thing I haven’t seen yet — a coach tapping away at a computer while in the dugout.

But that’s exactly what’s happening at high school baseball and softball games. This season, the iPad revolution has begun. For the first time, high school coaches are using iPads to keep track of statistics while the game is going on. You can count on at least one team having an iPad in its dugout at just about any game this season. Do you need to know what your No. 6 hitter’s average is on the first pitch? They’ve got it. Coaches can have immediate access to all the trendy stats currently used in sabermetrics and fantasy baseball, such as WHIP and OPS.

I found one coach who actually brings his iPad out on the field and taps and swipes away while the game is being played. Nazareth assistant girls softball coach Anthony Gonzalez (pictured, above right) admits he goes everywhere with his iPad. Apparently, that includes the first-base coaching box when the Roadrunners are at-bat. You can watch Gonzalez tap away after every pitch and provide guidance to his base runner at first between pitches.

I can’t imagine an old-school baseball coach like Harold Baines tapping away at an iPad while telling Paul Konerko how many outs there are in an inning, but I can picture a younger, more computer-savvy successor to Baines doing it someday. I would think iPads in a major league dugout is still a long way off, if ever.

Gonzalez has a 3G connection to his iPad and hopes to provide live streaming pitch-by-pitch soon.

“I can do it and yell at the same time. It makes it convenient for me,” Gonzalez said.

On the other side of the field in one recent Nazareth game, Lyons coach Dawn Schabacker doesn’t use an iPad and still keeps stats in a scorebook while one of her players keeps scouting notes on each batter on a clipboard. Does a team gain a competitive advantage by using an iPad over a team that doesn’t? That’s hard to tell. The kids still have to play the game on the field.

“I don’t think many people know as much about it,” Gonzalez said of of the iPads.

But Gonzalez is definitely in the minority by using his iPad while coaching on the base path. Most head coaches leave the iPads in the hands of their assistants during the game. That list includes Richards’ Brian Wujcik, Hinsdale South’s Paul Hoel and Downers Grove South’s Darren Orel. At Oak Park-River Forest, JV baseball player Jacob Harris handles the iPad for coach Chris Ledbetter.

As Ledbetter sees it, who better to use a complicated computer device than one of the kids? Harris said Ledbetter started using the iPad over the summer.

Harris, a junior, plays second base for the JV team, which allows him to attend every varsity game. He describes himself as computer savvy and even plans on taking computer classes next year at OPRF.

“I’ve never had [an iPad]. I just figured it out,” Harris said.

Harris said he can tap into the iPad whether the batter has hit a soft ground ball or a hard ground ball. Do coaches really need to know that?

Before every game, Wujcik enters the roster for his opposition by going to that team’s website. Almost every major school has one now and helps a lot. With the opposing roster in his iPad, Wujcik just taps in the batting order to create a live boxscore. On a separate page, Wujcik can look at the opposing team’s defensive alignment with another tap.

“I like the spray charts for each player,” Wujcik said. “I have not even begun to tap into all the things you can do with this.”

One thing that hasn’t disappeared from dugouts is the scorebook. Often, it is now used as a backup. Coaches can’t cut the cord yet, but I can’t imagine scorebooks having a long life span with the iPad around.

For the iPad, most coaches use a software program called GameChanger, but Hinsdale South coach Paul Hoel prefers iScore.

Hoel, who returned to the Hornets after coaching the team several years ago, discovered the iPad’s use in baseball games while attending the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in January in Anaheim, Calif. The software program was featured on one of the exhibitors’ displays. After trying both programs out, Hoel said he prefers iScore. He hopes to learn the pitch-by-pitch function so that parents and fans unable attend a Hornet game can follow the action after each pitch through a smart phone application.

“iScore gives more details. There are things like hitters’ [percentage] on first-pitch strikes. There is a hitting chart for each guy; what each pitch is and where,” Hoel said.

Orel said GameChanger has cut down the amount of time he spends on compiling stats after every game. The process used to take him 30-40 minutes. “It depends on how well the book was being kept,” he said. The two sports that perhaps have the most stats behind it are baseball and volleyball.

“The best thing about it is it makes the stat situation easier. I do not take as much time to enter stats,” Orel said.

Technology has a way of creeping into the high school game that you don’t see anywhere else. This is the first season that all players are required to use a BBCOR-certified bat, which acts more like a wood bat. The NCAA began using BBCOR bats last season.

A few years ago, first base coaches at high school games were allowed to keep stop watches while on the field. Coaches use the stop watches to time the difference from when a pitch hits a catcher’s mitt to when the ball arrives to second base on stolen base plays. At the time, I thought that was pretty radical in terms of technological advancements to the game. Boy, was I wrong.

Hinsdale South coach Paul Hoels look over his iPad after a recent game.

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