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I took me out to a ball game, where tech called balls and strikes

Technically Incorrect: The two-game series between the San Rafael Pacifics and the Vallejo Admirals claimed to be the first to use Pitchf/x tech to make decisions.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


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Former Major Leaguer Eric Byrnes manning the balls and strikes technology. Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

A square moon hovered over San Rafael on Wednesday night.

The world was turning into, well, something else.

The small California town, just north of San Francisco, was witnessing what it believed was history.

Its local baseball team, the Pacifics, was conducting a scientific experiment. It was going to use technology to call balls and strikes, in the first series to embrace such tech in a professional game. (Wednesday was the second night of the experiment.)

Yes, the team managers were deprived of the ability to make disgusted faces and shout obscenities from the dugout at a man in a mask.

This was heresy. This was culture being rent asunder. This was a painful step toward technology tightening its feelingless grip on society. Or at least that's what I thought before going.

I remembered, though, that the wine at the Pacifics' Albert Park is more than passable. The tri-tip sandwich isn't bad either. And they have chocolate cakes from Nothing Bundt Cakes. (If you haven't tried them, this is a slice of life worth enjoying.)

Arriving at the stadium, my psychiatric nurse and I wondered how this would all be presented. What we saw were five people sitting at a long desk, perched at the front of the grandstand. They all had computer screens.

One of them would be calling out the software's verdict via a microphone.

To make this more palatable, the Pacifics chose former Oakland A's outfielder Eric Byrnes. He's a character is Eric, a regular and popular voice on local radio and an MLB Network analyst. He was doing this for the Pat Tillman Foundation. (He would donate $10,000, for example, if he was forced to eject someone. Seriously.)

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The view on the screen. Baseball fans are familiar with this. Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Every time a pitcher threw, if the ball hit the catcher's glove, Byrnes would grab the mic and announce the result.

Behind us were two crusty, lifelong baseball fans. "We can call 'em from here," shouted one. The other wouldn't be left out: "Hey, is this thing sponsored by Lenscrafters?"

I know I should drool for at least a moment about the technology, but it's not exactly new. If you've watched any baseball on Fox or ESPN, you'll have seen the little diagram in the corner which tells you whether the umpire called the pitch correctly.

This is Pitchf/x. It's already installed in every Major League Baseball Stadium. It consists of three cameras positioned at various angles to home plate. They record every single element of every single pitch. Some software does its thing, and you instantly have the data that either endorses or humbles the umpire.

I feared I'd miss the home plate umpire's extravagant gestures when calling a strike. Sadly, I not only got used to Byrnes making the announcement, but I was even appreciative when he gave more detail.

For example: "On the inside of the inside left."

He wasn't just calling balls and strikes. He occasionally offered precise locations. Of course, there were times when the machine called a strike and the home fans weren't happy. Once, Byrnes turned and stood to face the crowd, arms akimbo, and insisted that he wasn't the ump, the machine was. He was innocent.

It was all in good humor. The sauvignon blanc helped.

These teams are part of the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs. It's an independent league. The players are mostly those who didn't quite make it. They didn't seem to mind the tech at all. It must have been hard for the pitchers to give the home plate ump a condescending stare-down when he wasn't the one making the call.

Everyone was innocent here. Only the machine could be guilty.

There was laughter in the first inning when a hard-hit drive bounced over the outfield wall, yet one umpire called a home run. "Ask the machine!" shouted Crusty One behind me.

Not everyone, however, is instantly endorsing these machines.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred was quoted by the San Francisco Chronicle this week as saying: "I think we are a ways away from using technology to call balls and strikes, I really do. It's because of technology limitations. It's because, quite frankly, the strike zone is different for every single guy."

I love baseball. And each stadium is different for every guy too.

With this technology, I was glad that the umpires were still out there. I was glad that they would still make contentious calls for outs at a base. But Major League Baseball now has a video reviews system. That's slowly being taken out of the umps' control too. How long before umpires become obsolete?

At the end of the game (the Pacifics won 8-2), Byrnes made a speech thanking the umpires and promising that he wasn't trying to get rid of them. The umpires smiled the smile of accused men trying to influence the jury to give them a lesser sentence.

Still, in the eighth inning a left-handed hitter sliced a foul ball out of the ballpark and across the street toward an apartment building. An older lady was walking along. It missed her by only three feet, bounced on the sidewalk and hit the apartment building's wall. The woman didn't even notice. Yes, this was still baseball.

My psychiatric nurse put an arm around me as we walked out. "There," she said. "That didn't hurt a bit, did it?"

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When operating the machine, you can stand or sit. Chris Matyszczyk/CNET