Don Mattingly thinks it’s only a matter of time before baseball dugouts become virtual libraries, with reading desks sharing space with bat racks, sunflower seeds and Gatorade coolers.
This season, for the first time, all teams have been supplied with league-issued Apple iPads in the dugout and bullpen for players and coaches to quickly research analytical data, scouting reports and video for in-game use.
“If the iPad is going to be part of our game, then the dugouts will have to be set up in a way in which you can actually lay them out and have them there to be able to use,” said Mattingly, the Marlins’ manager. “If you’re going to have iPads, then you’ve got to set up desks. I think it will happen.”
For years, coaches and managers turned to notes kept on hand-written index cards, or three-ring binders containing scouting reports, when they wished to check out opposing pitchers and hitters.
That part is unlikely to change, at least for now.
“I don’t have time to thumb through an iPad and punch the buttons,” said Marlins coach Perry Hill, who charts the other team’s hitters in order to position his infielders. “I just flip the page, and there it is.”
And Marlins bench coach Tim Wallach said he doesn’t intend to stop making his own note cards that he keeps with him inside the dugout for handy reference.
“Once a game gets rolling, especially late in the game, there’s just not a lot of time to be pulling things up on the iPad,” Wallach said.
But some Marlins players are already putting the iPads to good use.
In Tuesday’s season opener against the Tigers, just before he was summoned to pinch-hit in the ninth inning, Derek Dietrich grabbed one of eight iPads provided in the dugout, punched a few buttons and called up information on Detroit reliever Francisco Rodriguez.
“You see a guy warming up in the bullpen so, boom, you jump on the iPad,” Dietrich said. “You [click on] his name and you can see all the pitches he throws. It’s a quick refresher.”
Seeing that Rodriguez relied on fastballs and changeups, Dietrich went to the plate looking for one of those pitches. When Rodriguez threw him a change, he ripped into it for a RBI double.
One day later, Chris Johnson — knowing he would likely be sent in to pinch-hit against Tigers left-hander Justin Wilson — used one of the iPads to take a peek at video of the unfamiliar (to him) pitcher.
“Most of the time you know the guy — sinker, slider, blah, blah, blah,” Johnson said. “But you can see what the sinker does. Like, if it’s a heavy sinker. I was watching [video of Wilson], just seeing what his actual pitches do. It’s just a quick reminder.”
Alas, Wilson struck out Johnson with a cut fastball.
At the moment, the downloaded information contained on the iPads permitted in the dugout is limited. Hitters, for example, can’t call up video of past at-bats against a pitcher they have faced before. The Marlins make those available to players with their own in-house video library, which is restricted to the clubhouse.
Before Thursday’s game against the Nationals, for example, Marlins first baseman Justin Bour sat in front of his locker, studying video of his at-bats against Washington pitcher Tanner Roark.
“And if I don’t have any at-bats against [Roark], I’ll look at him against similar people, bigger lefty guys like Lucas Duda or Adrian Gonzalez, and kind of go off that,” Bour said. “I’m not going to pull up an iPad on the bench.”
Dietrich, on the other hand, figures more information can’t hurt.
“I think it’s pretty useful,” he said. “How you use it is up to you.”
And even old schoolers such as Wallach aren’t dismissing the iPad entirely.
“I’ve had the [baseball] rulebook put on the iPad, so if there’s something I want to look at, I can look at it on there,” Wallach said.
Said Mattingly: “It’s the same information we have in paper form, so a lot of things you have on iPads are the same things you have in your reports. But there is some benefit to it, and I think it will get better and better the more we use it.”
The iPads in the dugout aren’t connected to WiFi, so players won’t be able to browse the internet, check their email, or play solitaire.
“You can’t do anything but baseball stuff,” Mattingly said. “Thank God.”