When playing sports, the best training is usually anything the replicates what you are going to see in the game. Although you do everything you can as a player, it can be hard to replicate the exact game, for a number of reasons. Out of all of the popular sports in the United States, baseball is the most impacted by this. Where are you going to train where you are seeing a ball that is 3 inches wide come at you with 110 MPH speeds?
Matt Beaty is a rookie on the best team in the MLB, the Los Angeles Dodgers. The team has fully integrated it into the preparations for their games this year, and Beaty has taken full advantage. He uses it often for chances to see what certain pitchers pitches will look like before he ever gets to the plate against them. In the first at-bat after using the VR system, Beaty hit single right up the middle. When asked about the VR gear, Beaty says “There’s never a big line to get in there, but I think a lot of guys like it.”
“Just seeing how his heater moved, obviously that was really hard,” Beaty said in reference to one of the pitchers he saw this year. “Just picking it up, seeing it [in the VR session beforehand], it was pretty accurate.”
“The idea that [hitters] can get 10 at-bats against us before they get in the box for the day feels like an advantage for them,” Dodgers pitcher Ross Stripling said with a wry smile. “It looks like a video game — but a really good video game.”
Now not all of the players on the team have adopted the virtual training just yet. It is still a work in progress to make it exactly what every player needs. Russel Martin spoke on how he is personally more of a fan of the reading the rotation on the ball more than just the timing that the VR training provides. “I like the fact that it can help with your timing and give you a little bit of feedback on what the pitcher’s pitches are doing,” Martin said. But “you’re not seeing a real baseball. It’s like a dot. I’d really like to see the seams and the rotation of the ball.”
With that being said, Pollock perfectly stated how every player is feeling towards the virtual training at this point in the season. “It’s a juiced way to watch a pitcher,” Pollock said. “It gives you a different perspective, to get in there and figure a couple things out that you might have not realized before. Because now, you’re getting more realistic reps.”
He is absolutely right. You are going to get more realistic reps in while seeing how an exact pitcher is going to behave. No one pitcher is the same in the MLB, and nobody knows that better than the players inside of the league. Even the Manager of the team pitched in and said that “It just adds to the familiarity [at the plate],” manager Dave Roberts said. “It’s not really taking the swing, it’s just more seeing where the ball comes out of, the flight, the lane the ball is getting to home plate.”
As the MLB playoffs near and the race for the #1 seed tightens up, you can expect the Los Angeles Dodgers to be more focused than ever, and that likely means an increased use of the virtual reality headset they have access to.
This story was inspired by the fantastic work of the LA Times and Jack Harris.