The iPod's turn at bat

My day job demands a certain attention be paid to Apple and it assorted hardware and software offerings. When I’m off the clock, though, chances are I’m devoting a fair share of my attention to baseball. (Occasionally, this happens when I’m on the clock, too— shhhhhhh, don’t tell the boss .) So it’s always a minor thrill for me when my two worlds collide.

Such was the case earlier this week when ESPN.com ran this Jayson Stark column on how a number of Colorado Rockies players have turned their iPods into handheld video scouting tools. Writes Stark:

Brian Jones, then the Rockies’ assistant coordinator of video coaching, got an iPod for Christmas. Pretty earth-shattering, huh?

It wasn’t even a video iPod, either. Just your basic Nano. But all it took was some initial fooling around with it to get Jones thinking there might be more to this fascinating gadget than the ability to download the Red Hot Chili Peppers on it.

So Jones and his video cohort, Mike Hamilton, did some iExperimenting to see if it might be possible to load their baseball videos on this cool little contraption.

Of course, it is possible to convert video for the iPod using iSquint or the various flavors of Handbrake. And this story about the Rockies’ use of video iPods is hardly breaking news—it first began circulating on the wires last summer. So what’s changed since then?

Plenty, according to Stark:

What has gone on since might not quite rival the last 12 months of YouTube. Nevertheless, Jones says now, “it’s been kind of crazy.”

Crazy as in one Rockies player after another asking to join the iPod Video Club.

Crazy as in adding minor leaguers, and even amateurs, to the iPod video hit collection for the development people and front office.

Crazy as in other teams reading, hearing and inquiring about this, then spreading the magic to their players.

Crazy as in [the Miami Heat’s] Pat Riley instructing his video guy to call and check this out.

Crazy as in Hamilton and Jones being honored by their fellow video coordinators with the 2006 Award of Excellence—and giving a tutorial workshop—at the winter meetings.

Of particular interest is the story of Jason Jennings, a starter pitcher who credits the knowledge culled from watching videos of his delivery on the iPod’s 2.5-inch screen with turning around his season after a lackluster start. Jennings is moving from Colorado to the Houston Astros for the 2007 season; presumably, he’s taking his iPod habit along with him. And, given the peripatetic lifestyle of today’s Major League Baseball, I expect this sort of behavior to spread from Fenway to Petco Park as players move from team to team. (Indeed, Stark reports that he’s found players on the Phillies, Marlins, Mariners, Indians, and Red Sox either had used the iPod to prepare for games or were looking in to doing so.)

And with pitchers and catchers reporting in a little more than two weeks, this excites me more than it probably should. Do I expect to head out to the ballpark this coming season and see hitters gathered around the cage during batting practice to study handheld footage of that night’s probable starter? Or, once the game starts, am I planning on catching a glimpse of relievers out in the bullpen, iPods in hand and studying clips of their past appearances against the opponent’s feared slugger? No… but it will be really cool when it does happen.

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