Vir­tual re­al­ity baseball ex­pe­ri­ence a hit with fans

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SCOREBOARD -

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — Ni­cholas Montes put on gog­gles and a catcher’s mitt and crouched.

Montes, 13, will never catch a 104 mph pitch from Aroldis Chap­man. But at the All-Star FanFest, he felt what it’s like to be Buster Posey snag­ging vir­tual strikes.

“It was like I was ac­tu­ally in the game. When I was catch­ing, I felt the ball move and ev­ery­thing,” the Miami teen said en­thu­si­as­ti­cally Sun­day. “And then when I saw it go in my glove, I tried touch­ing the ball, but I felt the re­mote con­trol thing. So it was pretty cool.”

De­vel­oped by GMR Mar­ket­ing, the Esurance Be­hind The Plate With Buster Posey VR Ex­pe­ri­ence al­lows fans to “catch” fast­balls, curve­balls and slid­ers from a generic pitcher at ve­loc­i­ties rang­ing from 86-93 mph.

“I’ve al­ways said that I thought it would be cool for the av­er­age fan to ei­ther step in the box or like this get be­hind the plate and get the same sense of what it’s like to see a 90-plus, 95-mile an hour fast­ball com­ing your way,” Posey ex­plained last week.

Esurance In­sur­ance Ser­vices Inc., a sub­sidiary of All­state Corp., be­came a spon­sor of Ma­jor League Baseball in 2015 and signed Posey as a brand am­bas­sador.

The com­pany had a 180-de­gree photo ex­pe­ri­ence at the 2015 FanFest in Cincin­nati, then pro­vided 360-de­gree videos of fans tak­ing swings last year in San Diego.

In a dual setup at FanFest, which opened Fri­day and runs through today, peo­ple get to sig­nal for three pitches over about 90 sec­onds as Posey’s recorded voice of­fers tips.

They can choose the pitch type by point­ing their glove to­ward an icon on the screen, trig­ger­ing a sen­sor. When a pitch is suc­cess­fully caught, the per­son hears and feels the mitt snap.

“It is as real as it can be,” Danny De­varona, who coaches youth baseball in Miami Lakes, said af­ter tak­ing his turn.

Com­mer­cial and so­cial me­dia con­tent was shot over two days dur­ing spring train­ing in Scotts­dale, Ariz., where Posey’s San Francisco Giants train. Posey’s voiceover was recorded af­ter the sea­son started.

“Are you ready? All right, let’s see what you’ve got,” Posey’s voice tells fans. “This guy throws a nasty curve. The trick is to keep your glove be­low the ball and your eye on it. … Keep your chin down and be ready to slide to your right, be­cause this one might hit the dirt.”

“Nice job! Right in the pocket,” he tells fans when they suc­ceed.

“Yeah, that was a tricky one,” he says when they fail.

Based on PITCH f/x data, breaks of 38-to-52 inches are sim­u­lated.

“Fans will re­ceive a so­cial-sharable video for them that they can then dis­trib­ute to their friends,” said Kris­ten Gam­betta, Esurance’s brand part­ner­ships man­ager.

“With VR, there’s some­thing re­ally en­ter­tain­ing about see­ing peo­ple’s fa­cial re­ac­tions and kind of see­ing their move­ments and how they re­act to hav­ing a ball fly­ing at their face.”

Sev­eral thou­sand fans were ex­pected to put on the elec­tronic “tools of ig­no­rance” over the five days. And un­like real catch­ers, they won’t have to stuff sponges in the glove to ab­sorb the im­pact.

“Let’s just say I’m pretty im­pressed. I don’t think I can ever catch, or hit for that mat­ter, a Ma­jor League Baseball curve­ball,” said Pablo Souki, a Venezuela na­tive who lives in Miami. “That was pretty eye-open­ing.”

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