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BALTIMORE — It was a scene that would have looked familiar had it come a few blocks away, at the Ravens’ M&T Bank Stadium.
As the crowd got loud before a big play, the athlete who was about to throw the ball stuck his hand over his ear so he could hear the instructions coming though the audio transmitter.
Except it happened in the 11th inning Friday at Camden Yards, and the athlete was Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, not a visiting quarterback in the red zone. It’s a look that might become more familiar across baseball in 2022, with nearly half of the teams in MLB using PitchCom, the device that allows catchers to transmit pitch signals from their wristband (or in the Yankees’ case, kneepad) to an audio piece tucked inside the pitcher’s hat.
Such was the case with Chapman on Friday night in the Yankees’ 2-1, 11-inning loss to the Orioles. As he pitched with the bases loaded in a tie game, he stepped off the rubber multiple times and cupped his hand or glove around his ear so he could better hear the pitch instructions from catcher Jose Trevino.
“We just might have to turn up our volume a little bit,” Trevino, who also has an audio transmitter in his helmet, said before going 2-for-4 in Saturday’s 5-2 win. “You can probably turn it up to full, and you feel like it’s really loud so you don’t know if [the batter] can hear it or not. But they’ve done some test runs where even if you’re standing there and it’s quiet, [the batter] can’t hear it.
Trevino, who can control the volume next to the buttons he presses for pitch type and location, also paid a quick visit to the mound just before the final pitch of the night to make sure Chapman was on the same page. Chapman walked Ramon Urias with that final pitch to force in the winning run.
But if the PitchCom is not audible or breaks down in other scenarios, the Yankees have said they are prepared to revert to traditional signs on the fly.
Gerrit Cole has also experienced some hiccups with PitchCom through his first two starts, including not being able to hear the pitch instructions because of the siren that blares over the Yankee Stadium speakers with two strikes.
The Yankees had a trial run with PitchCom in spring training, but the Grapefruit League atmosphere could not quite fully prepare them for using it in the regular season. And if the noise was an issue in an April extra-inning game at Camden Yards, it stands to reason that playoff games down the road could present an even bigger challenge.
“It’s one of those things that we’re kind of fine-tuning, pardon the pun,” manager Aaron Boone said. “Just making sure the voice is clear and the right volume and how to wear it in your hat and all that, especially when noise starts to happen. I don’t think it’s going to be a big issue long-term, but there are things we’re trying to tweak as far as getting the most simple, the right verbiage and language for each individual pitch so there’s no confusion.”