Watching the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs play last season at Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf, fans might have noticed a black ding on one of the panels on the video board out in center right field.
That video board is gone, and in its place sits a brand-new colorful and humongous video board to show everything from the kiss cam, to fan of the night, to players stats during the games.
“It’s one of the single most exciting changes to the stadium in the 12 years that we have been here,” Blue Crabs director of operations Tim Lillis said. “That is a huge improvement to the ballpark this year that fans will take notice to right away. The old board definitely looked 12 years old.”
There are some other changes this year, including some that won’t be as visible to fans.
“There are a lot of features that we never had before,” Blue Crabs broadcaster and media relations manager Andrew Bandstra said. “With the rule changes, we also have a new electronic umpire called the Track Man. It’s perched up on the top of the press box, and it just looks like a big black panel. It just reads the field and it gives you data, everything from the electronic strike zone, to how far and hard was that last hit. We will now have the same statistics that they get at the Major League Baseball level.”
He added: “We have all brand-new technology in our press box. We have Daktronics getting our side boards working well. Down the street on the corner we have our new sign up. It’s a really exciting time to be here. We have new sponsors that we didn’t have before. We always love having new partnerships.”
Bandastra, however, is most excited about Track Man.
“I’m excited to learn what the MLB has been learning in that baseball is more than what you see. And that you can use science to help you get to be better,” he said. “That will provide us with a lot of things that we have never seen before.”
Lillis added: “The MLB already uses it with their umpiring at all of their parks to monitor all of the stats we are now seeing in baseball. The MPH off of the bats, the launch angles and the spin rates. They have installed Track Man in all of the Atlantic League ballparks with a large satellite structure above the home plate area that will track balls and strikes. It takes it out of the interpretation of the human. The umpire has an earpiece and will take calls from the Track Man. He will override anything that is egregious and call the human element of the game. There is still a need for a human umpire.”
The improvements to the stadium this year are meant to provide Blue Crabs fans with a more enjoyable experience that extends beyond just who won the game and how many runs were scored.
“I’ve seen a lot of things change in a little bit of time,” said Lillis, who is in his fourth year with the Blue Crabs and is the second most senior member of staff. “The biggest changes this year are the Atlantic League and professional baseball, the MLB, three-year partnership to be the official experimental proving ground for a lot of their new technologies and equipment. The MLB wants to learn how to further the game, fan experience and safety.”
Some of the added bonuses for the stadium will be instituted as early as the Blue Crabs’ opening night on May 3. These include a renovation to the team store, as well as more protective mesh netting behind the home plate area.
Some of the changes to the baseball field this year are meant to benefit the safety of the players on the field.
“We have our own custom 18-inch bases at first, second and third,” Lillis said. “They are flatter and wider, though being that it’s slightly closer between home and first, but it’s also safer. Landing on an old traditional base is kind of a raised hard surface and can be bad on knees, ankles and joints.”
He added: “Another large one that’s being pushed back to 2020, all of our leagues pitching mounds will be moved back 24 inches from the traditional 60 feet 6 inches that baseball has been at for 140 years to 62 feet 6 inches. It’s to test to see what it does to the game over a season. MLB is always looking to evolve the game. It could be better for the safety of the pitcher.”
Still, the most notable changes to the stadium might be the ones that are most visible to the fans.
“The video board is a huge deal,” Lillis said. “As part of our partnership with Charles County we have a brand new Daktronics video board. They’ve been here installing it for a month. The software can project up-to-the-minute stats that we couldn’t put before. There is a new camera ability for the fan experience on the video board. It’s a crystal clear LED board and there is just so much more fun stuff that we can do with it, and you can now expect from a Blue Crabs game.”