Rockies using video iPods to study swings, hitters

6/16/2006 - MLB Colorado Rockies

DENVER -- Three hours before a start against Florida,
Colorado Rockies pitcher Jason Jennings sits in front of his
locker, puts on his headphones and stares at his video iPod.

He isn't watching the latest Coldplay video or catching up on an
episode of "Alias" as a way to relax before the game.

Jennings is doing some last-minute cramming: The Rockies' video
staff has downloaded every Marlins hitter into his iPod, and
Jennings is figuring out how to pitch to them. He watches frames of
himself delivering the pitch, followed by the result of the play.
Everything else is weeded out.

"It's a good way to refresh yourself on how you got guys out,"
Jennings said. "It's an amazing concept."

The Rockies have taken the iPod beyond entertainment. And the
idea has caught on -- teams such as Florida and Seattle have called
the Rockies to explore their innovative use of the iPod.

"It wasn't like we invented the wheel," said Rockies assistant
video coordinator Brian Jones, who came up with the idea after the
video iPod was released last November. "We're using Apple's
technology as best we can. We figured if you can watch music videos
by rock 'n' roll and by country, why can't you watch at-bats by San
Francisco and pitches by Jason Schmidt?"

Over the past two decades, video has become common throughout
the league, as it is with football. Teams have tons of film to help
players study their opponents and their own quirks. In the last few
years, players have been able to take home DVDs to watch on their

Now, all that information is in the palm of their hands.

"They can do it on their time, they don't have to be here or
they don't have to be behind a desk watching a laptop. They can be
at home, on the airplane or even in their locker," Rockies video
coach Mike Hamilton said.

Red Sox reliever Mike Timlin said he isn't sure the trend is a
good one.

"Improved the game for us pitchers? No," he said with a laugh.
"There's only so much you can do to get the guys out. These guys
have a better idea and a better understanding. You have to rely on
your catchers. You had to before video."

New York Mets manager Willie Randolph doesn't have a problem
with a player analyzing video, but it wouldn't have been for him.
Randolph, a former All-Star, preferred extra batting practice to
extra film sessions.

"I think it's overrated personally, but that's just me,"
Randolph said. "I'm from a different school."

The Rockies have downloaded video clips into the iPods of 14
players so far. For the hitters, they'll store every at-bat and
download performances of upcoming pitchers. A 60-gigabyte iPod can
hold roughly five seasons' worth of a player's at-bats. Pitchers
can get all their performances, along with opponents' at-bats.

Jones has permission to take iPods from players' lockers to
update them, and when the Rockies are on the road he compiles DVDs
of their play and loads video onto the iPods when they return home.

"I take care of it all," Jones said. "It just takes a few
minutes. It's like putting a song on from iTunes."

After seeing what the Rockies were doing, the Marlins left town
with their own iPod ideas.

"I've never heard of that," Florida pitcher Dontrelle Willis
said of storing starts on the iPod. "Oh man, that would be

Rockies second baseman Jamey Carroll overheard Hamilton talking
about the concept at spring training and showed up the next day
with his video iPod, ready for it to be stocked with footage.

"I don't put movies on it," Carroll said. "I want to save all
the space for hitting."

The club doesn't buy the iPods for the players. It's a $399
investment for the 60-gigabyte model [the 30-gigabyte version costs
$299]. The Rockies have, however, purchased five iPods for general
manager Dan O'Dowd and several scouts.

Colorado's minor league hitting coordinator, Jimmy Johnson, has
an iPod filled with video of players in the farm system. If a
player is struggling, Johnson can compare his swing from the past
with his current swing, and fix it accordingly.

The iPods came in handy before June's baseball draft, too.

"That way the scouts could compare a prospective draft pick in
North Carolina with one in California," Hamilton said. "You'd
have a real good comparison. The game is so visual now. This

The small screen size -- 2.5 inches -- hasn't been a problem,

"Six or seven guys can't sit around and watch it," Hamilton
said. "But if you watch it yourself, it's not that much different
from watching a large screen."

Boston slugger Trot Nixon said he watches standard video when he
needs to, but doesn't obsess over analyzing his swing.

"If something doesn't feel right I'll look at the video or ask
some of the teammates that have played with me for a long time,"
he said. "I've seen guys go back to the video after every at-bat.
I was guilty of doing it at times, but I was only upsetting myself
more and more: `Look at that pitch the umpire called. Why did I do
this, do that?' I've got to go out and play right field. I've got
to leave it there."

Jones thinks his iPod idea soon will be used across college and
professional sports.

"We're always trying to figure out the easiest way to help our
players," he said. "In the old days, when you had a VCR, you had
to go through so much tape. Now it's so much easier and portable.
You don't have to search for two hours to find that one swing on
that one day."

Rockies slugger Todd Helton has every hit since 1998 stored by
month on his iPod, which he uses to help him find his stroke
whenever things start to go bad at the plate.

"When the swing doesn't feel right, I look at it to capture how
I was feeling or which one of my 300 stances I was in at that
point," Helton said. "Baseball is such a messed up sport and it's
so hard, sometimes you need to go back and look at the good

Helton frequently checks out his August 2000 file, when he had
50 hits and batted .476 for the month.

"If you look at my swing then, it didn't look like I was
swinging too hard, and it didn't look like I was trying to do too
much," Helton said. "I was putting the head of the bat on the
ball, and that's what you're trying to do."

Helton was leery about showing too much enthusiasm for the
Rockies' cool new toys.

"We're trying to get all the advantages we can," he said. "We
don't want anybody else to get this."

Too late.

Willis left Coors Field excited about all the possibilities of
this new application of technology.

"Anything you can do to help yourself get ready for [games] is
a good idea," he said.