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Rays batters using high-tech virtual reality system

Tampa Bay Rays right fielder Steven Souza Jr. (20) runs in from the outfield after the top of the first inning of the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Pittsburgh Pirates in Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Fla. on Thursday, March 31, 2016.
Tampa Bay Rays right fielder Steven Souza Jr. (20) runs in from the outfield after the top of the first inning of the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Pittsburgh Pirates in Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Fla. on Thursday, March 31, 2016.
Published Apr. 13, 2016

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays have added another high-tech tool to their pregame preparation routine, a virtual reality system that allows batters to experience the pitchers they are about to face.

"It's pretty awesome," said outfielder Steven Souza Jr., one of the early adopters. "I think anytime you can see a pitcher before you actually get in there, it's unbelievable. It's like standing in the bullpen. And how many times do you honestly get to do that for the opposing team?"

The Rays are one of several big-league teams, among them the Pirates, to incorporate virtual reality training, though team officials didn't want to discuss any details of the partnership with EON Sports VR.

"We are looking forward to learning more about the technology and how it might benefit our players," baseball operations president Matt Silverman said Tuesday.

In announcing the arrangement, EON executive Brendan Reilly said it can be a significant tool.

"Nothing can replace the at-bat experience, but our technology enables players to maximize repetitions and their performance in the batters' box," he said. "This is invaluable technology for teams looking to gain a competitive edge against their opponents."

To use the system, Rays players put on high-tech goggles and stand in or at or behind a plate as the specific pitcher they request is shown on a screen throwing his various pitches in true detailed form.

For example, Souza — who prefers to stand in the catcher's position for a straight-on view — said he can get a detailed read on the break on pitches, detect slight changes in release point and get a better sense of the pitcher's timing.

"It's as close as you're going to get to standing in there," he said.

"It's pretty neat," said catcher Curt Casali, another user. "It's one of the more advanced scouting tools I've ever seen."

Third baseman Evan Longoria has also tried it but is not as sold on the immediate benefits of the system, which is set up in the room with the batting cage near the Rays clubhouse.

"I think over the next year or two we'll see a lot of fine-tuning to it," he said. "I think it's kind of crude right now, but I don't dispel that there could be some benefits there."

Specifically, Longoria said it needs to be more immersive to provide more of a game-like environment.

"You definitely don't not know that you're in the cage," he said. "It's definitely a huge step in the right direction in helping guys prepare to be better players, but I just don't know that it's there yet, that it's as good as can be."

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