Baseball: Communications rules allow teams to speed up between pitches

Like MLB and college, high schools now use electronics to call pitches

McHenry catcher Kamrin Borck received pitch calls via earpiece from McHenry’s pitching coach Zach Badgley against Huntley in varsity baseball at McHenry Friday night.

As soon as Prairie Ridge catcher Vic Flores tosses the ball back to the pitcher, Wolves pitching coach Mark Skonieczny is in his ear, literally, with the next pitch.

Skonieczny speaks into a walkie-talkie device telling Flores, equipped with a receiver and earpiece, what he wants, and Flores gives the sign.

“It’s really nice. It makes everything easier,” Flores said. “The other team can’t steal pitches and all that. It goes a lot faster. We used to use the wristband with the numbers. It’s way faster, helps make the game move faster and makes everything easier.”

Prairie Ridge is one of the local baseball teams taking advantage of the IHSA’s new rule that allows for one-way electronic communication between coaches and catchers.

The National Federation of State High School Associations approved the use of such systems in July, so those baseball teams choosing to do so may use the technology.

The communications systems vary in price. Prairie Ridge and Crystal Lake Central use the same one, Retevis, which costs $40 for two sets. Crystal Lake South uses Qubit, which costs $250, and McHenry has Porta Phone, which cost it $400 for two sets.

“I love it. If a pitcher’s in a rhythm, the last thing you want to do is slow them down,” McHenry pitching coach Zach Badgley said. “I used to look at the chart, give [the catcher] three numbers, he looks at his wrist and gives the sign. Now, the pitch is delivered, I hit my button and say, ‘Slider on the outside corner,’ and boom, done.”

Many baseball coaches moved to the numbers system about 15 years ago for pitching and offense. Players wear armbands with a chart for the numbers.

McHenry’s pitching coach Zach Badgley calls pitches via headset to catcher Kamrin Borck against Huntley in varsity baseball at McHenry Friday night.

Most teams still use that for signs to hitters and runners, with the coach yelling out three numbers “2-6-5,″ and the players consulting their armbands before their at-bat or next pitch. It is an effective deterrent for opponents stealing signs because numbers change every inning.

If the numbers system made it difficult for opponents to decipher signs, the electronics make it impossible. Just to be sure, Badgley puts his hand over his mouth before telling Warriors catcher Kamrin Borck the pitch, like an NFL offensive coordinator.

Major League Baseball approved PitchCom use full time in the 2023 season, and colleges have taken it a step further with all defensive players wearing the devices.

“It’s one less thing you need to focus on. It takes a lot of stress off the catcher, and the coach can really dive in and do what they want to do with the team,” Borck said. “Baseball should be a fast game, and this is one extra thing that allows you to move at that extra speed.

“It’s short. It’s more so getting in the mind of the hitter and how we want to set the hitter up. Depending on what pitches were thrown previously, it allows us to get into the minds of the hitters and get them out.”

Flores estimates that by not having to hear the numbers, look at his wrist, find the pitch and relay the signal to the pitcher, the between-pitch process is sped up by five to eight seconds.

Take that over the course of a game in which 110 pitches are thrown and it adds up to almost nine minutes.

“I’ve noticed games seem to be going a little bit quicker,” South coach Brian Bogda said. “We’re getting the signs in quicker and our pitchers can work a little bit faster. I feel it’s a little bit more efficient.”

Bogda wondered how far into the future it will be before all high school players are allowed to wear communications wristbands in the field. The company Game Day Signals has individual bands that cost $29 each.

At Crystal Lake Central, first-year coach Cal Aldridge had his pitching coach, Austin Padjen, check out Retevis in the offseason in preparation for the season.

“We were in a lifting session and he said, ‘Try this out,’ ” Aldridge said. “I put it in my ear and he started talking to me, and we found out how it worked. The convenience and the pace of play is a big difference. I would love to have it where everyone on our field can have them.”

Aldridge and Padjen played for Pecoraro at Prairie Ridge, so they told their old coach about it.

“This makes it even less likely to be able to pick up pitches,” said Pecoraro, in his 24th season. “It speeds up the game, there’s more of a flow, the catcher doesn’t have to find it on the wristband, it can take a few seconds to find it. It’s been a nice change.

“In my coaching career, I never thought I’d see this. We tried it in practice, and coach Skonieczny liked it, so I said, ‘OK, let’s do it.’ It’s worked out really well.”

McHenry catcher Kamrin Borck received pitch calls via earpiece from McHenry’s pitching coach Zach Badgley against Huntley in varsity baseball at McHenry Friday night.

The catchers have the receiver secured to their chest protectors, then have the wireless earpiece to hear the coach. The sets are charged before the game and usually work for six hours.

“There’s a hook that goes around your ear and it stays in real nice,” Borck said.

Flores, who splits time behind the plate with Connor Pollasky, concurred.

“I haven’t had any problem with [the earpiece] falling out or anything,” Pollasky said. “It’s way easier. It moves fast, I don’t have to look down. I can just call the pitch.”

Bogda was pleased to see the national federation embrace the technology at the high school level.

“I think we’re surprised how quickly it has gotten from college to high school,” Bogda said. “There really wasn’t any warning it was coming. It was approved pretty quickly.”