Blue Jays coaching staff mixed on iPads in dugout

John Gibbons steered the Blue Jays to a second straight trip to the American League Championship Series in 2016. (Frank Gunn/CP)

DUNEDIN, Fla. – Pete Walker and Luis Rivera are eager to try it out. Tim Leiper isn’t sure. John Gibbons, DeMarlo Hale and Brook Jacoby aren’t really interested.

Reaction from the Toronto Blue Jays coaching staff is mixed to the custom-made iPads with limited functionality Major League Baseball is allowing for use in dugouts this year. The devices are expected to be available during the final week of spring training for some trial and error usage before the regular season begins.

“I’m willing to give it a shot, see how it works,” says Walker, the pitching coach. “Obviously we have our notebooks and you’re creatures of habit. If it doesn’t seem to be any better, than I’ll probably stick with what I’ve been doing. If there’s any advantage, or feels like things can go a little smoother in the dugout, I’ll give it a shot. As of right now, I’m planning on using it.”

Like many of his fellow coaches, Walker likes to consolidate the information he most expects to use into a cheat sheet he leans on during games, containing information such as the tendencies of certain hitters in certain counts.

He plans to test whether he finds scrolling on the iPad at game-speed more convenient than thumbing through the pages of a binder he sometimes refers to.

Rivera, the third-base coach who during the season spends two hours before games researching everything from infield positioning to hit-and-run tendencies and where opponents bunt, plans to do the same thing as Walker.

The feel when the heat is on matters.

“What I’m using now, I feel fine with it, I’m OK with it,” says Rivera. “If the iPad is better, I will use it definitely. The last week of spring training I’ll put all my information about the teams we’re going to play against in, and then I’m going to decide if it’s quick enough for me.”

While Major League Baseball allowed limited iPad usage in dugouts late last year, teams this year will be able to store video onto the devices. Each unit will feature a special app into which teams can upload whatever proprietary information they’d like to use, as well as video, but they’ll only be able to do so at device specific hot spots. There will also be no camera function to prevent against sign stealing.

Leiper, the first base coach, is reluctant to stray from the notebooks and charts and he prepares before games to set outfield defence.

“I need something that I can go to quick, I don’t know if it’s an easy interface where I can press on something and then go,” he explains. “If I get jammed up on it or something happens, I’m going to panic. I’ll probably keep my notebooks – I sound old right now, like if it’s new I’m scared of it – but with my notebooks it may be easier. I’ll probably keep one there but I’ll have my notebook as well.”

He laughs and then adds, “I still read newspapers, too.”

One consideration is that Leiper needs reading glasses and when using hard copies, he can print things out in a larger font for convenience. On an iPad, “If I bump up the font I’ll have too much to scroll,” he believes.

Gibbons uses cheat sheets and he fears sifting through too much information on an iPad could pull focus away from what’s happening on the field. Jacoby, the hitting coach, prefers referring to his binder as needed in-game. And Hale, the bench coach, feels he moves around the dugout too much talking to players about different situations to be ready for to be carrying an iPad around.

“I have a condensed version (of the club’s scouting reports) with the keys for that game, a quick reference card that I take the time type out,” says Hale. “I use an iPad pre-game when I’m looking at tendencies, hit-and-run situations, pickoffs and here’s where we can get a jump. Just to carry [an iPad] around in the dugout, that won’t feel good to me.

“I haven’t put my arms around it yet.”

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