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PODCAST – Bobby Basham,  Innovation Team at Chicago Cubs

MVP Interactive CEO James Giglio hosted Bobby Basham, Special Assistant, Innovation for the Chicago Cubs. Bobby has been a member of the Cubs front office since 2012. He focuses on internal innovation, business development, and technology exploration efforts for the baseball operations department. Prior to the Cubs, Bobby had both a seven-year minor league baseball career and worked in the healthcare industry as a product manager. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Richmond and an MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. Bobby is a mentor for Stadia Ventures and has served on the Sports Innovation Lab’s Athlete Data Leadership Board, Northwestern University’s Center for Bio‐Integrated Electronics Sports Advisory Board, and USA Cricket’s High Performance and Pathways Committee, among others. He has been a speaker at various sports conferences, including SXSW.

Transcript of Podcast

Speaker 1 (00:00):

Hi everyone, This is James Julio, CEO of MVP Interactive and welcome to the MVP podcast. Our podcast will bring insight to a range of topics involving technology, consumer engagement, experiential marketing, and general business related subjects. This show will host not only our great roster of clients from the professional sports world, along with Fortune 500 brands and agencies, but other entrepreneurs and startups. We hope our podcast brings value. And thank you for listening. For general inquiries or topic requests, please email MVP podcast@mvpinteractive.com. And please subscribe to our YouTube page and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and SoundCloud with account name MVP Interactive.

Speaker 2 (00:52):

All right, and welcome back to the MVP podcast. We have a very special guest today, Bobby Baam, who is the director of Player Development at the Chicago Cubs. Really excited to have Bobby here on the show. We’re gonna talk about some really key insights with what the organization is doing for player development and the technologies that are being incorporated into such work. A little bit of background on Bobby. He’s a former professional baseball player and current sports executive with a strong background in sports technology, sports science, analytics, and their applications to player development. Bobby, welcome.

Speaker 3 (01:30):

Yeah, thanks for having me. This is exciting. So excited to talk some shop.

Speaker 2 (01:36):

Yeah, it’s not very often that we get to really, Well, let me take that back. I mean, obviously MVP Interactive and founding the business eight years ago, I was able to kind of play into my passions, but this is a special passion, not to your degree, but I did play a little bit of baseball in my younger days. And so being able to talk to a former big leaguer and someone that’s developing the new big leaguers, especially through technologies, is really unique. So I’m super excited for this.

Speaker 3 (02:05):

Oh, that’s great. We all have to hang it up at one time, just it’s when you have to hang it up.

Speaker 2 (02:11):

Yeah. So let’s talk about this a little bit. So your background you go from a baseball player to an executive in healthcare and then back to baseball. So tell us a little bit about your journey, maybe even as early as college and where that started and how you landed here.

Speaker 3 (02:28):

Yeah, no we all have our stories and as you get further and further away, you kind of wonder how you ended up where you are. But yeah, grew up in Virginia, went to the University of Richmond actually on a football scholarship that we were discussing, but kind of knew I was a little bit better at baseball really rocky up and down college career. But luckily the baseball has a ton of rounds, so I sort of got injured and et cetera, and ended up being drafted by the Reds in the seventh round and had what was really a seven year career. Same thing, injuries. My claim to fame now is, at the time, I didn’t know how connected this was all gonna be, but I was traded straight up for David Ross, who’s now our manager, and more importantly, dancing with the Stars <laugh> Worldwide fame, and probably most importantly to me, World Series winner. Great

Speaker 2 (03:37):

Protege for you, <laugh>.

Speaker 3 (03:39):

Yeah. Yeah. And at the time it was nothing like David Ross wasn’t anything. And then all of a sudden later, Owen working with the Cubs, I was like, Oh yeah, this guy’s pretty critical connection in my life. But yeah, fortunately, unfortunately, didn’t quite make it to the big leagues. Flamed out was looking for the next chapter, went to grad school, went to business school at Northwestern took a, My college major was biology, and I was sort of pre-med, so I went to work for a healthcare firm in New York and just immediately had the itch and wanted to get back in the game. And at the time, I didn’t realize how fortunate the timing was, but coming from Chicago to New York Theo was going from Austin to Chicago. And usually the way that this type of thing works is you can’t take a lot of people with you when you leave to go from place to place. In fact, I think they actually had to trade a player for Theo at the time. So they were starting up a fledgling front office.

Speaker 3 (05:01):

Long story short, was lucky enough to get an opportunity to go there. And that was 2012. So that was some early lean years in 12 and 13, even to 14. But we built it up from the ground up. And 2016 was kind of why you do it, right? Yeah. Being there when we won a World Series, no matter what position you were in, was just a special thing and just special for everyone around the city. And Rick’s family was awesome. And just seeing that piece of history was I mean, it’ll probably go down as my greatest career accomplishment, even though I was a very insignificant part of that whole thing. Because what else is gonna top that in sports right now? Right now?

Speaker 2 (05:50):

Big question now. Did you get a ring? And I got

Speaker 3 (05:52):

A ring. Okay.

Speaker 2 (05:53):

Yeah. And when do you break that out?

Speaker 3 (05:58):

So big <laugh>, and even they’re sharp because they have so many stones. Yeah. But the best story is when Jed and Theo were handed them out to the players on the field, Jed said he noticed his hand was really sweaty after a while, and he looks down and he’d literally cut both of his fingers because he was shaking people’s hands with this huge thing on. And it was just kind of unnatural.

Speaker 2 (06:26):

They don’t call him blood diamonds for nothing. No

Speaker 3 (06:28):

<laugh>, No, not at all. Right. And they went out way over the top for the Cubs ring. So I hardly break it out, but maybe if I’m wearing a suit or speaking or there’s a reason, I mostly just show it to my kids every once in a while and then try to hide it so they don’t find it. <laugh>.

Speaker 2 (06:51):

Smart man. Smart man. Well what an accomplishment and what a piece of jewelry to have and memorialize your journey especially. And then to be a part of a World series for an organization like the Club, the Cubs that have waited essentially to really get there. So going back to your days in healthcare, I can imagine, and again I am speaking, be way below the level of your experience in terms of professional sports, but working the sort of nine to five or the executive track as a former athlete I’d imagine some parallels and our experience, my experience personally working with or being around professional athletes is there is a certain mindset, there is a certain work ethic that really transfers into the professional world which I think makes a lot of sense why a lot of former athletes are successful business people as well as as entrepreneurs. But there, I’d imagine that that nagging tug of, Hey, how can I get back into the sport? Because as great as being in the corporate world, baseball’s just baseball and that’s in you.

Speaker 3 (08:11):

Yeah. What I think one of the hardest things about stepping outside of sports where you stand, you have a baseball card, there are wins and losses at the end of the year, you either win the championship and that never goes away, or you know, lose and you start again. And it, in the corporate world, there’s just so much gray, right? <laugh> you know, make money, don’t black and white, but how much money, the timing, the funding, even just how well is my product doing? What should my sales targets be? I mean, it’s just and then if you’re in a management position or you’re dealing with some softer skills, how do you measure good, right? <affirmative> and maybe that dovetails into some of the stuff we’ll probably touch on is even bringing that back into sports you start to look for those opportunities of where can we better measure what’s good and what’s not?

Speaker 3 (09:18):

How can we really, not that I’m furthest from the person who wants to change baseball into its robotic form that it could be, but you wanna do the best for your players and you wanna know what you’re doing is actually making them better. So the great thing about recently is there’s just so much data, not the field, but off the field that we’re trying to make sense of and so many new technologies that can help our players. And that’s something where we’re certainly trying to turn over every relief we can just to give those guys the best opportunity and just test to see if it

Speaker 2 (09:59):

Works, <laugh>. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And it’s interesting that you bring up this performance and judging and accountability and all of that. And as a startup and early stage companies, there’s not necessarily a playbook that you’re equipped with. Usually it goes from idea to execution and then all of a sudden you have a business. And so when you’re working in professional sports or being an athlete, you’re measured down to the micro detail of your performance. But bringing that over into the business world one of the things that we just recently started to implement are essentially these scorecards and that we are able to break down each individual’s roles and responsibilities within the company and then have a weekly check in with that individual to just go through the list and talk about maybe some of the wins, the losses, areas of improvement. And just getting into that cadence has been a really rewarding experience.

Speaker 2 (10:58):

It’s one of the things that I wish I would’ve implemented sooner, but much to your last comment, you just try to figure it out and you’re out constantly dialing the knobs and seeing what’s working and what’s not. But yeah, so I can certainly appreciate that comment in terms of business being gray and how do you really accurately review performance and what have you. But going back quickly anecdotally to being in the executive world or the corporate world and then baseball kind of pulling you in. We had the pleasure of shooting VR in 360 film with the Philadelphia Philies a couple years ago for spring training. And so I was down there, of course I wanted to, did I, Was I the most technically skilled person to be down there? No, but I certainly wanted to be there amongst the players as a former athlete and just baseball fan being there. And then just being in that setting and having that moment of, wow, these people actually get paid to do this. And just being invigorated. I felt like a kid again, I had to remain professional. Of course, I’m first and foremost professional when I’m on site, but there’s that internal glee of like, Wow, this is an incredible opportunity for everyone involved. It’s a great industry. And so being able to go back into that had to be pretty special and rewarding.

Speaker 3 (12:29):

For me. The minor leagues are just such a cool snapshot of professional sports because these guys are professional athletes. They get paid <affirmative>, some of ’em got rather large signing bonuses, but at the same time, they’re still almost have that amateur feel to them because they’re all trying to make the big leagues, right? And that line is really black and white. You’re a minor leaguer, you’re a big leaguer, and it only takes a day. And so it’s such a rewarding feeling to know these guys coming up and play whatever little part we do and shaping them or giving them the environment to grow and then all of a sudden see them transform into the guy on the TV screen and then the guy who gets the big hit or the guy who gets the contract and you’re like, Man, you remember when you were probably eating ramen and wondering if you should be in this game and now you’re achieved your dream. That’s awesome. That part’s really a war. And then just the history of it, you

Speaker 2 (13:43):

Know, probably have a proud dad feeling, right? I don’t know if that’s taboo to say <laugh> or,

Speaker 3 (13:49):

Yeah, kind have your, especially different players. Everyone has their different relationship with, and I think dad’s a good analogy cuz when they go off and they fly and they make it, you’re left at home <laugh>,

Speaker 2 (14:10):

Remember where you came from? Son <laugh>. Yeah,

Speaker 3 (14:12):

Yeah. No, well some people might not take it this way, but it’s kind of cool that one week you can be arguably this person’s boss that they’re trying to impress. Cause they want you to either ultimately Jed Andie or the guy’s making decisions on any big league. Call up the guy stumps for them, Oh we need to call and scallop. He’s playing really well. Or at least promotes them. Then all of a sudden you’re chop liver, man, I’m in college, I got all my friends. This is awesome.

Speaker 2 (14:44):


Speaker 3 (14:46):

Hey, can you call home once? Just tell me how it’s,

Speaker 2 (14:48):


Speaker 3 (14:49):

Me you’re okay.

Speaker 2 (14:51):

Oh, that’s hysterical. So let’s get into a little bit of your day to day. And when it comes to player development I don’t think I had asked previously. So what position did you play when you were in baseball?

Speaker 3 (15:07):

Oh, I was a pitcher.

Speaker 2 (15:08):

You were a pitcher, Okay. And now is that what you do currently with the Cubs?

Speaker 3 (15:16):

So coming up through the Cubs, I’ve done a variety of different things, including game planning for our opponents in the big leagues. I spent a year traveling with the team. But now my current role I think it’s mostly about putting our coaches in the best position to succeed. Building systems, making sure we have real process and goals around what we’re doing with our players. A lot of my role, my side hustle, which I really adapt to over the last five years, just love, have conversations with people like yourself about what’s out there, right? Because that line between sports and the cor, call it the corporate world, just the rest of the world, there’s a lot happening in the tech space, right? Oh yeah. And honestly, it doesn’t happen in the sports space first, it happens Silicon Valley, it happens in healthcare, it happens somewhere else.

Speaker 3 (16:24):

And then someone sort of steals that, which might not even be the best version of that tech and tries to sell it to approach team cuz it’s cool. <laugh>. Exactly. So that side hustle of just new ideas, new people, new influences, even new, you know, talked about your HR process, trying to set that up for our coaches and to develop those guys and give them what do you actually wanna do with your career? What are the gaps in your resume? How can we help train or fill that right now that that’s sort my main focus. And then there are just a lot of logistics that go along with eight teams and 200 plus players and coaching staffs and training staffs and all that for all those guys. And Covid is really calls that part of my world to be much, much bigger. There’s just so many hoops and protocols and for sure cautions, just make sure that stuff is going off. But try to leave the real coaching and the real analytics, the guys who are in the weeds now, and just give them the tools to do their job.

Speaker 2 (17:41):

One of the things I’m very fortunate experiencing is with our company is, you know, develop these relationships with the organizations. Now obviously we do a lot of work with corporate sponsors, but on occasion if we get to work with the teams directly, you really get an inside perspective of the operations and that separates what a fan perspective is versus what the organization really is. And I think most people, as much as they know, you hear athletes and GMs when they contract, negotiate, this is the business side and all of that. But the one acknowledgements that I’ve had is fans may see, hey, this is just a sport. And they just always throw that out there. You’re just playing a game, you should be grateful. But the inner workings of an organization you really get to see how well organizations run once you get to work with them and how they handle and legitimize their processes and the business of the organization.

Speaker 2 (18:43):

This is just not a sport. There are so many levels, so many roles, so many responsibilities, so many different departments. And in many ways you can really see that influence from some of the long tenured successful organizations versus the ones that kind of middle and kind of meander in the middle. But a lot of the times it really comes from the top and the ownership level and how they approach that business. Now in the eighties and nineties, there was a running joke that any sports owner is basically, these are toy trains for billionaires. And there that may have been true and there’s probably some ownership that takes it that way and it’s just the way to diversify investments in what have you. But in my experience, really seeing the ownerships that handle this as their baby, as their business or their startup really had a really convincing parallel to the success and the history of the organization. Tell us a little bit about what that’s like if you may.

Speaker 3 (19:50):

Yeah, yeah. I think you have a good point, right? Because your owner drives everything and that can be a positive or negative depending on what situation you are. Fortunately the Rickett’s family, one of the best ownership groups in baseball I think they understand what makes Wrigley Field special. Tom met his wife in the bleachers. And another thing is they understand what they’re good at, which is running a business, developing Wrigley, setting up the strategy group, and then they invest very heavily in the baseball ops group and let Theo and Jed largely do their thing. And certainly they’re gonna sign off on everything and they’re gonna set budgets and set directions and approve everything. But I think sometimes it’s hard when from what I’ve heard in other organizations, if your owner is the one that’s making the trades or really getting down on the weeds, right? Because one of the good in bad things about professional sports is only everyone can make a trade or sign a player a little bit about baseball. The

Speaker 2 (21:21):

Fantasy sports has made us all GMs <laugh> or

Speaker 3 (21:24):

Yeah, if I’m looking at the VR world and I’m not going to necessarily pick the right players or merge with the right company or know the right vendor just cuz there’s a lot of expertise there. But watch a couple baseball games and you know, can at least take educate a guess. So we’ve been really fortunate in that respect. And also just fortunate to be part of the Cubs as a franchise going back hundreds of years. Chicago’s great town, it’s got a great fan base, they’re probably more forgiving than they should be. <laugh> compared to other major media compared to Philadelphia where you’re at.

Speaker 2 (22:06):

Well it’s a family. Sure. Right? Yeah. Well that’s the thing. If Philadelphia fans treat their sports teams like their younger sibling where you know, can make fun of them, but no one else can, right? That’s the relationship where I feel like Chicagoans, the Cubs are a generational family member that you just respect and win lose or draw. You just support <laugh>. Yeah. But Chicago is one of my favorite places. Mean obviously for many people too. But you know, gotta time it right? That’s the only drawback. <laugh>, you’ve got a small window of weather that no bless, but it’s a wonderful city in town and yeah, it’s a world world class destination for sure. So you and I had met through a mutual colleague, Natasha French, who you guys are both active and involved with a accelerator program called Stadia Ventures. Rather than me explain it why don’t you talk to us a little bit about Stadia and your involvement there?

Speaker 3 (23:12):

Sure. Stadia Ventures, I think they’ve been around for five or six years, but they run a program where they bring in they, they’ve vet a lot of sports related companies, they bring them into pitch and then they actively invest in those companies and through their network of contacts and colleagues allow ’em to support and give expertise to those companies and the hope that they can grow or take the next step and in their business and just a phenomenal network and group of people. And so Natasha and I are part of a mentorship team for this virtual reality.

Speaker 3 (23:59):

It’s, it’s not meditation but it, it’s meditation. So it’s active focus training, stress release. So you’re in a VR environment. They use brainwave monitoring or heart rate monitoring where you can control your environment when you’re able to calm yourself down or level yourself out. And they’ve got some clinical backing that shows that if you train with their product, that you can actually make some pretty cool leaves. And so in the sports space Phil Jackson probably initially made it popular, but meditation is taken off is a thing an athlete can do to really center themselves and practice being focused in the moment. But to me, not everyone really can sit there and control their breathing and acknowledge their thoughts. Mean athletes as a group can be, they want to

Speaker 2 (25:01):

Just go for it. Yeah, you wanna get

Speaker 3 (25:03):

Out, What am I doing sitting here? I can’t do this. So this product we’re trying to test it a little bit internally with our athletes as well. Just believe there’s a certain type of person who can focus in this environment, visually, train themselves in a more active way and really experience some of those same. So it’s been great getting to know Natasha. She knows a ton about the vr ar space and there’s some products and baseball including hitting training that have been around and getting better and better year over year that really maybe haven’t taken off yet, but are starting to become a bigger part of what we do. And certainly you see on the horizon that eventually they will be a big part when they’re ready. So for me it’s just a great learning experience and fortunate to be around some really good people

Speaker 2 (26:07):

There. Yeah, absolutely. And so when you and I first met through Natasha, we talked about some conceptual ideas that as someone that as you said, you’re quote side hustle, but really your passion and interest in sports science and technology, you kind of brought to us a bit of a challenge to say, Hey, what in the bag of tricks, if you will, or at least what that we have built or have knowledge of building could be applicable to a pitching environment in a training setting, whether it’s a bull bull pen session or just trying to increase velocity or pitch recognition through hitters and whatnot. It super exciting to even get your head space there and start really thinking about what could work outside of experiential engagement technology. But what are some of the things that you’re seeing right now? Or maybe the club is whatever you’re privy to disclosing that’s not <laugh> too confidential, but yeah, no, what are the technologies that you see on a day to day when it comes to player performance and whether you’re doing it or other clubs and so on?

Speaker 3 (27:25):

Well, I think the broader trend has been, I think I talked about everyone having a baseball card and I think baseball led sort this statistical revolution and what that actually means. And looking for deeper stats. I don’t think we led the performance revolution. We kind of rolled out a bunch of balls, said go play a lot of games, and then we’ll figure out which one of you guys is good <laugh>. And now I think in the past it’s four or five years that’s really changed. And even during Covid has sort accelerated that as well because we’ve had to do that in different and more challenging environment. So some of the big things that have been popular over the past couple years is just targeted pitch design and even call it swing design, for a lack of a better word, is getting these guys in a lab setting and for pitchers, all right, your stuff looks like this.

Speaker 3 (28:41):

If we could get you a couple more inches of break in this direction, we think that would make you a lot better and lead to a lot of more strikeouts, right? And so let’s actively work on that. Let’s try some grips. Let’s give you instant feedback about are you getting closer and closer to your goal, Right? <affirmative> that that’s been a huge change in our game. Guys are getting designer pitches or showing up the next year, or even if they’re established big leaguers with a new trick. And there’ve been a lot of strikeouts, a lot of strikeouts this year.

Speaker 2 (29:15):

Well, not only that, but I think we’re on pace to double the traditional no-hitter average. I think we’re nearing, we’re at seven no hitters, and just I’ll timestamp this, we’re May 21st and major league baseball has experienced seven no hitters already. And we’re not even halfway. And I think that the historical average is what, nine throughout a season <laugh>. Yeah.

Speaker 3 (29:41):

Yeah. It’s incredible credit that some of that to not playing baseball affects hitters way more than pitchers. So the shortened season last year certainly put hitters at a disadvantage, gave pitchers more rest and even more time to train and gain velocity and strength and stuff like that that really matters. But also the bottom part of your roster, they might not have played baseball at all last year, so there’s probably a couple hitters on each team that maybe got 10 at bats, and I just really puts hitters at a disadvantage. So I think that’s where a lot of our focus now is. Okay. I think we’re gone pretty far down the line with pitching. There’s still a lot to unpack and mechanics doing a ton of motion capture stuff. Markerless solutions have been out for a while. So I think it’s the exception now, not the rule that each team has a markerless motion capture system in their stadium.

Speaker 3 (30:53):

So we have 3D skeletons of anyone that pitches in Wrigley. I know the Red Sox and the rays and the do all those teams are doing it. And yeah, I mean that’s great. The tigers. So that’s calls. We hired a bio mechanism from NASA two years ago to really crunch through that data and he works alongside our coaches trying to, instead of, Oh, I see this, here are the physics behind why that might work or not. And since pitching is more an Olympic sport where you stand on a rubber, no one’s touching you take your time, 60 feet, six inches. Let me throw this exact way. I want it to hitting’s reactionary than just harder to understand. So a lot of our focus now is the neuroscience behind hitting spatial awareness timing.

Speaker 2 (31:50):

Yeah, I was just gonna say for our listeners that may not know this, the millisecond count between a hitter recognizing a pitch or when a pitcher throws it and the batter has the time to recognize it, what is it like

Speaker 3 (32:05):

<laugh>? Yeah, I’m gonna get it wrong, but it’s not a lot of time

Speaker 2 (32:09):

<laugh>. It’s certainly

Speaker 3 (32:11):

Fractions of a second, especially with guys throwing a hundred miles per hour the several papers that it’s human impossible. It should be impossible for you to process that information.

Speaker 2 (32:23):

And that’s right. And people don’t believe this, but hitting a ball with a bat is the most difficult thing statistically to do in all of sports.

Speaker 3 (32:32):

Yeah, it’s really, And that’s the interesting thing now, is it the hypotheses or your brain is just building these models of what a ball does in space. And so pitchers are trying to break that model and do something like you’ve never seen before. Your ball moves in one direction that it shouldn’t do for a reason or moves faster than you’ve ever seen, or a pitch off that pitch looks like it for longer than the normal pitch. That’s sort of the objective of pitchers now. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> obviously throw it in the zone, get guys out pitch for a long time. But at a very granular level, that’s where they are. And now hitters are like, All right, how do we train these guys to be really adaptive? And a limitation of that is pitchers can practice in a game like environment because you just need a ball and you just throw it.

Speaker 3 (33:42):

Right? But hitters need something coming at them. Absolutely. Traditional bagging practice is sort of going away because a lot of teams and players are realizing, all right, it would be if golf was a sport where they tossed you a ball and you had hit it outta midair, but yet you were just practicing hitting the golf ball off the ground, you that might not actually translate. So hitting 40 miles per hour, baseballs that are going at a different trajectory than you ever see, getting really good at that doesn’t mean you’re gonna be a good hitter in the big leagues. Right. So trying to find ways they can train, it’s harder and harder and more different things is just a, we’re trying to turn over rock.

Speaker 2 (34:27):

Right? And so you had referenced VR in the past for meditation earlier, but I would say back in between 2015 to 2018, there was a lot VR startups that try to get into the performance space. And baseball seemed to be one that theoretically seemed like a natural setting for a batter to put on a VR headset to try to emulate and recreate that experience. However, <laugh>, there was this kind of, all right, this theory of using technology for the sake of technology because to your point there, nothing beats live bp. Right? And so do you have any experience in either testing those VR training sets and what the results were versus real life settings?

Speaker 3 (35:25):

Yeah, so I’ve looked at what I think is everything out there and they’ve kept tabs and the headset qualities continuously improving. So early on the limitation was just like, oh, the clarity of the picture, It wasn’t realistic, right? No, you can, And even we would map video of the actual picture and there were computer vision models that would try to stretch that guy in the virtual space. And that’s gotten a little better. We, we’ve done the 360 cameras with stadiums, so you’re in Wrigley and it feels real, but it, there’s still just very hard to know how much that helps. And I think we’re close to this being a tool. It is widely used across baseball. I would say almost every team has a VR headset or two, but as far as something that we’ve really seen players commit to, and

Speaker 2 (36:40):

Yeah, that was gonna be my next question. What are the players’ reaction or their thoughts on the utility of it? It’s probably cool to first a couple of times, but then what’s the longevity look like?

Speaker 3 (36:51):

Yeah. Some guys will seeing a guy’s repertoire <affirmative> before they face them, and that’s helpful but you’re still just watching a pitch in a virtual environment versus act swinging at a pitch. And there are companies that have come out with bats where you can virtually hit a baseball, but if you’re just off by any, how accurate you have to be for that to actually work is extraordinary. And if you’re off, you could really screw somebody up. <laugh>. Yeah. And there’s the physics engines and the models, all of that stuff, but down to, we don’t know this, but some batters claim and it’s probably accurate that they can see how the ball spins, <affirmative>. Well, getting the ball spin in space is actually really hard. <affirmative>. And I would say there are things about the physics of a baseball that are just starting to come out where this is somewhat mainstream knowledge now, but at least it’s public.

Speaker 3 (38:09):

The seams can cause the ball to move in different direct directions than you think <affirmative>. And so the way even pitch tracking worked for a while is there were just holes in the data where obviously the ball went in a different direction than the pitch tractor or the model would predict, but no one really knew why. Oh, there must be a cut on the ball or a thing. But there are these little air pockets everywhere where guys actually throw what you would, If I showed you the spin of a baseball, you’d be like, Oh, that’s like a slider. And you’re like, No, that ball actually is a sinker that goes the exact opposite way, which and all that stuff is even now coming out.

Speaker 2 (38:47):

Yeah. Well I remember a few years ago there was a documentary on the big debate of a fastball, Can it actually rise? Because the big debate is physics says no, but you ask every major league baseball player and hitter and they will swear on their graves that fastballs can rise <laugh>.

Speaker 3 (39:08):

But well, a slider is the straightest pitch of any pitch because it has bullets bullet spin, not we’re on a podcast, so my hand gestures aren’t really gonna help. But if you think about a way a bullet spins in the chamber as it goes down the matrix does

Speaker 2 (39:27):

That for, That’s slow.

Speaker 3 (39:28):

Yeah, it does that for a reason, because that helps. It goes straight. When you had a musket, you’re shooting out basically knuckle balls and it would go anywhere. And so a slider basically spins that it’s straight, A true, perfect slider is straight bullet spin. But that in essence makes it the straightest pitch of anything, yet a batter perceives this ball is having this crazy right movement is even we’re guessing at why that is, right. The player’s brains are used to a fastball, which actually because of the way it comes off your arm of goes to the right or <laugh> <affirmative> from for a right hander. So everything’s in relation to that mental model. And there’s still disagreements on

Speaker 2 (40:18):

That. And so here you are tasking technology to try to refine <laugh> something that is an imperfect science. And after you and I talked initially when we were just kind of spitballing ideas versus what we’ve seen out there, what we are aware of, and me personally whether it’s involved with MVP Interactive or not, I definitely see mixed reality and wearables as a technology that within the next five to seven years is going to really change the way we live our lives and learn things. And so I still cannot get off of that theory when it comes to the TA or the discussion that we had in how were with the advancements of wearables. And we’re not talking about the big bulky VR headsets. We’re talking more seamless, and I’m excited to see what Apple come kind of comes out with in the next few years. But something that a player could actually wear that has some overlay of the physical environment that is able to register data, show imagery, and do read response to your eyes and something along those lines where looking out forward is one thing, but then tying in the physical swing and a bat, the hit the pitch recognition. It is a big, big task.

Speaker 3 (41:45):

Certainly the VR space is one thing, but you can, your point about AR and mixed reality that has to be coming even just for the fact that be more, Oh

Speaker 2 (42:00):

It is. Oh

Speaker 3 (42:00):

Yeah, for sure. More better feedback. The ability to recreate more realistic environments when you’re not actually on a field quicker, more detailed feedback to players. Just them understanding things like athletes are incredible in their ability to adapt and they all learn in different ways, but I mean there’s certain examples of pitchers where you tell them, Hey, I want the ball to move this much this way. UD Arish was one, he throws 10 different pitches because he can’t, if you just tell him, Hey, I want that ball to move an inch more, he’ll go like that. And you’re like, Yeah, it was pretty close.

Speaker 2 (42:42):


Speaker 3 (42:42):

Like, guys, there’s some guys that can do that. Just freak giving them the tools to do that themselves.

Speaker 2 (42:50):

Well think in terms of the technology, usually a good leading indicator is the military where they’re able to fund not only the research but the investment in these emerging technologies in a defense scenario. And so recently, you may have heard that Microsoft just won, I think it was a 20 billion contract with the military for the Microsoft Hollow lens, which is their mixed VR or mixed reality headset. And so I’m really intrigued to see where the military is able to innovate and develop off of that platform where it’s, again, if it’s a five year lag, whatever it is, I think from a consumer standpoint and also some other research technologies getting closer. So I think make all the jokes you want about Google Glass and all of that, but they were way ahead of their time. It’s unfortunate that it wasn’t as widely adopted as it should have been, but they were early. And with technology, if you’re too early or too late, it could be <laugh> the end of it. But I do think we’re trending in the right direction with what the military is going to develop and where these big consumer electronic brands are really refining the hardware is gonna paint a bright future for all of us. I, and then in 20 years, when our kids are our age, it’s gonna be contact lenses, <laugh>, and then that’s where <laugh>, sports science and all the physical integration of technology can really get super amazing.

Speaker 3 (44:32):

And I mean, baseball is one thing, but field sports, football or soccer or hockey where there’s all these bodies flying around and really a big part of the game is like processing where the players are in space and making the right pass or doing this, that is gonna be hugely valuable because you really just need to put the bodies in the right place. Not talking about the baseball has to spin in the perfect physics model that we don’t even understand. This is just an ability to get more practice hours of what the right decisions in a game environment should be like. You could definitely see that taking off sooner than later.

Speaker 2 (45:21):

Now, have you implemented on response time and some tangential exercise with technology that isn’t the practical movements? So in other words, I, I’ve seen touch screens be implemented for Simon says reaction game for athletes to see what their response and reflexes are. Have you seen any of that within baseball?

Speaker 3 (45:47):

Yeah, and we’ve experimented with that a little bit. I think there’s just so much importance with the batter pitcher, that interaction. It’s just such a huge part of our game that honestly some of the other, where that might come into play is training infielders, right? But your training economy really is so focused on hitting and pitching for the most part that it hasn’t been as big of a part of our training, but we, we’ve certainly messed around with that. But even with our rehab group to give guys things to do when they can’t be out there catching ground balls and moving around, we’ve done a lot more of that to get, again, we don’t necessarily know, but the theory is just the brain is kind of a muscle, so to speak. And to at least keep that reaction time and focus and training and keep those neurocognitive skills seems like it would be important. And it no harm, no foul, right?

Speaker 2 (47:01):

Sometimes. Right? Yeah, absolutely. So as we’re nearing our time here given the unique circumstance all of our lives have been in over the last 14, 15 months with C V D, you had referenced this a little bit but before we end, what were some of the, it sounded like you had operational and logistical challenges with as a result of covid, but had there been any sort of technical or new integrations that the organization has implemented? Or what has the impact of Covid made on actual training as well? And have you leaned on technology to supplement?

Speaker 3 (47:42):

Yeah. No a huge sea change habits are hard to break but an environment that covid of presented us with everyone’s habits were broken. So it was almost this extended off season where before we wouldn’t leave our guys to their own devices. We’d check in, we would advise ’em, talk to them, but we probably weren’t actively trying to push specific objective goals using data. And so probably saw some of the same changes everyone saw. All of a sudden our 70 year old manager had been managing for 45 years now before everyone would say, Oh, that guy can’t use Slack or Teams <laugh>, right? Well now he is great, right? Yeah. Pops up on his phone. Yep. He’s writing reports,

Speaker 2 (48:40):

FaceTiming everyone. It’s not just his.

Speaker 3 (48:43):

Yeah, yeah. And same with our players. So even Zoom to our players and trying to do more presentations and teach those guys about some of the things we’re talking about or even just basic concepts that we would save until they got face to face or nutrition advice or things like that. We push out we, fortunately, were in the process of building an internal app, so we’ve started to push a lot more things to our players via that app, include video and their player plans, their performance reviews, which are less on field and more goal based things. We’ve started to make those more interactive or they can track that and engage age or scouting reports, things like that that we we’re now well positioned to push out. And then computer vision is gonna be a huge part of this next couple years. And not that we are really at the place to leverage that, but just having those guys upload video and doing what we can, even if it’s drawing lines on a video, just to keep tabs on those guys, there were a hundred dollars bat sensors where we could get an idea of their swing planes and swing speeds, accelerations.

Speaker 3 (50:00):

We would just swing arcs. We would send us out in the mail, have them send them to each other, and even our portable pitch data stuff, if a guy was working on something very specific, we would put that in the mail and get data. So I think that’s only gonna continue just this realization that everyone, you don’t have to come to the office to be productive. Baseball players can work from anywhere too. Now that we know we can reach them, it just means there’s more work to be done and better work to be done.

Speaker 2 (50:34):

And just the perfect case study on the utility of technology and how it actually can bridge workflows and requirements together at some distance. So if

Speaker 3 (50:45):

This would’ve happened to baseball five years ago, certainly 10 years ago the state of the game, especially the minor leagues, it would’ve been tragic careers lost. And it hasn’t been great, but I think we’ve at least mitigated the impact to some extent.

Speaker 2 (51:04):

Well, yeah, absolutely.

Speaker 3 (51:05):

20 no hitters right now instead of

Speaker 2 (51:07):

<laugh>. Yeah, exactly. It’s not just X or so. Well gratefully, with each new podcast that we host the days go by and the world lightens up a little bit. So it looks like we’re really finally getting outta the woods here, which is really exciting. And so hopefully this time next year, it’s all a thing of the past and we’ll have to wait another a hundred years for another situation like this, which hope not about. Well Bobby, I said this to you the last time we spoke in that I could probably talk baseball for six hours, so the next time you’re in Philadelphia or I’m in Chicago, we maybe do this over some beer or dinner or something.

Speaker 3 (51:47):

Sounds good. Wrigley’s gonna be 60% capacity next to home stand, so that’s

Speaker 2 (51:52):

Wonderful. That’s wonderful. I am

Speaker 3 (51:53):

Pretty normal.

Speaker 2 (51:55):

So for our listeners that wanna reach out to you or keep in touch or maybe even have some ideas, what’s the best way to contact you? Whether that’s on social media or how, whatever you’re comfortable with.

Speaker 3 (52:09):

Yeah, no I’m pretty easy to find on Twitter. Luckily there’s not a lot of Bobby, so I’m just at Bobby Basham LinkedIn too. If you Google Bobby Bassman cubs, they’re just one nice thing about having an original name, but happy to chat with anyone and technology and help our camp.

Speaker 2 (52:32):

So wonderful. Bobby, it is a great baseball name too. It’s right out of a Hollywood movie on a baseball

Speaker 3 (52:38):

Stand. Yeah. Yeah. I really should changed it to Robert, but going back into baseball, like the alliteration. Yeah, just kind of stuck. So I’m now too old to go back. So a decision that’s sailed

Speaker 2 (52:51):

Good. It works. Well, Bobby, I really appreciate your time. This was fascinating, and again, I can’t wait to connect with you soon enough. And for our listeners,

Speaker 3 (53:01):

Thanks so much, James. Such a pleasure.

Speaker 2 (53:03):

You got it. All right. Tune in next time. Thanks for listening to the MVP podcast. So you soon everyone.

MVP Interactive Podcast Series with Bobby Basham, Chicago Cubs


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