By Jeff Riger
He is blue, has many wires and has achieved what no other robot has ever done — thrown out the first pitch at a Major League baseball game.
The robot is named Cyber Young and was put together by a team of high school students from FIRST Robotics, an organization that helps get kids and adults involved in science and technology. The team that built Young started working on him (I assume Cyber is male, but I did not ask) in June and finished just in time for the big pitch on Wednesday night at Comerica Park. There were some technical issues delivering the ball, but after a short delay, Young tossed a change-up to Paws as the Tigers mascot crouched behind home plate.
The whole concept was pretty impressive.
Even some of the Tiger players took notice and talked about the robot before the game. I asked catcher Alex Avila if it was more geeky or cool that a robot was delivering the first pitch. “I guess it’s a little of both,” said Avila. Added the catcher, “To actually see something like that, throw out a pitch, do something that a human would do would be pretty cool, but then again I don’t know if I would be able to hold a conversation with the person who built it — they might be a lot smarter than I am.”
When I told Avila it was high school students who constructed the robot, he replied, “Really? Really? That’s pretty impressive, that’s pretty cool.”
Detroit relief pitcher Phil Coke felt the same. “I think it’s pretty awesome that there is a group of kids in high school that built a baseball throwing robot,” Coke said. “I could use that in the off-season — somebody to play catch with and throw me the ball back. That would be awesome.”
Of course Coke is a pitcher, and who knows, maybe the robot will be gunning for his job one day? Maybe, he said. “If it reads different sequences of fingers leading to different pitches during a game and it throws perfect every time… ” Coke joked, adding that it would not be possible because baseball is an imperfect game.
Troy High School student Arjun Namineni, one of the creators of the robot, informed reporters that Young can throw well over 100 mph, but since Paws was the receiver on Wednesdays night they lowered the speed to around 44 mph.
The ball that Young delivered barely reached Paws, but spectators said it looked tough to hit. (OK, I made up that last part, but c’mon, I wanted to make it look good for the robot!) In fact Namineni joked that these types of robots will one day replace all MLB pitchers saying, “We got a contract with a few manufacturers to build more of these to replace them.”
Sure, a bot like Young might be able to replace some of the lower level arms in the game right now, but what about the Tigers Justin Verlander? “I’m sure Verlander could throw something a bit faster if he really tried,” Namineni said. “Yeah, we could replace him for at least the first inning.”
Cyber Young was not the only pitcher throwing out the ceremonial first pitch on Wednesday night. Joining the robot was Olympic gold medal gymnast Jordyn Wieber. Namineni seemed confident that his robot would best the Olympian. “I think she will throw a great pitch for sure but I think this will win out.”
As for Weber, she admitted she was a bit nervous given her competition.
If you want my opinion I would say both tosses were equally underwhelming! What? I know that sounds mean, but it’s the truth.
Oh, one more thing…
Cyber Young almost had a different name. Apparently the team took ideas and while Young seems fitting (for pitching great Cy Young), “Barry Bots,” (like Barry Bonds) “V squared,” (means the robot is the second Verlander ) and “Model K” (K for strikeout) were also in the running.