Earlier this week, reality imitated SuperBaseball 2020, as a robot threw out the ceremonial first pitch of a Major League Baseball game.
The PhillieBot, which is sort of like a cross between a Segway and a Wham-O Arctic Trac-Ball, was developed by the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. It opened up Wednesday’s Phillies-Brewers game by one-hopping a first-pitch changeup to the Phillie Phanatic.
Even though it’s the first robot to (sort of) pitch at the major-league level, PhillieBot isn’t the first real-life baseball robot in existence. Far from it. In fact, there are enough baseball-playing robots to field a full starting nine, although the overall lineup is seriously clogged at the starting pitcher position.
But pitching wins championships.
Ladies and gentlemen, your robot baseball starting lineup:
1. Best Hitter: Batting Robot, Ishikawa Komuro Laboratory
Homebot can flat-out rake, and it’s a good fit for the three-hole or the cleanup spot spot due to its impressive bat control. It hits solid line drives up the middle with laser-like precision, but can also lift pop-ups into the outfield in sac-fly situations. Would be a great leadoff hitter if it could run at all.
2. Best Hitting Mechanics: Robocross Batting Robot
The best mechanics of any robotic hitter, but this robot doesn’t follow through enough on its swing to be a real power threat. It’s an impressive contact hitter, but we’re not sure if it can make the jump from aluminum to wooden bats. Good for pinch-hitting situations where you need to move runners along or lay down a sacrifice bunt.
3. Best All-Around Game: King Kizer
Almost a legitimate five-tool threat. He catches (with two hands, kids… great fundamentals). He throws. He hits (with the weirdest batting stance this side of Kevin Youkilis). He has great instincts on the basepaths. And he can run a little, too (or at least shuffle… again with the space-mechanics).
4. Best Pitching Mechanics: Sony Qrio
As far as we know, Sony Qrio is the only robot that takes signs from the catcher, and his Paul Byrd-like windup provides a nice visual anachronism. A robot with an old-timey delivery? More of that, please, scientists.
5. ‘Roid-Ragingest Robot: Robosapien
For a robot with absolutely no situational-hitting or autonomic fielding skills, Robosapien sure talks a lot of smack. He lets out a DuffMan like “oh yeah” after whiffing on pitch after pitch, yells barbs at the pitcher after every lame attempt to make contact, and goes into a full-blown steroids-induced tirade after striking out. He lacks self-awareness, but he loves to play the game.
6. Best Submarine-Style Pitcher: Pitching Robot, Ishikawa Komuro Laboratory
Although it gets lit up regularly by its Batting Robot rival at Ishikawa Komuro Laboratory, this pitching robot offers a different look out of the bullpen thanks to its submarine/sidearm delivery. It’s like a robotic Kent Tekulve, minus the awesome glasses and uniform.
7. Worst Pitcher (Robot T-Ball Division): Fisher-Price ESPN Better Batter Baseball
We’re generally forgiving when it comes to evaluating robotic pitchers, but when you get knocked around the ballpark by a two-year-old, it’s time to go back and hone your skills in the lab. Come on, Fisher-Price ESPN Better Batter Baseball. You’re more like a robotic belly-itcher.
8. Most Improved Hitter Over the Course of 2 Minutes: Humanoid Robot at Korean Robot Festival
Given its proficiency at hitting a ball off of a short-hop, this batting robot might be better off pursing a career in cricket. Nevertheless, it goes from picking up a bat for the first time (at around the 2 minute mark) to falling down after swinging (at the 2:40 mark) to rapping singles and throwing the bat down in “this is too easy” disgust (around the 3 minute mark). Fast on the uptake, this one.
9. Most Underrated Robot: PhillieBot
Despite short-arming its throw in the spotlight, getting booed by the Philly crowd, and getting the played-off-by-keyboard-cat treatment, PhillieBot can purportedly throw a lot harder than it did during its ceremonial first-pitch moment. The robot has a bendable “wrist” and “limbs,” which means it has a lot more in its repertoire than just straight fastballs. It had a shaky first appearance, but the PhillieBot has serious upside. And it’s lucky, too: the Phillies rallied for a 4-3 win following its very short outing.
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