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The life of a baseball “stringer”

The development of tracking baseball on applications, such as MLB Gameday, for phones and computers would not be possible if not for particular people who attend each game. With the upbringing of Pitch/FX, Trackman and Statcast, the need for able workers to track each pitch and play has been a necessity to keep baseball up to date with informing its’ fans. Some of these workers are known as stringers, who are now not only tracking Major League Baseball but Minor League Baseball and even some College Baseball. Nick Jones, the current Inland Empire 66ers stringer, who also happens to be a longtime family friend of mine, was kind enough to answer some questions about his daily tasks as a stringer for a minor league team.

Brent Maguire: What are your daily tasks as a stringer for the Inland Empire 66ers?

Nick Jones: “I first arrive to the ballpark about an hour before game time. I go to my room in the press box, turn on my laptop, and before doing anything else, I sign in to AOL Instant Messenger (using the 66ers team account) and wait for a message from a Major League Baseball staff member who is assigned to be my support for the game. Every single stringer is assigned their own support person. This MLB representative is with me the entire game to make sure everything goes smoothly and to correct any mistakes that I might make during the game. Once I’m connected with the MLB support person, I load up the online Stringer Client (the software that stringers use) and begin entering pregame information. I first check the paper rosters with the system’s rosters to make sure every player is in the system. After that, I enter in the starting lineups, umpires and official scorer, and weather information. When all that’s done, I connect to the MLB servers. From there, I wait around until both starting pitchers begin to warm up in their respective bullpens, and then I click a button labeled “Send Warmups” which notifies whoever is following the game that the game is about to start. Once the game starts, I enter in the results of every single pitch and game event. That information is updated live on all Minor League Baseball applications (like online and on their “First Pitch” app). With any play that is not obvious (like whether a ball in play was a hit or an error), I always follow the official scorekeeper’s decision. He sits right next to me, so it’s easy to see what he decides right away, and I enter in the play accordingly. Once the game is over, I enter in the attendance and the time of the game. Then I go over my results with the official scorer, and if everything checks out, then I send in the final data to Major League Baseball, and I’m free to go.”

Brent Maguire: Can you explain how you track each pitch location, hit location and ball in play and how that whole process works for those who may be unfamiliar with it? 

Nick Jones: “For pitch location, it’s actually a complete estimation on my part. I’m not connected to any pitch tracking technology, so I just have to click where I thought the pitch was (which isn’t exactly easy when I’m up in the press box). For hit location, it’s the same sort of thing. I click on the software’s field diagram in the general location of where the ball landed or was fielded (it’s a lot easier than pitch location). I then click on the fielders in the order that they were involved in the play. For example, on a groundout to shortstop, I would click where the shortstop fielded the ball, select “groundball” for hit type, and then click on the shortstop and first baseman, in that order, to signify that it was a 6-3 groundout.”

Brent Maguire: Do you have access to any of the newer statistical measurements, such as launch angle and exit velocity, through the trackman systems at the ballpark? If so, how cool is it to be handling information that is generally not available to the public?

Nick Jones: “I don’t use Trackman myself; however, a man named Ethan sits right next to me in the press box, and he’s the one dealing with Trackman. So while the software I’m using is completely separate from Trackman, I still do have access to some of the newer statistical measurements (and “normal” measurements like pitch speed) because of Ethan. Sometimes he’ll tell me a certain pitch’s spin rate or a ball’s exit velocity. Other times, if I’m curious, I’ll ask him something about the last pitch or the last ball hit, and he’ll tell me what I want to know. It’s very cool having access to these kinds of advanced measurements. It’s so interesting to learn about all the data that’s tracked on each pitch.”

Brent Maguire: As a stringer, you have more access to see pitch locations, pitch types, etc that others might not have access to seeing. Does this enhance the baseball experience for you at a game or does your job keep you so occupied that the game sometimes comes too quick? 

Nick Jones: “I would say it definitely enhances my experience in terms of my attention to detail. I’ve always loved watching baseball, but obviously this job requires me to pay attention to every single pitch and every little thing that goes on during each play. Watching the game this closely has helped me learn more about stuff like pitcher tendencies, pitch types, exit velocity (the speed of the ball off the bat), and picking these sort of things up without the help of technology. After watching so many pitches so closely, it’s easier for me now to tell what type of pitch was just thrown without any technological assistance. Another thing is that I’ve become more knowledgeable in determining earned vs. unearned runs, and that has helped me out a lot when entering in plays as a stringer.”

Brent Maguire: What do you find to be the hardest part of being a stringer? 

Nick Jones: “The hardest part about being a stringer would have to be entering in crazy or really strange plays where a lot of stuff happens in the field. This is one of the few times when things start to get stressful and the game really speeds up on you. I of course have to wait until the play is over and the official scorer has made his decisions before entering in all the information, so if something happens that involves a bunch of different fielders, a possible error or two, a mix of earned and unearned runs, and a runner being thrown out somewhere, it gets very hectic for me trying to correctly input all of it before the next pitch. It’s times like these where I wish there was a pause button. It’s not fun when I get behind and have to watch the next few pitches, and remember the results, while still finishing up the previous play.”

Brent Maguire: How did you become a stringer? Was it a very competitive job to get hired for and how was that process of trying to get this job? 

Nick Jones: “It was sort of a unique process for me getting this job. In September of 2016, I emailed 3 different Minor League General Managers (one of which being Joe Hudson, the GM of the 66ers) asking for their advice on how to get into a career in baseball. I didn’t ask for a job, just for a chance to talk to them and hopefully get some valuable advice while also getting my name out there. Joe Hudson replied to me a few weeks later and we set up a phone call. We talked for a little bit, but he couldn’t quite help me with what I wanted to do because I’m looking to get into the Sabermetrics side of baseball, and as a Minor League GM he doesn’t deal with that kind of stuff. However, he said to contact him again in February, closer to when the season started, to see what jobs might be available at the stadium. Fast forward to February, and I was able to set up a meeting with him in person, as I figured it’s always best to talk to someone face to face. I brought in a generic stadium application, but Joe said he would talk to someone to see if there was anything available that was more suited for someone like me. A couple weeks later I got a call from another person from the 66ers who said I’d be “working stats” for them (very vague, but I was excited nonetheless). Later in March I went to an Employee Orientation, and it was there that I was told I would be a stringer and work the Minor League Baseball applications. Looking back, I really just happened to be at the right place at the right time. Joe Hudson really helped me out and I’m very thankful for this opportunity.”

Brent Maguire: This is obviously your first step into exploring careers in the baseball field. What do you think is next in line for you after this job? 

Nick Jones: “I’ll be entering my senior year of college after I’m done with this job, so with school winding down and me finishing up my bachelor’s degree in Statistics, I’m thinking next in line for me would be an internship with an MLB team or even a data analyst type of job. Obviously I’d prefer a job related to baseball in some way, but at the same time it would be very beneficial to gain experience with different statistical software and become more skilled in data analysis. The one thing that’s certain is that I’m very passionate about baseball, and I’m going to do whatever it takes to get where I want to be.”

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