Smart and Thinvitational 2016 – The best Magic event of the year

For the last two years a bunch of my friends have gotten together to get away for a weekend of gaming and just disconnecting from our regular lives. Technically speaking, this is only the second annual such event, but it was loosely organized prior to that. However, I believe our roster is mostly set going forward, though obviously we expect substitutions will be a regular thing. The people involved are:

  • David Bedoll, actuary (main organizer, getaway used to be in his parents’ house on Anderson Island in Washington State)
  • Steven Birklid, owner of Fast Signs in Shoreline (main Magic organizer, tournament designer, and card stock / proxy printer)
  • Max McCall, Game Developer @ Blizzard
  • Zac Hill, Chief Innovation Officer @ The Future Project
  • Cedric Phillips, Media Manager / Main Voice @ Star City Games
  • Brian Wong, best limited Magic player to never play on an individual Pro Tour (also works on like vaccines and more important stuff than any of us)
  • Jesse Wilke, poker professional
  • Peter Beckfield, software developer @ WG Cells
  • Me, owner of Driveline Baseball

Our interests and professions are varied, but the one thing that brought us all together was Magic: The Gathering. We’re a collection of has-beens and never-were gamers who all generally love the Retirement Home Format for Old Magic Players – Cube Draft. So we get together and do that, but we also play archaic and invented formats, arrange it into a grand tournament, and play the hell out of it a bit too seriously.

Here was this year’s grand prize and poster for the tournament, as designed by Steven Birklid:

smart-thin-vitational-banner

If you’re complaining about the logo being impossible to read, then congratulations, you officially understand the whole point of the name of the event.

Last year’s winner was Zac Hill, and as the defending champion – and guy who generally has the most ridiculous Facebook pictures usable for exploitation – Steven selected him to be the face of the event for at least 2016.

To take a look at what events Steven planned for this year’s tournament, go to the official Smart and Thinvitational 2016 Tournament Google Spreadsheet.

To summarize, this year’s Magic events included:

  • Bring Your Own Standard – two large expansions, four small expansions, one core set (cannot select more than one set per block)
  • Legacy Rotisserie Draft – included three rounds of banned cards, all current Legacy-legal cards were available for selection
  • Set Sealed – participants were randomly assigned 9 sets to build a deck. All cards that were ever banned in ANY major format are banned in this format.
  • Racial Draft – participants were randomly assigned a race to build a deck around. All cards must have the race’s name in the rules text, title, or type line. Three cards per person are allowed to be “drafted” and were “raceshifted.” For example, I took Heritage Druid and all instances of “elf” were translated to “merfolk.”
  • 3v3 Cube Drafts – standard moneydraft format, participants were randomly assigned a team of three and players got 1 extra point per team win. My teammates for the weekend were Max McCall and Zac Hill; the other teams were Steven Birklid/Brian Wong/Cedric Phillips and Jesse Wilke/David Bedoll/Peter Beckfield. These ended up being surprisingly balanced, I thought Birklid’s team was the clear favorite, my team being 2nd best, and Wilke’s team being the worst. However, all teams won one match in the round robin competition.

Let’s go into the strategies I took into each format!

Bring Your Own Standard

Delver of Secrets

I’ve played a fair amount of BYOS-type events in the past at Origins (a regular tournament there back when I played) as well as online in #apprentice, but not any time in the last decade. Given the restrictions on bannings and the “no two sets from the same block,” I was pretty sure I’d just play some form of Delver since I was expecting at least 2 and probably 3 players to make some ridiculous combo deck, 2-3 others to play control, and the rest to play midrange/aggro/Delver themselves. I tried to build an Eldrazi deck but it didn’t seem good, and when Cedric submitted his, I realized I totally forgot about Ancient Tomb, which would have made the deck insane (and it did, spoiler alert).

Since Delver is easily built with Innistrad + New Phyrexia + any reasonable core set, I decided I wanted to play maindeck Meddling Mage in a format where the decklists are face-up to begin the tournament, especially since I’d also certainly be slamming four copies of Gitaxian Probe. It seemed like a slam dunk considering I figured some would be playing combo, and if an Eldrazi list was out there, it’s extremely good against them too (Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher are the only cards you care about, the former often moreso than the latter).

Ponder was banned, so I had to choose between Portent and Preordain to fill it. I decided to go with Magic 2011 to get access to Glacial Fortress, Mana Leak, and Preordain. Instead of Force of Will, I went with Nemesis to take Daze and took Ice Age to get Swords to Plowshares and Adarkar Wastes. I took Betrayers of Kamigawa so I could have access to Umezawa’s Jitte, a card everyone else forgot about besides Cedric. With Planeshift for Meddling Mage, I also got access to Gainsay, which I decided to play maindeck since I knew most of my opponents would be slinging blue spells.

I ran Swords to Plowshares over Vapor Snag maindeck, which overall was probably a mistake; I could have chosen a different large set if I was willing to drop Adarkar Wastes. Oh well.

After the decklists were submitted, I felt really good about my chances. I felt I was only a dog to Cedric (Eldrazi) and potentially Jesse (UWR Delver), because while he had worse mana, he had access to Pyroblast and Gut Shot after sideboard.

Set Sealed

When I saw the list of sets I was randomly assigned, I nearly threw up.

  • Fate Reforged
  • Shards of Alara
  • Invasion
  • 8th Edition
  • Nemesis
  • Battle for Zendikar
  • Mercadian Masques
  • Prophecy
  • Legends

Force SpikeWe had to play at least TWO separate cards from each set in our maindeck. Fuck. I considered playing some sort of Blue Skies deck but after filtering through the card pool, I ended up going with a mono-blue griefer control deck that used Tasigur to kill. The biggest mistake I made was running 4 copies of both Daze and Force Spike, but anyone who knows me also knows that I can’t help myself sometimes. I should have run a 4/2 or 4/1 split of Spike + Daze and more cards that generated card advantage maindeck instead of relying on just Tasigur and 4 Fact or Fiction.

After the decklists were submitted, I felt my Set Sealed deck was one of the weakest decks in the pool, but that no one had a very good deck anyway.

Legacy Roto Draft

Truth be told, I had Steven Birklid do my bans since I couldn’t care less about them. Going into the draft I figured I would not likely be able to play a decent blue deck considering the makeup of the participants, the bans, and my order in the snake draft. After the picks went:

  • Entomb
  • Shelldock Isle
  • Vendilion Clique
  • Snapcaster Mage
  • Grim Monolith

Noble HierarchI knew that I was done for. I took Noble Hierarch expecting to move into G/W or Naya and potentially splash for light blue cards if it cleared up downstream, and when the people on my left went for mono-white (Cedric), reanimator (Peter), and a value black deck (Steven), I settled into a zoo-based strategy that seemed wide open. The idiots on my right continued to fight over blue cards, and I got unfettered access to the best removal spells in Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile, got both Armageddons, and overall felt good about my creature selections minus forgetting about Voice of Resurgence being a card. My only real regret is not drafting anti-red/black cards vs. Steven’s aggro deck; a card like Absolute Law would have been a solid choice instead of loading up on a ton of redundant anti-blue cards.

Racial Draft

I had no idea what the hell to do here, so I had Peter Beckfield more or less ship me a list. I made some modifications and it was his suggestion to go with the Elves raceshift strategy, considering the two very good cantrips blue Merfolk tends to have in their deck (Aquitect’s Will, Silvergill Adept, and my raceshifted Gempalm Incinerator). For those unaware, the “combo” is:

  • Turn one: Play Nettle Sentinel
  • Turn two: Attack for 2, play Nettle Sentinel 2 (untap Sentinel 1), play Heritage Druid, tap them for mana, play any green card, untap, repeat with that green creature + two Nettle Sentinels

With the cantrips plus a huge mana sink in Coralhelm Commander (plus Mirror Entity for the Fireball kill), I really liked my deck and how it turned out.

Cube Draft

As stated before, I felt the team of Max-Zac-Me was the 2nd best team but that’d we’d be competitive in any draft we played in. Given the opposition, I consider myself at least an average player in this field (a lofty claim) and probably slightly above average. The only players that I felt that were definitively better than me at both 3v3 drafting + playing are Brian Wong (likely the best player) and potentially Zac Hill, but he was on my team. I’m not saying I’m definitively better than the other 6 players, but it’s at least close in combined drafting + playing skill, and I had been a regular cube player on MTGO while some of the others were not.

In both drafts we used Steven Birklid’s cube, which gave me another advantage, since I had played Steven’s cube quite a bit. It is a very well-designed cube that prioritizes combat and has minimal equipment. Green mana ramp is intentionally a thin/poor strategy, and blue-based do-nothing control decks are weak. In my opinion, the absolute best card in the cube is Massacre Wurm, since black is very strong AND it is often an insta-kill condition – most of the combat is 2/2-based.

Hero of Oxid RidgeOur first match was against Peter/David/Jesse. I opened a generally weak pack with Hero of Oxid Ridge as the only red card in the pack. Despite the brief saga of Boddy Red, I traditionally play blue-based control decks in both constructed and cube formats, and this is pretty well-known amongst my friends. (Earlier this weekend, we played a cube draft for funsies and I went a solid 0-3 with a shitty blue deck in this very same cube.) So I decided to cut the red hard since there were no prototypical red aggro drafters in this cube and hopefully end up in a surprise mono-red deck. In this draft, my red deck lacked the critical mass of one-drops to be an S-tier deck (you want 7+ one-drops of ANY quality in a good cube red deck), but it made up for it with the two best four mana game-enders in Hero of Oxid Ridge and Hellrider plus Koth of the Hammer for staying power and inevitability. I went 2-1 in this cube and none of the matches really stood out to me, Zac went 3-0, and Max picked up a match and we won the first cube.

The second match took place when I was in the lead in points and a few others were right behind me – Zac and Cedric, namely. Playing against Cedric/Brian/Steven, I knew I had to play exceedingly well and draft a good deck to pick up a 2-1 here; while 1-2 was potentially in for the final two slots, it would largely depend on how the others played – if Cedric 3-0’d and Zac 3-0’d, I’d probably be out.

I opened Skullclamp and took it, passing very good blue cards in the process. With my second pick, I again took a red card and started cutting the red hard, as blue dried up quickly from my right. Each pack continued to have 1 insane red card and 1 decent one (at most), which made it clear that I’d be cutting mono-red cards hard and being able to loop critical cards like Kargan Dragonlord and Shrine of Burning Rage if necessary. I ended up with both Skullclamp and Bonesplitter and seven one-drop creatures including Goblin Guide, and even had Fireblast, Burst Lightning, Rift Bolt, and Lightning Bolt. I also had Wasteland. This was probably the single best red deck I had ever drafted in Steven’s cube, and potentially one of the best in any non-powered cube I had ever drafted.

I played three tight games against Cedric, who had a superb Splinter Twin deck with a lot of redundancy. Game one was very close, game two he took after I emergency Fireblasted his Deceiver Exarch, and game three I took the tempo lead and kept it, finishing him off with my excessive burn spells.

I don’t really remember my match against Brian, but I’m pretty sure I just ran him over with two explosive starts.

Steven beat me with a very good white deck, and I went 2-1 in this cube as well as the last, which I was happy with given that I went 0-3 in my first cube draft last year. Zac won the cube draft portion going 5-1, and Jesse and I tied for second at 4-2. Our team won 10 matches, Cedric’s team won 9 matches, and David’s team won 8 matches. All in all, very close and fair teams this year.

Actually Playing the Constructed Matches

The majority of the fun of these tournaments is in the deckbuilding and the drafting, not so much the playing, so I won’t go into deep detail. Here are some of the highlights:

  • I successfully maneuvered Max McCall into resolving a Dictate of Karametra and having just one Island up after it landed. I then cast Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Dazed his last Memory Lapse, 5’d Ugin, and that was that, since I had let him counter my previous Counterspells with Memory Lapses and would be drawing them over the next two turns.
  • Cedric embarrassingly outplayed me in the finals during Legacy Roto. He opened on Isamaru, Hound of Konda and I opened on Elvish Mystic. He played Mother of Runes on turn two and I untapped and attempted to cast Path to Exile, running directly into his Brave the Elements. He then untapped and played Phyrexian Revoker blind-naming Elspeth, Knight Errant, stranding it in my hand.
  • I made a critical play error against Cedric in the finals of BYO Standard. I was beating him down with two Insectile Aberrations converted on turns 2 and 3 and I had just cast Geist of St. Traft, and he had Thought-Knot Seer and Matter Reshaper in play. He cast Reality Smasher into my three mana, and I let it resolve. He went to attackers and I cast Swords to Plowshares on his Thought-Knot Seer to cantrip, and when I did, I drew Mana Leak. I should have cast it on Thought-Knot Seer prior to Reality Smasher resolving, but since I had Daze in my hand and he had a mana open, I completely forgot about the idea of countering his spell. I lost due to that play error in combination with the fact he drew two of the lifegain Eldrazi colorless lands, leaving him at 1 life to end the game (Vapor Snag would have won the game instead of StP as well here). He also almost lost the game himself by casting Phyrexian Metamorph into my Gainsay which he knew I had, but he had temporarily forgot that it was a blue spell – he later said he feared that I had drawn Mana Leak. Damn.
  • I combo’d Peter Beckfield’s Soldiers deck with my Merfolk deck in Racial Draft on turns 2 and 3 and he got slow starts, so that was fun. However, Brian Wong’s Zombies deck was by far the best deck considering Ghoulcaller’s Bell was returning a raceshifted Tarfire + 1 other Zombie spell all day. It was a massacre.

 

I lost in a close two matches in the finals to this year’s winner Cedric Phillips (who ALSO won a PTQ while on vacation), but was generally happy with my play.

Kyle and Cedric

Overall, it was a hell of a weekend and one I can’t wait to repeat on a yearly basis. I highly suggest BYO Standard, Set Sealed, and a Roto Draft for inclusion with your friends. The Racial Draft thing was fun but ended up being a goldfishing experiment between us all, and while it was fun to design and build, the games were non-interactive for the most part.

The final standings are below for your amusement – and again, you can see all the detail on the official spreadsheet.

standings

Jeff Passan, “The Arm,” and Me

I feel like I should write something about the latest excerpt from The Arm by Jeff Passan that was just published by Yahoo Sports. The last line states:

“I was pretty pissed for about 20 minutes for the future of Driveline,” Boddy said. “The company is going to go on. It just sucks. For all of baseball. It sucks that not everybody’s going to know about his work, no matter what happens with the Dodgers. The worst­-case scenario is he has a breakthrough with them. Because then the world won’t see it.” He sighed. “You can only learn you hate pro ball one way,” Boddy said. “By working in it.”

First and foremost, I support The Arm. Jeff did a wonderful job writing and it is my opinion that this book will have a significant positive impact on baseball for years to come. It will change how we view Tommy John surgery and give hope to many that the future of baseball is bright indeed. My company’s official response to the book can be found on our website.

Secondly, I do come off like quite the asshole in a lot of spots. In no way did Jeff misquote me – in fact, in a lot of spots, he quoted me verbatim and I feel like the story suffered for it as it was a rather monotonous quote. But that only speaks to Jeff’s character; more than once he told me he felt the story could be better if only he could twist someone’s words slightly. When I pressed him for an example, he told me something that I would not in the slightest consider a falsification or an embellishment, but he quite rightfully pointed out the obvious: That wasn’t the point. Chopping up words and meanings in any context would do damage to what is supposed to be a work of truth that stands on its own. I learned quite a bit about Jeff’s character and journalism in that short conversation I had with him (that I doubt he even remembers).

 

The Arm

I will state that my feelings for the game have changed slightly to the less-cranky side. However, I remain incredibly frustrated at professional baseball as a whole because it is similar to academia – slow-moving for the sake of being slow-moving. It creates an enormous amount of annoyance in my soul, and occasionally it is let off as steam in the form of rants, or in The Arm’s case, interviews with Jeff. Still, I maintain a very honest and open persona both in real life and online, and the professional teams I continue to work with know this. Jeff honored all of my non-disclosure requests and received secondary confirmation on stories I could not directly tell.

The professional and college baseball teams that balk at working with me due to my blunt nature do not bother me; we’re not a good fit at any rate. I have been lectured by many mentors to tone down my level of discourse, but I simply don’t believe in lying to my clients about my true feelings, regardless of whether or not that loses me business. My strongest relationships with professional coaches, front office types, and college pitching coaches come FROM this font of honesty, not in spite of it. Some of my best friends work in baseball and are exceedingly blunt themselves; these are the people that really get shit done in the game. As far as I am concerned, my blunt nature and honesty are assets to Driveline Baseball, not liabilities. If it means I have lost short-term business by refusing to hold my tongue when truth is required, then so be it. Integrity, forthrightness, and loyalty are the greatest virtues that I hold dear to the exclusion of making money for the sake of making money.

I have faith that doing business the right way – open, honest, and direct – will reward me in the end. And even if it does not, I feel good running Driveline Baseball in this manner. I do not feel good lying and embellishing facts for the sake of marketing; in fact, those were the main reasons I left my last line of work before working in baseball full-time.

The only adjective I disagree with Jeff on is the assertion that I am arrogant – I feel that I am very open-minded to those who present data in a convincing manner, even if it runs counter to my viewpoints and beliefs. (Indeed, I have changed my mind several times due to being enlightened by others – not always comfortable, but always positive.) The definition of arrogance is having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities, and quite the contrary, I certainly think I strongly suffer from Imposter Syndrome in many regards. Not much of what I do is genius-level material; it is in fact simple common sense and iterative development over the course of many years and thousands of hours of labor, mixed with an above-average intelligence (I’ll give myself that much). I think my bluntness and often confrontational nature comes off as arrogant; it is only when I have the unassailable position of data-driven research and my opponent has merely conjecture and opinion that my true sense of superiority comes through, but this superiority is not granted as some internal feeling I have, but simply a stack of 1s and 0s stating unequivocally that the opposing side is simply, well, wrong.

So yes, The Arm makes me out to be a jerk, and to that I will cop. And while I don’t agree with Jeff’s assertion that I am arrogant (a fun point to argue, since arguing against it makes you somewhat of an arrogant person!), his book is an outstanding labor of love that took years to complete, and is itself a very honest, open, and forthright book. All pitchers, parents of pitchers, coaches of pitchers, and fans of pitchers should read it – and that is not a label I have given many books at all.

Getting Results vs. Being Right

Is it more important to know the best way to train athletes, or are results the true currency? So as not to directly disagree with my business partner Mike, who said this on Twitter:

I want to say that I totally agree. Driveline Baseball is driven to get results for our athletes, period. And yet, personally, that is not enough – because that is not how I started, and not how many of you will get started if you want to reach the level that I have in training baseball pitchers. Let me explain why.

Three Truths About Training Athletes

There are three true statements about training athletes of any sort. These were paraphrased from Mark Rippetoe, author of Starting Strength (amongst other books), but as far as I know, I’m the first to really boil it down into an easy list:

  1. Everything works.
  2. Some things work better than others.
  3. Nothing works forever.

So let’s talk about #1, shall we? If you happen to luck into a position where you have a ton of clients who trust you, no matter what your program is, you’ll see some results taking athletes who didn’t do a lot and now do something at a higher intensity/frequency. You can luck into a group of them by being an ex-big leaguer who was influential, a strength coach who randomly had five elite pitchers walk through your door, or any other cosmic event that now “brands” you as the guru of [niche X].

Now, do you know anything? No. You know enough to be dangerous, and just because you have a bunch of elite athletes following you doesn’t mean you are the best. It just means you work with elite athletes. But does that matter?

Yes, Actually Knowing Something Matters

When I was working and starting up Driveline Baseball on my own, I didn’t have any athletes – mainly because I was a nobody athlete who was coaching Northeast Seattle Little League and Roosevelt High School freshmen and had a gym next to a trailer park. So I got very dedicated and discarded athletes to train under me and had to learn through experimentation as well as reading every bit of existing sports science and training research out there to form my base. And at this point, I probably knew more than the guy in the previous section who just happened to luck into an elite group of athletes and was getting “results.”

This is where some of you are: You are reading this and you scoff at the people who say “Scoreboard, baby!” And you have every right to do so. The problem is that you don’t matter to this industry and you never will until you just slog it out, because eventually you WILL generate decent results unless you take the dark path that lives in your soul, the same one that many pitching gurus have: Getting so mad at an industry that won’t listen to you that you lash out and make yourself a completely unmarketable person. You start to call professional baseball stupid, you get in Internet flame wars with other gurus, and you are so hellbent on being RIGHT that you don’t ever stop to think that at some point you’ll probably have to work within the framework that is handed to you.

I’m not saying you should accept this and deal with it; I tried this years ago with one of my first pro contracts. I’ve been there. I thought that doing work on the MLB draft for free/low money and just getting my foot in the door would make my value evident to the people above me. What I learned is that for professional baseball – or any other closed-door industry – to respect you, you must create results that are at least FIVE TIMES as good as what they currently have, and generally more like TEN TIMES.

The Key is in Iteration and Documentation

Two things will break you out of this cycle:

  • Iteration: Constantly improving yourself, your training program, and your athletes (most good coaches can do some form of this)
  • Documentation: Writing everything down and making it all testable and repeatable (most good coaches are dogshit at this)

You MUST be able to document everything you’ve done to train athletes and improve them, if only for your own sake so you can look back at old records and laugh or perhaps be inspired by risks you took that you would never consider today.

The worst person you can be in this industry is happy to be getting the results you are getting at this moment. You let results get to your head, that you think you know something, that perhaps maybe you really do have it figured out – even though you are modest and tell people you don’t have it figured out. You think you have a well-oiled machine that runs solidly and produces not only good revenue, but good results. It would be very easy for me to look at Driveline Baseball and say: “Damn. We get superior results to almost everyone and we are gaining tons of acceptance in pro ball. Let’s keep this train going and focus on business processes.”

The minute I do that is the minute this company should cease to exist. The reason is twofold – personally, I am driven to know the most and be the best in my niche of advanced pitching research; and professionally, I know there are at least 10 people out there who work almost as hard as me or maybe even harder than I do that don’t have the early-mover advantage or tenuous hold on the baseball industry that I happen to have at this moment. And maybe all 10 will fail because they become disillusioned or they learn to hate the game or they fall into the pits I describe above.

But I can promise you this: There are people out there who looked down on Driveline Baseball years ago and thought that Kyle Boddy was a nobody and wasn’t a competitor because he didn’t get results. To ignore the history that brought me here would be to sign my own death warrant.

So if you’re out there and want my job, I hope this post helps you. Just know that I will try to fight as hard as you to keep you off my back, because it’s the only way I know how. It’s not all about results to me. It’s about being right and getting results.

And if you’re that good, shoot me an email. We’ll just hire you and we can stay peaceful.

I Hate(d) Weighted Baseballs

The year is 2009.

The best way to describe how I train pitchers is some weird fusion of Dr. Mike Marshall’s wrist weight + heavy ball training, Alan Jaeger’s long toss methods, and Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength barbell lifting concepts. Also, we do some foam rolling since I read a T-Nation article about it.

We throw. We throw a LOT. I am coaching high school kids who can’t safely load a barbell with 95 lbs. and I’m forcing them to back squat it anyway. (I’m just 25 years old at this point, give me a break. 40 year old high school strength coaches do this all the time NOW.) I have them throwing wrist weights and duct-taped lead balls purchased from the Internet and I’m yelling at them for doing it wrong. I have them long tossing as often as possible. Miraculously, no one gets hurt.

But no one really gets much better either.

Jacob, my fellow coach, orders two more 2 lb. iron balls from Frozen Ropes – leather covered and stitched, a luxury for two people who are losing money regularly in this venture – but they screw up and send him this:

Frozen Ropes Weighted Baseballs
They don’t make them anymore.

“Hey, Kyle, they sent us these accidentally. I figured I’d bring them here,” Jacob says as he drops a sack of brightly colored – and striped? – baseballs of varying weights in front of the squat rack.

I look up at him and reply: “Everyone knows weighted baseballs don’t work. The 2 lb. ball is used for mechanical work and strengthening the elbow. Throwing these things will blow up your elbow.”

“Well, whatever. I’m not going to use them. Besides, they said to keep them while they send out replacement 2 lb. balls.”

And so the weighted balls sat in a drawstring sack in the weight room for months on end, until I stumbled upon an article by Dr. Coop DeRenne about weighted baseball training. This led me to reading more about Alan Blitzblau, Dr. John Bagonzi, and DeRenne‘s own research.

Meta Review of Research

Holy shit. I might have been wrong. But there’s only one way to find out.

By now I’ve purchased a high-speed camera, one of the first available on the market in my price range – the Casio Exilim EX-FH20. I am not making much money at my day job, but I tell my girlfriend that it’s a vital purchase. She rolls her eyes and agrees. I figure I’ll test high-speed footage of weighted baseball throws, velocities (I have splurged on a mis-listed JUGS Pro Sport radar gun on Ebay, nabbing it for hundreds of dollars under normal market price), and that’d be good enough for performance. But what about health? I have held for so long that weighted baseballs are bad for your arm that I can’t just leave it at that. So I contact a local physical therapist named Andy Lodato who has commented on my then-blog on the fledgling SB Nation network called Driveline Mechanics. Andy graciously hosts me and shows me how to use a goniometer to measure IR/ER of the shoulder. I begin to use this – as well as valgus carrying angle changes – to monitor whether or not the health side of these implements will work.

I post messages on bulletin boards and baseball Internet message boards looking for test subjects – free velocity program for those who stick out 8 weeks of testing – and randomly split the ragtag group of respondents into a test group (weighted baseball pulldowns 2x/week, short wrist weight routine, band routine) and a control group (regulation baseball pulldowns 2x/week, short wrist weight routine, band routine). I hypothesize there will be a statistically insignificant change in velocity between the groups but a likely large loss of internal rotation of the shoulder in the test group.

I was very, very wrong.

The test group showed incredible velocity gains in both pulldown / compression throws AND mound velocities by doing throwing-only drills compared to the control group. The test group did not have appreciably worse loss of internal rotation OR appreciably higher gain of external rotation about the shoulder. And the test group’s mechanics appeared to be much better, more dynamic forearm layback, cleaning up arm action flaws…

After crunching the data nine ways from Sunday, the only thing I can think about in my 200 sq. ft. caged-in weight area in North Seattle Baseball Association’s dingy facility is: “Does anyone else know about this? Why hasn’t this been more prevalent?” I start to realize then that the biomechanics lab I am beginning to construct (using Dr. Dapena’s DLT methods) will be useful not for analysis of individual pitchers, but measuring deltas of training effects on groups of them.

Driveline Biomechanics Research

I email my coaching friend: Remember those weighted baseballs? I’ve got some news for you…”

 

Building a Multi-Camera System to Videotape Pitching Mechanics

On Twitter, a few people have been bothering me to talk about my two-camera system on our PlyoCare wall at Driveline Baseball. It looks something like this:

PlyoCare Wall

It’s not too hard to build – the toughest part was figuring out how to actually assemble and hack together all the random stuff. Fortunately, I’ve done that for you. This guide isn’t meant to be 100% comprehensive; there’s going to be some troubleshooting and guessing on your end since we don’t have the exact same computer setup and the drivers that run the cameras are a little finicky… so if you don’t like rolling up your sleeve and using Google big time, you’ll want to skip this build. But if you need a computer-controlled multi-camera system like I did and don’t want to spend $5,000 (which I later did for my mound setup… that’s another story), this is for you.

We’ll be leaning heavily on the Playstation Eye camera for the Sony PS3. Believe it or not, these things work REALLY well.

PSEye Camera

You’ll Need This Stuff, and Here’s Where You Get it

  • A decently powered computer that runs Windows 7 or higher
    • Should have an i3 or faster processor; ours runs on a i5-2500k, 8 GB RAM, 128 GB SSD, Windows 7
    • It must have a solid state drive (SSD) to save video, a spinning hard disk drive (HDD) is too slow. A decent option if you don’t have one is this Kingston SSDnow 300 at 120 GB – $50 from Amazon
    • If you ask how to get this running on OSX/Mac I’ll ban you from the Internet
    • If you ask how to get this running on Linux you already know enough on how to build this, so go away
    • And no you can’t get this working on a laptop. I mean you could but I’m not gonna help you if you go this route.
  • Two PSEye Cameras – $10 each from Amazon
  • Two PSEye Tripod Mounts – FREE 3d plans, pay to upload/print them at makexyz (cost is variable but around $30-40 for two of the CamHolderTripodMount.stl file)
  • Two Arkon Camera Wall Mounts – $38 each from Amazon
  • Two CL Eye Camera Driver Licenses – $20 for a Two-Pack from Code Laboratories
  • (optional) PCI USB 2.0 Port expansion card – $13 on Amazon
  • (optional) Two ACTIVE USB Extension Cables, 32 feet each – $14 each on Amazon (Use these if you need longer cabling for your cameras. You can daisy-chain more if you need to cover longer ground, but I wouldn’t exceed 3. Note: The BlueRigger cables work best in my experience. Other cables may be cheaper but we’ve seen major failure rates with them.)

Alright, most of you stopped reading. But for those who really want to do this, you need all that. Here’s an explanation on why and how the system works:

Your computer connects the PS Eye cameras to what is called the Universal Serial Bus. It’s probably what your mouse and keyboard are plugged into and potentially your external wireless modem adapter. This bus was brilliantly designed to allow 100+ things to connect to the computer and share bandwidth, which is basically a street where the cars (data) can drive on. However, using webcams like the PS Eye and recording data to disk is like dumping 10,000 cars on the highway at one time. Sure, it CAN hold that many cars, but the likelihood of accidents (packet collisions) and problems is really high. So, you probably need a separate highway (buses) for each flood of cars you unleash on the computer. Hence, the optional PCI USB 2.0 Port expansion card. This gives you a second highway in your computer for the data to flow over. You don’t NEED this, but I guarantee if you try to dump the data over your singular USB bus or split it across the USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 bus, you’ll have problems. So buy the card and install it. It’s pretty simple, use YouTube to watch someone install a PCI card into their computer.

The above paragraph also explains why you can’t have a hard drive accepting all this data. It’d be like an exit ramp that forces cars to slow down to 5 MPH before getting off the highway. Not gonna work. A solid state drive (SSD) can process all the data quickly. You need one. Technically you could write everything to a RAMdisk if you wanted to do that (and you will need to do this if you go to 4 cameras), but that’s outside of the scope of this guide. If you’re nerdy enough, you can figure it out.

Now, the PS Eye was developed for the Sony Playstation 3, not a computer. You can try plugging it into your computer, and it will not work. To understand why, do you think the PS Eye should work with Microsoft’s Xbox? No, there’s really no reason this should work. The software that allows the camera to talk to the computer is called a driver. Back in my day, we had to manually install drivers before anything got plugged in; today, most everything is “plug and play” and easy to configure. Today, you get to learn the pain of everyone in the 1980s and 1990s felt when putting a damn sound card into their computer. Enjoy the history lesson.

These drivers take a lot of time to write and reverse engineer. Fortunately, Code Laboratories did this and made them available on their site. You can get the free licenses but that won’t work for multiple cameras, and if you are really reading this far and trying to get $20 out of the budget, seriously stop it. So buy the licenses, install their software, and open up their license manager. You can then plug your cameras into the computer and the license manager will allow you to “activate” each camera. This gives you access to use them in various applications. Hopefully nothing goes wrong in this step, because Code Laboratories’ customer support is absolutely terribleIf you venture into their forums you’ll see tons of posts by yours truly from years ago that went unanswered. So you can post here but I probably won’t help you either; the difference being that I didn’t charge you for any of this stuff and thus you have no expectation that I might actually help you.

If you use them, the extension cables need to be ACTIVE. This means the signal is repeated across the 20+ feet the cable runs. Imagine yelling at someone 1,500 feet away about how ugly their girlfriend is. Chances are good he won’t hear you. But if you yelled at him over your cell phone, he’d hear it loud and clear and be over soon enough to kick your ass. That’s what a repeater is. A cell phone. Kinda. This analogy sucks but I’m leaving it in; the whole point is to not get a PASSIVE USB extension cable. Get ACTIVE ones. And get a Blue Rigger cable, the other ones are terrible. Including Monoprice, and nothing they make sucks. But their USB cables sure do.

The tripod wall mounts allow you to put anything with a tripod screw into the wall. Simple enough. Get the ones linked above and screw them into your wall. You could use drywall anchors if you need, but the PS Eye is really light and there’s no load on them, so you could ride dirty and just use drywall screws like I did. I’m sure in six months it’ll fall out of the wall and I’ll be mad but for now, wheeeeee

PS Eye in Tripod Mount

Anyway, the 3d printed stuff is probably a little complicated for you. You need to download those files from above and send them to a place near you that prints things in three dimensions. Or you can do what I did and paste that URL to the plans to makexyz and buy the models. Remember: You do NOT need the Camera Holder plan, you need only the CameraTripodHolder plan – and two of them. How it works is… well I don’t really know how 3d printing works, something to do with heat and carving stuff out of a block of plastic. It’s cool. Your local hacker shop can help you with it.

3d Printed PS Eye Holders

So connect it all up and drill everything into the wall and run the CL Eye Camera Test program. Do you have an image? Awesome! You can test recording using the software.

Software: Or How to Actually Process Data

Alrighty. Now you have everything wired up and working, so how do you capture synchronized video across the two cameras? I recommend using iPi Recorder v2 because it exports individual cameras to AVI if you want to make GIFs of the stuff. It’s hard to find this version, but you can get it from this weird spammy looking site. You want the version that is 2.2.3.X or whatever; here, look at the screenshot below. When you click “download” the file will start downloading and it will prompt you to share your download success to Facebook, what the fuck is the point of this, I hate the Internet sometimes. Anyway don’t do that, or do, I don’t care.

WTF

Now you should be able to run iPi Recorder 2 and click through all the calibration and “background” checks. This is software that is used for motion capture and the actual mocap software is incredibly expensive, and the developers are sometimes total dicks about off-label use of the software. I am telling you this because I dealt with them a lot in the past, and while I’m sure it’s good stuff, it’s wildly overpriced. Theoretically you can use their stuff for biomechanics breakdowns (if you go to their site you can read all about it) but I’m not into it. The PS Eye isn’t good enough for that, and neither are Microsoft Kinects, even model 2. Not for baseball anyway.

From here, you should be able to record the videos – be sure the file location is saving to the solid state disk drive letter – and double-click them to open them and play them back. You can also export each camera to an AVI file. Why can’t you export both cameras to an AVI file combined? I don’t know, the developer told me he’d charge me a few thousand dollars to add this feature into the software which seriously can’t take more than a few hours at most. Whatever. To stitch them together, export both AVI files and put them into Kinovea (dual playback mode) and click “export combined video” or something like that. Bam.

Conclusion

This works pretty damn well, believe it or not. It’s completely hacked together but it’ll get the job done. Let me know if you have any comments or questions, but no technical support is offered. You’re GOING to run into problems, I guarantee it. If you aren’t the tinkering / DIY type, forget it.

Best of luck!