YOKOHAMA -- Yokohama DeNA Baystars hitters will now be able to stand in against faithful recreations of 82 pitchers from opposing teams after the ball club became the first in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) to adopt the "iCube" virtual reality (VR) batting practice system, already in used with several MLB teams.
Players wear a special set of sensor-equipped goggles to face off against the virtual pitchers, who unleash the full repertoire of their real-world counterparts based on data including speed, trajectories and spin rates. The simulation allows batters to imagine how they would connect with the balls in a real game.
The Baystars installed a tracking system at their home Yokohama Stadium in 2015, which records the movements of balls and the pitchers throwing them. This game data was fed into the iCube system.
Baystars outfielder Takayuki Kajitani, 28, said after trying the system, "It's a realistic image, and it gives me an understanding of what it's like batting against players I've never played against."
Fellow outfielder Masayuki Kuwahara, 23, commented, "My objective is trying to understand curve balls. (This system) helps with learning what kind of pitch will be called a strike and what will be a ball."
Fifty-year-old batting coach Hirofumi Ogawa said, "I want the players to use (the system) and achieve results." In addition to a specialized training room for the system at Yokohama Stadium, the team can use mobile equipment to train with the system on the road, he added.
The Baystars, who made it into the NPB Climax Series for the first time last season, hope to use this new technology to help them claim the Japan Series title this season, which opened on March 31.
The iCube system was developed by U.S. firm Eon Sports VR. Multiple MLB teams are said to have started using the iCube system in their training last season, and 2016 has been referred to as the first year of an age of VR technology. Improvements in the iCube system are expected, and Simon Ferrer of Eon Sports says that next year, players will be able to "hit" the balls in the VR system.