Rule change would allow high school catchers to receive signs from bench via device

Thursday, July 20, 2023 | 1:22 PM

Fox Chapel catcher Mitchell Epstein hopes to hear voices during his senior season on the diamond.

The National Federation of State High School Associations approved a rule revision during its June 4-6 meeting in Indianapolis that would allow for the use of a one-way communication device between a coach in the dugout and a team’s catcher for the purposes of calling pitches during the 2024 season.

While the NFHS has approved the rule change, it would need to be adopted by the PIAA board of directors before being implemented in Pennsylvania.

Epstein likes the idea, which he believes will speed up the game. As it stands, Epstein, who has been catching for five years, feels it takes too long to get the signals in.

Being able to communicate with the coaches would speed things up.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Epstein said. “It would increase our quality, and I would be able to use the time we are signaling to work with the pitchers. There’s a strategy that works with it. When it takes so long to do the signals, I feel like it helps the batter have leverage on the pitcher.”

The new rule would prevent coaches from communicating with any player besides the catcher on defense and any player who is batting. Any coach using the communication device will have to stay in the dugout.

North Allegheny coach Andrew Heck is a proponent of the change.

“It’s nice because it allows the catcher to become the quarterback on the field,” Heck said.

NFHS Director of Sports and Education Services Elliott Hopkins said he felt high schools needed to make changes to keep the game modern.

“This change is consistent with the growth of the game and is indicative of a measured and responsible approach to enable technology into our level of competition,” Hopkins said in a news release. “The committee has made these changes to maintain the balance between offense and defense; increase the pace of play; and will responsibly manage technology so there is no advantage gained by schools that have more available resources than some of their contemporaries. Creating a level playing field is paramount to education-based athletics.”

When it comes to gaining a competitive advantage, Heck believes there are downsides to how signs are communicated now. Because both teams can see the signals being given, it is easier for teams to steal each other’s signs.

“Gamesmanship is what it comes down to,” Heck said. “People can argue the ethical side of things all you want, but picking up people’s signs is part of the game. Always has been, always will be. If you aren’t trying to pick up other teams’ signs, shame on you, because they are trying to figure out yours.”

There is still a lot to be figured out before the devices are utilized.

For one thing, teams need to figure out exactly what devices will be available to them.

Basic communication devices are being sold by companies like Qubit for $129. On the high end, devices with more features can go for as much as $500.

“That’s what I don’t know,” Fox Chapel baseball coach Jim Hastings said. “What is being used? I want to say it was an LSU-Florida game, it looked like a coach was talking into a walkie-talkie of some kind and the catcher was getting it. If it’s affordable and easy to use without issues, you will see a lot of teams doing it.”

Epstein is hoping to be able to get an opportunity to use the device for his last season at Fox Chapel. That would allow the Foxes senior an opportunity to spend more time being focused on strategy.

“I hope we can do it and ease into it by the time the season starts,” Epstein said. “I want to get comfortable with it and the same with the coaches.”

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