NFHS approves use of coach-catcher communications devices for high school baseball
Published 12:03 pm Thursday, July 6, 2023
High school baseball is taking a big step into the digital age.
The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) announced that it will permit the use of one-way communications devices in the sport beginning in 2024.
The devices can be used between a coach in the dugout and the team’s catcher for the purpose of calling pitches. The new rules prohibit coaches from communicating with any player besides the catcher on defense, and with any player while batting. The coach must also be in the dugout when using the communication device.
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Major League Baseball and the NCAA started allowing teams to use the devices in 2022.
The NFHS is the governing rules body for most of the state high school associations in the United States, including the Mississippi High School Activities Association and the Mid-South Association of Independent Schools.
“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,” Elliot Hopkins, NFHS Director of Sports and Educational Services and liaison to the Baseball Rules Committee, said in a statement.
St. Aloysius started using the PitchCom device last season. Jay Harper, who will take over as head coach in 2024 after serving as St. Al’s pitching coach for the past seven years, said the system costs about $600 and works via Bluetooth. The coach has a microphone that feeds to an earpiece worn by the catcher.
“I have the headset where I can hear and speak, but the catcher can only hear,” Harper said. “I really like it. The only bad thing is you’ve got to make sure your Bluetooth is connected.”
Harper said the system streamlines the process of calling pitches, but also offers plenty of other strategic advantages. It can be used to call defenses, prevent opponents from stealing signs, and keep coaches from using one of their limited number of visits to the pitcher’s mound.
“It’s very convenient. It takes some of the sign calling error out of it. They’re not messing up reading arm bands or signs,” Harper said. “You can calm down a pitcher instead of going out there. We could call time and tell the catcher what to say to them without burning our three visits.”
One drawback, Harper said, was learning how to care for the equipment. Because the catcher wears an earpiece and often throws off his helmet when a ball is put in play, there exists the potential to break it. One of St. Al’s earpieces was broken last season through rough handling.
“When it’s time to hit they’ll just come in and take off the gear and throw it down. A couple of parts broke down. Other than that, we didn’t have any problems,” he said.
The rule on communications devices was one of several approved by the NFHS Baseball Rules Committee at its June meeting in Indianapolis.
Game management by umpires was addressed with a change to Rule 10-2-3h. The edit removes spectators’ behavior from the umpire-in-chief’s jurisdiction when deciding to forfeit a contest. Only infractions by players, coaches or team/bench personnel are under the umpire’s jurisdiction. The committee agreed that poor behavior by spectators should be handled by game administration.
“This change is a complementary rule to support schools’ game management role in addressing unacceptable behavior and will allow the umpire to focus on the action and players on the field,” Hopkins said.
Rule 1-6-1 was added and designates a wristband with defensive shifts, pitching choices or game directions as non-electronic equipment. It must be a single, solid color and worn on the forearm. Pitchers’ cards must not be white, gray or a distracting color and worn on their non-pitching arm.