I'm a bit cautious with my answer, not really unsure but not definitive either. I wait for confirmation, disagreement, dismissal, anything, from anyone else in the dimly lit room as the video on the screen plays once again. It's a one-hop grounder back to Cole Hamels. He has to do a bit of a matador olé with his glove arm, bringing it from his side and whipping it upwards as the ball charges towards him. He makes the snag and easily tosses the ball to first base, and then the clip starts all over.
Slowly, the rest of the crowd speaks up. Numbers are thrown about as the group voices their opinions as well. "Five." "Six." "Two." Two? One guy's head snaps backwards at the voice with the incredibly low rating.
"We've got a seven back here, Birdman!" calls out someone from the back. His response is met with multiple groans of disbelief.
Birdman, the leader of the training tonight, asks for anyone to express their opinion. I quickly meet his challenge.
"Well, there's no way that's a two to me. If that ball gets past Hamels and goes into center field, I'm not okay with calling that a cheap hit. He hit that ball pretty hard."
"That ball bleeds into center field, though," retorts another trainee. "That's why I think it's a two."
A discussion breaks out as others start justifying their positions. After a few minutes, Birdman gives the floor to DP, the eldest of all the men in the room by 15, maybe 20 years. DP spins around in his chair, takes a look at the play, and without hesitation quickly says, "I'd give that a five. Maybe a six."
I lean back in my chair, relieved that my answer was satisfactory. Birdman says nothing, but just nods in approval. A new clip is copied and pasted on the computer, and the process begins again.
I haven't been exactly secretive, though not really forthcoming with my news, either. I suppose I was keeping it quiet just because I wanted to get past the training stage. However, I feel confident that I've made the right decision and I thought you all might have some interest in this as well.
Back in January, I was perusing FanGraphs when an article caught my eye. I always read the job postings that FanGraphs finds, even though all have been outside of Minnesota in the past. This time was an exception, though. It said that Inside Edge was looking in the Minneapolis area for a part-time scouting position.
Admittedly, I was deterred when I saw that the job posting wanted people with high-level college or even pro experience. That was something I definitely did not possess. As for a love and knowledge of the game, I certainly met that criteria. I did waffle on whether or not I should actually send in a resume (as my baseball resume, short of some umpiring and Twinkie Town writing experience, was severely lacking), but ultimately I had one thought cross my mind. I would regret my decision if I didn't even bother sending in an email expressing my interest.
Two months later, I'm glad that voice told me to give it a shot. I am no longer working with the Minnesota Twins as an usher at Target Field as I've moved on as a video scout with Inside Edge. For the past two weeks, I've been spending six nights a week in Bloomington in a small office building with about ten other new hires, learning how to record and track baseball games.
The very first day, we were warned that we might be asked if we were scouting amateur players or making significant baseball decisions. The quick answer to that is no. Instead, we're watching every single game and recording tons of data for ESPN, MLB Network, and even half to about two-thirds of the teams in Major League Baseball. The easiest way I can describe my new job is by pulling up Gameday on MLB.com. No, I'm not running Gameday from that office building in Bloomington, but I am recording everything that would normally show up on that program.
I've already done about six practice games and it's amazing how differently I see the game now. I've been on the record for saying that baseball is a boring game, but I no longer think that at Inside Edge. It's not necessarily that they've made the game more exciting; rather, I'm just paying more attention.
Once a pitch is thrown, I've got to record the pitch type, velocity, and location, all within two seconds. That's because that data gets sent to ESPN and they want all of that info available immediately. If the ball is put into play, I mark the fielders involved, similar to the normal scoring of a baseball game. The only real difference is that I'm clicking buttons instead of writing it in a book.
That's just one of two jobs I would do during a game. The real-time recording is fast-paced but relatively easy once you get the hang of it. The second job is slower, but far more difficult. This second responsibility is sort of like an editor or cleaner. Hanging back an at-bat or two at a time by the magic of DVR, this guy is double-checking all of the data recorded to make sure it's accurate with the DVR remote in one hand and the mouse in the other. It's full of rewinding, pausing, and fast-forwarding as we determine if that pitch really did hit the outside corner or if that 91 MPH pitch from Felix Hernandez was his fastball or change-up (Hint: It's typically his change-up, believe it or not).
That's not all, though. The second guy also is responsible for defensive and offensive ratings. The scenario I mentioned way at the beginning was me and my fellow new hires being trained on the "well-hit" ratings, a stat requested by major league teams. It's basically what it sounds like, where we just judge how well the ball was struck by the batter. We're also doing defensive ratings, which most of the time falls into a "certain" or "impossible" category, but every now and then we're tasked with determining if that running grab in the right-center field gap by Carlos Gomez was an "even" or "likely" catch for other center fielders. Perhaps you've seen the Inside Edge ratings on FanGraphs.
Now, it does seem a bit odd that such a thing is sometimes left up to me, a person who is brand new to this type of scouting. However, just like the scenario above, we're expected to justify our reasoning to a team leader or supervisory whenever possible. If I thought that groundout to Cole Hamels was a five, I'd better be ready to prove it to two, three, maybe even four other scouts at the same time, all of whom have had five or more years of experience. Fortunately, most plays fall into the "certain" or "impossible" categories as mentioned above, but every once in a while you get a play like last night, where we argued for a solid 20-30 minutes on whether Kevin Kiermaier's spinning throw to second base was accurate or not accurate.
With this new job, I should be able to still write at Twinkie Town during this upcoming season. I'm hoping that in addition to giving me a better chance at pursuing a future in baseball, that this will also give me even more knowledge about the game that I can pass on to you the reader. Already I've learned how to judge defensive plays in a whole new light, along with recognizing that if you're working the whole time, baseball isn't quite as slow-paced as I first imagined.
So far everything is going very well with Inside Edge as I look forward to every night I spend in Bloomington. Granted the season hasn't started yet and I'll probably be watching fewer Twins games as a result, but I'm excited about this opportunity and look forward to sharing more news with you as the season progresses.