There are a lot of major league baseball opening day rituals and gimmicks, but this one is likely unique. As part of the KC Royals’ opening day festivities this Sunday there is going to be a Relay the Way event. Billed as the “longest opening day pitch,” the opening day ball is going to be tossed from fan to fan for nearly ten miles, from Union Station all the way to Kauffman Stadium. 2500 fans have signed up for the massive game of community catch.
The event is a fundraiser for the Kansas City Urban Youth Academy to raise funds for the construction of an MLB Urban Youth Academy in the city’s historic 18th & Vine district. Once completed, the $14.5 million project will offer professional coaching, mentorship, and career training at no charge. Relay participants donated a suggested $30 to participate.
If that wasn’t interesting enough, a local advertising agency, VLM has upped the ante by creating a special “smart ball” to be the relay and opening day first-pitch baseball. The ball was the brainchild of Matt Bell, VML’s resident Mad Scientist (his actual job title). An article in the Kansas City Star describes the basics of the ball’s design:
To make the ball smart, Bell has cut open several to examine what sorts of twine and cork and other materials are inside. He has used computer-aided design software to make 2D models of various approaches to removing the core, replacing it with a Wi-Fi-capable computer chip and closing the ball back up.
Bell also has worked to keep the ball’s weight regulation, so it will feel just like a regular ball for everyone in this longest Opening Day first pitch ever. Only a small USB port on the ball will give it away.
Bell also has used a 3D printer at VML’s innovation lab to make cushioning materials for the computer core so it will survive being dropped along the route.
“We’ve talked about the ball as the skull and the components as the brain,” he said. “The 3D printer has made it a lot easier to make and test materials to prevent a ‘concussion.’ ”
The hope is that the same ball makes it from start to finish, but Snethen said there would be backups “in case the ball rolls down the sewer.”
Looks like they used Adafruit Arduino hardware to construct this unique digital time capsule, including the HUZZAH ESP8266 breakout board. While this is a pretty cool idea — to send opening day well-wishes into the ball — given how superstitious baseball players and fans are, I hope they are monitoring the messages to make sure no bad juju enters the ball.
You can read the messages being sent to the ball here. Some of them are rather touching. You can text the ball from anywhere. It costs a $1 donation which will go to the Kansas City Urban Youth Academy fundraising effort.