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March 16, 2004 > Batter Up!

Batter Up!

It's spring! Days lengthen, the thermometer rises and sports attention turns from snow fun and indoor "hoops" to our "national pastime," baseball. The long shadows of Hall of Fame pitchers such as "Cy" Young, "Dizzy Dean," Sandy Koufax, Catfish Hunter, Juan Marichal and many others are cast 60 ft. 6 in. along a path between a strip of rubber on the "mound" and a five-sided "home plate."

Behind the plate, a catcher works in tandem with the pitcher to successfully guide a ball to their mitt. Names like Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench and Carlton Fisk come to mind. The barrier between these two can be a formidable obstacle...the batter. Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Harmon Killebrew, Jackie Robinson, Ernie Banks, Honus Wagner, Mike Schmidt, Stan Musial, Carl Yastrzemski, Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle are just a few of those who were often successful in their quest to launch the ball away from the plate, often hundreds of feet, beyond fences and field boundaries.

The outcome of these contests is often the result of hours of practice and study by all participants in the game, but it always starts with the initial confrontation at the plate. Pitchers learn to understand how the ball will react to spins and twists when released and hope through their control of the speed and path of the ball to elude the batter. Those trying to "defend" the plate train their reflexes to react to a variety of movements by the ball, often traveling at speeds approaching 100 mph. The distance between batter and pitcher is shortened since the pitcher is leaning towards the plate at the time of release.

The dilemma for batters has always been how to prepare for the spherical missile speeding towards them. Managers are protective of their pitcher's arms during practice so limit their work with batters. Pitching machines can be used but they have been simple affairs that simply launch the ball at a variety of speeds towards the plate, lacking the finesse and subtle pitching changes made by human pitchers. This problem was just the sort of challenge that two brothers, both accomplished and experienced engineers, relished. Harvey (mechanical design) and Walter Brown (electronics), working in Walter's Fremont engineering shop, addressed the question, Why not design a machine that is reliable, simple to use and mimics the actions of a pitcher?

It all started with a request from a friend who asked Harvey to repair a pitching machine used at Ohlone College. He examined the machine and, with an engineer's attention to detail, it was obvious that the machine, although relatively new, was unreliable and difficult to adjust. "I looked at it and thought that they could automate it. It was a series of levers and bolts that would take 5 - 10 minutes to get set up just right for a single type of pitch." The design was over twenty years old with few improvements. Harvey knew that he could build a more reliable machine and with Walter's help incorporating computer technology, allow remote control of a series of pitches that would mimic a pitcher's release. Walter says, "I was retired and just came to visit...then stayed!"

Harvey spoke with longtime friends at English Brothers Pattern and Foundry in Hayward about special castings for the new machine. His vision was enthusiastically endorsed by Clyde English and his father, Ernest, one of the founders of the business. Clyde exclaimed, "My kids are in Little League and I am sure there are a lot of teams that could use a machine like this." With their support, Harvey and Walter were on their way!

A year of engineering resulted in a "engineering model" that uses high speed belts to create the spin, angle and speed of a ball leaving the pitcher's hand. Whether release is simulated from a left or right-handed pitcher, the ball is thrown to its target within an 8 inch diameter circle. Fastball, split-finger fastball, curveball, screwball, slider or change-up, this machine knows them all and delivers with a punch. It is automated, can be controlled remotely and never tires or complains about the type of pitching requested by the operator. Ball speed can be adjusted up to 100 mph for big league simulation.

The machine was delivering on Harvey's dream, but would it measure up to those who knew big leagues pitching? Walter freely admits, "I don't have a background in baseball." He needed the opinion of someone who had intimate knowledge of the game. Harvey contacted Fremont resident and former relief pitcher for the 1977 Toronto Blue Jays, Dennis DeBarr. His appraisal would be a good test. When Dennis saw the machine in action, he was impressed and offered his support. Momentum was beginning to build. With a "tiger by the tail," Harvey contacted a friend, Wayne Lockhart, an electronics engineer by training, who had been President of a computer disk drive company that Harvey had worked for previously. He needed management assistance and Wayne was the guy who could assess the possibilities and provide the business acumen necessary to make the machine a commercial success.

A review of the design and potential of the pitching machine convinced Wayne that, with modifications, this idea was sound and marketable. He asked if the machine could be customized to accept various sized balls including softballs and throw in both fast pitch and slow pitch mode. Also, he asked if the device could be manufactured in a smaller size at a reasonable price. The answer to all questions was an unqualified "yes" - Harvey said, "We can do that."

Wayne knew from prior experience, that if Walter promised something, it would be done. He also comments, "Everything that Harvey designs, works!" After consulting with several college coaches and doing market research, Wayne knew Walter's machine could be a winner. With Harvey's assurance that they could bring a computer controlled pitching machine to market that would throw a variety of pitches accurately, include a remote control and sell at a price between $5,000 and $15,000, Wayne says, "That's pretty exciting!"

Today, GlobalSports, an engineering company tasked with developing, marketing and sales of the new machine, has designed a new model that fulfills all the promises of Walter's vision. Wayne Lockhart heads the company as Chairman, President and CEO which includes Harvey as Vice President - Engineering and Walter as Director Electronic Engineering and has expanded to welcome John Nunneley, Director Software Engineering and Dennis Lambert, Director Mechanical Engineering. Wayne says, "We are pretty close to going out for bids on parts for the production." Local batting academies have expressed strong interest in the product and now, the founders are looking for limited outside investment to complete the final engineering work, begin production and initiate a national sales program. Wayne invites serious inquiries at (650) 948-9190 or

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