By Alan Simmer ’07
GAVIN TIMP ’19 WATCHED THE PITCHER, tracking his arm movements through the windup. As the ball screamed toward him, he swung his bat, the crack of the connection echoing around the room.
After nine more swings, Timp stepped out of the cage, letting Tyler Willis ’16 take his place. The balls continued to fly at a steady interval during the hitting practice, the eighth session of the day, without the pitcher showing any signs of fatigue.
That’s the nice thing about videos: They don’t get tired.
The newly constructed Knief Outdoor Athletics Pavilion (pronounced Kuh-NEEF), near Hertel Field and the soccer fields, features a state-of-the-art pitching simulator from ProBatter Sports. A screen displays life-sized video of a pitcher, and the machine fires a baseball through a hole in the screen to coincide with the action.
Like the simulator, the pavilion was funded by designated donations through the Transforming Tomorrow campaign. The building is named in honor of Lotus Knief ’52, whose $600,000 estate gift helped fund the project.
Knief’s gift was in memory of her parents, Elmer and Anita Knief. Elmer, a 1918 Wartburg graduate, played on the baseball team. Parents of current students and alumni-athletes also mounted fundraising campaigns.
“The new pavilion will enhance the experience and opportunities for hundreds of our student-athletes and their fans,” said Rick Willis, director of athletics. It also includes restrooms and a concession stand.
While the baseball team already is benefiting from the pavilion, other sports—including soccer, lacrosse, and cross country—will use the space for team meetings and practices as their seasons begin.
“The team room will be an amazing area for our team to gather before games and practice. To have an additional indoor space with turf for them is wonderful,” said Tiffany Pins ’05, head coach of women’s soccer. “We have such wonderful support at all of our home games, and we are so happy to be able to provide our fans with a better game-day experience.”
Wartburg’s athletes will see those improvements too, thanks to the new spaces and technology at their disposal. The baseball team still is exploring the many uses of the pitching simulator.
“I didn’t even know it existed,” Timp said.
That’s because the machine is unique in the area, though they’re used by several Major League Baseball teams, according to head coach Joel Holst.
The video isn’t a perfect simulation, as the pitcher’s release isn’t shown; that portion of the screen is where the ball comes through. But the pacing and windup are far closer to reality than a standard pitching machine.
“It takes a while to get used to,” Tyler Willis said.
However, the advantages—besides being a powerful recruitment tool— already are evident. It takes only a minute or two to program a sequence of pitches, creating drills for players or simulating an actual at-bat with pitches outside the strike zone.
“You can really individualize each guy that comes in—say, if they’re struggling with a breaking ball,” assistant coach Ryan Doty ’13 said.
“If we want to do all fastballs, we can do that. We can do a mix of fastballs, curveballs, and changeups, or put a left-handed pitcher up there, too. There are so many unique features to it,” Tyler Willis said.
The other main benefit is for Wartburg’s hurlers.
“We’ve got pitchers throwing against our hitters, but not every night, because their arms have to be taken care of,” Holst said. “Our hitters are getting live at-bats, but our pitchers have more recovery time now.”
With the correct video footage, any pitcher can be uploaded to the machine, potentially allowing Wartburg’s team to hit off upcoming opponents.
“It’ll be interesting to see what kind of value this adds to our performances,” Holst said.
Tyler Willis already is sold.
“Hitting off an actual person’s gotten easier because of this,” he said.