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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

An electronic radar system called TrackMan will soon be calling balls and strikes in the Atlantic League, an independent East Coast league that has emerged as MLB's testing ground for new rules and equipment initiatives.

Driving the news: The first step in this adventure began last Thursday at parks in Bridgewater, N.J. (Somerset Patriots) and New Britain, Conn. (New Britain Bees).

  • In a simple test to make sure that TrackMan data could be successfully transmitted and understood, home plate umpires were fitted with earpieces that relayed calls to them one-tenth of a second after the ball crossed the plate.
  • The umpires were told to still call "their" strike zone, leading to some confusion when their call didn't match Trackman's. When this goes live next month, they'll be going with whatever TrackMan says.

The intrigue: Major League Baseball will be watching this experiment closely. A few things they'll be looking for:

  • How will hitters react when a pitch they think is a ball is called a strike by TrackMan? And how will pitchers react when the opposite is true?
  • How easily can the zone can be adjusted so that it's accurate from batter to batter, depending on their height and batting stance?
  • And most importantly, will umpires be invested enough in each pitch to fill the still-important role of calling things like checked swings and managing the flow of the game?

The big picture: In a world of instant replays and booth reviews, it's not hard to imagine MLB eventually going this route. Should that day come, consider its impact on umpires and catchers, in particular:

  • Umpires: On one hand, they might be paid less as a result of their jobs becoming easier. Then again, maybe they wouldn't be — all while never having to be yelled at again.
  • Catchers: "Framing" (getting borderline pitches called for strikes) has become one of baseball's most highly coveted skills. TrackMan would make it a complete non-factor overnight.

Go deeper: Umpires get worse with age

Go deeper

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York coronavirus restrictions

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled late Wednesday that restrictions previously imposed on New York places of worship by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) during the coronavirus pandemic violated the First Amendment.

Why it matters: The decision in a 5-4 vote heralds the first significant action by the new President Trump-appointed conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who cast the deciding vote in favor of the Catholic Church and Orthodox Jewish synagogues.

USAID chief tests positive for coronavirus

An Air Force cargo jet delivers USAID supplies to Russia earlier this year. Photo: Mikhail Metzel/TASS via Getty Images

The acting administrator of the United States Agency for International Development informed senior staff Wednesday he has tested positive for coronavirus, two sources familiar with the call tell Axios.

Why it matters: John Barsa, who staffers say rarely wears a mask in their office, is the latest in a series of senior administration officials to contract the virus. His positive diagnosis comes amid broader turmoil at the agency following the election.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
11 hours ago - Health

COVID-19 shows a bright future for vaccines

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Promising results from COVID-19 vaccine trials offer hope not just that the pandemic could be ended sooner than expected, but that medicine itself may have a powerful new weapon.

Why it matters: Vaccines are, in the words of one expert, "the single most life-saving innovation ever," but progress had slowed in recent years. New gene-based technology that sped the arrival of the COVID vaccine will boost the overall field, and could even extend to mass killers like cancer.