Thirteen tech-savvy groups create apps, participate in competition at Progressive
By Shane Jackson
CLEVELAND -- Even from the back of the room, the celebratory shouts could be heard. AJ Jimenez nearly knocked off his Indians baseball cap as he unleashed an emphatic fist pump. His teammates, Chad Milburn and Tim Zeller, followed him up to the front to collect their prize.
The rest of the crowd at the Terrace Club at Progressive Field clapped in unison, congratulating the group named "Alrighty Fielders" for their feat on becoming the first winners of the Tribe Hackathon.
"To be the first is unreal," Milburn said. "We came in and just wanted to be creative. We wanted to do something that was cool. It gave us an opportunity to do something really rich and fun that maybe we can't do in real life."
On Saturday, 13 tech-savvy groups presented their applications in front of judges. These apps were centered on a theme: enhancing the fan experience at baseball games.
Traditionally, hackathons occur over a 48-hour period where the participants stay overnight to work on their apps. But given the fact that they were not allowed to stay overnight at the ballpark, the event actually began two weeks before the presentations.
"We also wanted to try to give people some more time," said Neil Weiss, the Indians' senior vice president of technology and CIO. "We weren't sure if we would get enough people that could produce something in 48 hours. We figured we'd try this format this year and maybe go back to the original concept next year."
The idea for the first annual Tribe Hackathon came about over a lunch several months ago between Weiss and Tech Elevator CEO Anthony Hughes.
All 13 groups participating in the inaugural event were successful in creating an app to enhance the fan experience. Though the theme was centered on baseball, not all apps were created to enhance the game specifically.
One app was created to enhance the Hot Dog Derby. It gave fans the opportunity to be involved in the derby by playing as a character on their phone. Another app provided in-seat delivery from food vendors. There was one that that allowed fans to trade seats halfway through the game.
"There is a tendency to think every app has been made," said David Wintrich, who is the chief academic officer at Tech Elevator and served as one of the three judges. "But there were half a dozen apps, at least, that I thought were totally plausible and should be out there."
The first-place idea was certainly created with the game experience in mind. The Alrighty Fielders designed an augmented reality app called "hARdball."
A person using the app can point the phone at the baseball field and it displays the players on the field in their respective positions. There is a function that allows the user to click on any individual player and see biographical information, latest Twitter posts, stories and stats.
It even has a function for the hardcore fans that shows a hitter's previous at-bats.
"The idea is that you are never leaving the game," Zeller said. "You are using the screen as you are [looking onto] the field. So you are never taken away like you are with any other app like Twitter, where you lose track and have to come back to the game."
It is also well suited for the casual fan that wants to enjoy the whole game experience. A user can see where restaurants and other ballpark food vendors are located and read reviews.
The idea to incorporate features for all kinds of fans came from the different levels of fandom within the group itself.
"We are a bit of a spectrum here," Jimenez said. "Chad is definitely the most analytical and hardcore about it. I enjoy going to the game -- watching them, but bopping around and getting a beer. Tim likes to go and have a good time."
The effort to make a useful app for all fans was enough to claim first place, which came with a number of prizes, including signed Michael Brantley jerseys and tickets right behind home plate for a game.
But perhaps the biggest prize from the weekend was awarded to all 13 groups -- the opportunity to network.
"The goal was for them to have fun, network a bit and build a tech community here in Cleveland," Weiss said. "Hopefully we will take this experience, figure out how to do it better next year and make it a tradition."
Shane Jackson is a reporter for MLB.com based in Cleveland. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.