Padres offering virtual reality Derby experience

Padres offering virtual reality Derby experience

SAN DIEGO -- For the remainder of the season, Padres fans will have the opportunity to experience what it's like to homer at Petco Park.

Beginning Friday, the Padres are hosting MLB's Home Run Derby virtuality experience at Petco Park's Lexus Club behind home plate. The game, based on the Home Run Derby mobile app, places users in the Petco Park batter's box, where they have 90 seconds to hit as many virtual home runs as they can while receiving cheers from thousands of Padres fans. The experience will move throughout Petco Park, enabling fans around the ballpark to play.

"We want to be a ballpark full of innovations," chief operating officer Erik Greupner said. "We really want to lead on the cutting edge, and virtual-reality technology is one of the areas of the cutting edge. … We look forward to continuing to developing that in partnership with Major League Baseball and the other clubs."

The distance of each home run is tracked, as well as the launch angle and exit velocity. A point value is assigned to each hit, providing a competitive aspect to the free game.

"The Padres were really, really supportive and wanted to work with us in bringing this here for the month of September," said Jamie Leece, MLB vice president of games and VR. "We worked with them closely to create Petco Park and bring this installation for the fans here for the next 15 home games.

"Creating a better fan experience from beginning to end is going to be great."

The project was introduced in July at MLB Battlegrounds in London, using Boston's Fenway Park and Los Angeles' Dodger Stadium as models. Fans at the All-Star Game FanFest in Miami had a chance to preview the Home Run Derby later that week, crushing homers in Marlins Park using the VR system. The Padres were among the teams that took note of the game during All-Star festivities, sparking a conversation between Leece and Ray Chan, the team's vice president of IT, to bring that experience to Petco Park.

Players wear a VR headset that gives them a 360-degree view of the ballpark and swing a shortened bat with sensors on the end. Light sensors in the cage setup help bring their swings to life.

Several fans who participated were impressed with the realism of the game.

"I would give it a 10 out of 10," Abed Abusaleh said. "I'm definitely going to tell my friends to do this."

Jeremy Horowitz, the Padres' senior vice president of business development, was among the team's employees who played the game Friday before it was introduced to the crowd.

"It's a terrific experience to be able to see what it's like to stand in the batter's box of a Major League Baseball park, to see the path of the ball after you make contact and watch a home run go over the fence," Horowitz said. "I think a fan of any level or any age will enjoy this. I think it's going to be really popular."

The ballparks used in the game come from the frameworks created for the Home Run Derby app and RBI Baseball video game. Developing the game for VR took about six months, Leece said, while his team built the Petco Park used in the game in about a month using the shape that had already been created.

Leece said 10-15 teams have inquired about having the game at their ballpark in some capacity in 2018. There are also plans for continued development, including adding achievements and the possible creation of an at-home version.

"Eventually, as VR becomes more and more prevalent, this is the type of experience people will buy, no different than buying 'MLB The Show' or 'RBI Baseball' for their consoles," Leece said. "... But for now, because we're still in the early days of consumer adoption, this is more going to be something that's going to be an activation, where you go to a place and you get to experience something that you, quite frankly, have never seen before."

The Padres hope to have the game at Petco Park in 2018, Greupner said.

"We're talking to potential partners to roll it out in a larger scale within the ballpark," he said. "We hope to continue to give the fans that experience and remain on the cutting edge of what's available within sports."

Nathan Ruiz is a reporter for MLB.com based in San Diego. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.