Gold medalist, metal robot show mettle at Comerica
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ROIT -- The Tigers have had numerous athletes throw out the ceremonial first pitch over the years, but perhaps there's never been a pair quite like the two on Wednesday night.
The first was a 200-pound, 32-inch, aluminum-and-steel robot creatively named "Cy-ber Young," designed from the ground up by 20 Michigan high schoolers and their mentors.
The second was another Michigan high schooler, but this one with a bit more of a following. Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Jordyn Wieber, a native of DeWitt, took the field at Comerica Park, threw out the first pitch and attended her first Tigers game.
"It's so cool," Wieber said. "I feel so honored to be here tonight in my own state throwing the first pitch at the Tigers game. This is about the coolest thing ever."
The 17-year-old was greeted by a chorus of cheers from the fans as she tossed her pitch to Gerald Laird behind home plate. In most cases the thrower receives the player's autograph, but Laird came ready with a ball of his own for Wieber to sign.
It was the first time Wieber threw a ball on a baseball diamond. The same goes for Cy-ber Young, which was made for the purposes of throwing the pitch and to raise awareness of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics, an organization aimed at proving that engineering and math can be fun.
"We wanted to let people know that there's a program out there that's trying to help kids and adults learn more about technology and become more aware of these kinds of things," said Arjun Namineni, a senior at Troy High School.
Namineni said that it took about three months over the summer to design and assemble the robot. He worked with peers from Novi, Bishop Foley, Waterford-Kettering and Monroe County high schools to prepare Cy-ber Young for its Major League debut.
Although the robot delivered a 44-mph bouncer to Paws at home plate, it's capable of a much better fastball than that, Namineni said. On a good day, Cy-ber Young has a "mean fastball" that can be clocked higher than 100 mph. With some modifications it can fire a curveball.
"I'm sure [Justin] Verlander could throw something a bit faster if he really tried, but we could replace him for at least the first inning," Namineni said.
The robot could replace the reigning American League Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award-winner for one inning. But in the future?
"We've got a contract with a few manufacturers to build more of these to replace [all pitchers]," Namineni joked.
Reliever Phil Coke was particularly impressed -- not just with the robot, but with the fact that teenagers were able to come up with the concept and create something capable of a triple-digit heater.
"They shouldn't be in high school," Coke said. "They should be working for NASA."
Jake Gassel, one of the mentors, agreed, but to a slightly lesser extent.
"They're not your average high school kids," Gassel said.
And neither is Wieber, which helped make Wednesday's first pitches the most unique of the season.