UNO Pitching Lab building national rep, CWS following

Fans can learn more at the National Baseball Village starting Thursday
The College World Series isn't the only draw for baseball's best.
Published: Jun. 12, 2023 at 10:19 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - How an athlete’s body is measured for performance and preventing injury is the sweet spot for UNO’s Pitching Lab.

“We’re looking at things like range of motion, flexibility, strength, any red flags that tell us whether this kid should be pitching or not,” Sam Wilkins said. Wilkins serves as co-director, along with Dr. Brian Knarr and Dr. Adam Rosen for the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Pitching Lab. In a few short years, the lab has become one of the nation’s top locations for baseball and softball pitchers of all levels to connect the biomechanical dots, so to speak.

“We look at their elbow ligament, their Tommy John ligament, with a diagnostic ultrasound, and that tells us a lot,” Wilkins explained while going through a typical session. “We look at their lower body flexibility, especially in their hips and their hamstrings where they’re gonna be generating a lot of the power to go through their upper extremity and ultimately throw as fast as they can.”

Then they measure the pitching motion when its time to toe the rubber, which, along with the mound has sensors, 20 cameras the accompanying electrodes, draws a detailed picture of what a pitcher’s body is doing right and wrong.

“I learned I’m kind of lacking in a few areas I can work on,” Washburn (KS) University pitcher Collier Hestermann said. He was going through a session after two of his teammates from Norris High School told him about it. “It was nice to see my statistics on the screen and see my movements on the computer using all the little things they put on me.”

Maddie Mingo was a track and basketball star at Marian High School in Omaha before attending South Dakota State, where she also was competed in track and field. She returned home to attend UNO and pursue her Master’s degree and Ph.D. after graduating from South Dakota State.

“Neuromuscular control, like how the brain connects with muscles, that’s a little harder to tell,” she said. “That’s what I’m working on, so is there a way to quantify how that connectivity works before they go back.”

Tomohiro Ide has his own niche in the program. After receiving his undergraduate degree in Japan, he came to Omaha to pursue his graduate studies. A certified athletic trainer, he enjoys the collaborative efforts between all the analytical disciplines at the lab.

“Based on what we find here, critical measurement, but also biomechanical evaluation, I kind of combine both sets if information,” he said. “And as an athletic trainer (I) try to prevent injury, (by saying) hey, you need to work on this for the next couple weeks, checking it again, see how they feel, see how they progress.”

Career opportunities are expanding along with the popularity of the field of research. Ide will spend his second summer working with the AAA Iowa Cubs baseball team. His goal is to follow in the footsteps of the lab’s co-founder and former head of operations, Dr. Tyler Hamer, and work full-time with an MLB team.

Hamer still works with UNO’s lab but from a distance. He is the first biomechanist hired by the New York Mets.

So far, the lab has collected data from 300 pitchers of varying skill levels, the most valuable hurlers found right at home as pitchers for UNO baseball and softball.

“There’s guys that came to the school just this past season, and I’ve been able to see them three times and just to see how well they’ve been able to tweak their motion,” UNO student Dimitri Hann said. Haan was overseeing Hestermann’s session the day we visited their lab. “(Then we can) figure out what was wrong from the last time and (we) might have uncovered something new the next time for them to work on and just keep building off what we’ve been able to teach them.”

College World Series teams will likely also be interested in learning more about the UNO Pitching Lab. Last year, Stanford University officials visited the lab on campus in advance of opening their own facility this year in Palo Alto, California. UNO has a close relationship with Wake Forest’s pitching lab, as well. The two are considered to be among the nation’s best.

The UNO Pitching Lab information center will open on Thursday at the Omaha Baseball Village next to Charles Schwab Field.