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BATTERS, GET READY TO FACE - THE DETERMINATOR

Mike Hall's dream of trying to hit one out of the park off Dwight Gooden or Roger Clemens is closer to reality, thanks to a mix of video technology and a pitching machine.

Hall's creation, a sophisticated pitching machine called the Determinator, has caught the attention of baseball "wanna-bes" as well as big league types including Atlanta Braves General Manager Bobby Cox.The machine literally came to Hall, the president of Video Baseball of America Inc., in a dream six years ago.

In his dream about watching a ballgame on television, the pitcher wound up to throw and "the ball came through the TV set," he said.

After years of experimenting, he developed a machine that uses a combination of projection TV and a conventional pitching machine. It projects a pitcher's image onto a screen and synchronizes it with a ball-throwing machine behind a hole in the screen so that it appears the ball comes straight from the pitcher's hand.

Hall said he plans to ship the first of the machines, which cost from $22,000 to $28,000, from his plant in an Atlanta suburb this month.

The Braves used a prototype of the Determinator at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium last year, simulating the images of real-life pitchers with the type of pitches they throw. "The entire concept and idea is tremendous," said Cox.

And baseball fan David Letterman took a few swings against the machine on his TV show Thursday night.

Though the Determinator would seem to advance pitching machines, as one batting practice facility owner put it, "from the horse and buggy to the automobile," support for the invention is not unanimous.

John Bishop, owner of the Bat 'N Pac Arcade batting cage in Marietta, said the machine would be detrimental to the development of Little Leaguers, who are his main clientele.

"They're going to watch the screen more than they watch the ball," Bishop said.