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Digital dugout has arrived

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SAN FRANCISCO — Jeff Kent grounds out to the shortstop against Tom Glavine, then quickly walks through the Giants dugout, up the tunnel toward the clubhouse.

He doesn't break a bat against the wall. Instead, San Francisco's second baseman watches digital images of his at-bat pitch by pitch, getting ready for his next time up.

A few fungoes from Silicon Valley, the future of baseball is at Pacific Bell Park, where the digital dugout has arrived. In San Francisco, birthplace of dotcom culture, computers and microchips are as important as coaches and managers.

"It's invaluable for us," said Kent, a top candidate for the NL's Most Valuable Player award. "You can walk off after your at-bat and see exactly what you're doing so you can fix it."

Pac Bell Park might as well be called High Tech Field. Tickets have bar codes, and when fans enter the park, a machine displays the purchaser's name on a screen. Giants greeters, if they choose, can welcome fans by name.

Fans are given swipe cards that earn them Giants Reward Club points, which they can redeem for merchandise, autographs sessions and even frequent flyer miles. Concession stands have scanners that read the cards and record purchases.

As a result, the Giants know almost everything fans do once they walk through the gates of the $319 million ballpark.

"It's kind of Big Brother. It's a little scary in some ways," said Bill Schlough, who as vice president and chief information officer heads the Giants' technology staff. "We know how many and what games you went to, where you bought your hot dogs."

The system for players is the most innovative. While most major-league teams use videotape, the Giants spent "in the 6-to-7-figure range," Schlough says, for a DVD system.

Four cameras — center field, high home plate, low first base, low third base — record every Pac Bell pitch; and plans call for two more. A pair of large satellite dishes and a few smaller ones bring back images of every pitch of every Giants game on the road.

"Operating in the back yard of the world epicenter of technology, it was be inexcusable if we didn't advance ballpark technology in a material way, both from the fan standpoint and the player standpoint," Giants executive vice president Larry Baer said.

Pitch by pitch, the Giants technology staff logs the images, and before each series, working with coaches Carlos Alfonso, Gene Clines and Dave Righetti, the team creates DVDs for players to study. When the Giants are on the road, players can kill time on flights and in hotel rooms watching their at-bats or pitches on hand-held computers.

"We don't like to talk too much about that because we don't want to tip off other teams to what we've got," Giants owner Peter Magowan said.

At Pac Bell, when a reliever comes in, just steps from the Giants dugout a player can watch images of the last time he batted against him, or view what that pitcher threw to batters in the past week.

"We can see what he threw on 2-0 pitches," Alfonso said. "It allows you to do all sorts of advance scouting."

Cleveland installed video systems when it moved to Jacobs Field in 1995 but tore it out three years later and installed a digital system similar to the one the Giants use.

"People have complained we have secret this, secret that. That's not so," Indians general manager John Hart said. "We've just done a really good job with the technology.

"A hitter can come up after an at-bat and say, 'I want to see my third at-bat of the season, second pitch.' It's instantly available. They can do every at-bat Kenny Lofton has had against Joe Smith, or every at-bat Robbie Alomar has against whoever is pitching."

Other teams are racing to catch up. The Yankees, who have won three of the past four World Series, plan to have a digital system in place by next season.

Off the field, the Giants are way ahead.

The Giants have developed a legal, team-controlled scalping system called the Double Play Ticket Window: Season ticket holders can give back tickets for up to five of the 81 home games, and the Giants will scalp them on their Web site for whatever the market determines. Most of the money is credited back to the season ticket holder.

Of the 3.3 million tickets available this season — every game has been a sellout at 40,930 — about 15,000 have been resold for the 43 games since the system began operation, some for close to face value, some for more than double.

In a sign of modern times in the Bay area, 46 percent of tickets sold since Feb. 27 — a total of 150,000 — have been bought on the Internet. To head off a drop in season-ticket renewals, the Giants monitor how many times tickets go unused and call fans to ask how the team can get them to more games.

Five video screens have been installed in the ballpark so fans can search the Internet or get e-mail, and 25 more are planned for next season.