Before last summer's All-Star Game at Jacobs Field, Randy Hermes was as nervous as any of the rookies. That night, Fox Sports television introduced Catcher Cam, the miniature, point-of-view camera that Hermes invented, to a national TV audience. But when the camera began giving the game's 30 million viewers a head-on view of Randy Johnson's 95-mph fastball hurtling toward catcher Sandy Alomar Jr.'s mitt, Hermes was able to breathe a sigh of relief. Not only did the Catcher Cam, which was attached to the top of Alomar's mask, indicate the speed and trajectory of Johnson's pitches, but it also provided TV viewers with a new way to watch baseball.
Hermes has actually devised two Catcher Cam systems, to fit two styles of masks. For the traditional cage mask, the type worn by Mike Piazza of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Hermes puts a modified Sony XC-777 camera and a transmitter on one side and a battery pack on the other. For Alomar's hockey-goalie-style mask, Hermes places the camera and transmitter in a small compartment on top and the battery pack on the back. Both systems send video feed to a receiving dish inside the stadium. From there the signal travels by cable to the TV production truck in the stadium parking lot.
"For the director it's another video source to integrate into the show," says Hermes, a three-time Emmy Award winner for technical achievement. "Usually, the director takes the mini-cam feed and isolates it to its own tape machine, so it's always available for replay."
Catcher Cam is the latest success to emerge from Hermes's workshop at Aerial Video Systems, the Burbank, Calif., company he founded in 1981. The 41-year-old Hermes grew up with an avid interest in electronics, although he was undecided about a career path until he entered San Bernardino ( Calif.) Valley College in 1974. "I could've been the Maytag repairman or the TV fix-it man," he says, "but they had a television station at the college, and I thought TV would be the perfect outlet for my creative and technical skills."
Hermes studied electronics and telecommunications and worked on technical broadcast operations at the school station. After graduating, he took advantage of breakthroughs in wireless technology and the miniaturization of electronic devices to fashion point-of-view cameras for helicopters, surveillance systems and TV shows such as American Gladiators and Battle of the Network Stars. He remembers his first helmet cam as a "big clunky thing" that was used during a mid-1980s motocross race. He has since developed point-of-view cameras for such varied events as horse races, polo matches, ESPN's Summer and Winter A" Games, and the Winter Olympics.
Before the Catcher Cam, Hermes's biggest splash was in 1991, when players in the World League of American Football wore his Helmet Cam on USA Network broadcasts. Not every athlete, however, wants to wear the cameras Hermes devises. In 1994 the goalkeepers for the U.S. Olympic hockey team were outfitted with Goalie Cams, but at the last minute they chose not to use them. Ditto for '94 U.S. Olympian Duncan Kennedy and his Luge Cam. Chris McCarron, who won this year's Belmont Stakes aboard Touch Gold, pulled the plug on his Jockey Cam moments before that race.
"It's frustrating when that happens, but we're here to cover the sport, not to change the sport," says Hermes. "If an athlete feels that the cam is affecting his ability or performance—physically or psychologically—then he has the right not to use it. The athlete always has the last say."
The cameras themselves cost between $25,000 and $30,000 to design and build, and Hermes leases the equipment to the networks. He also provides his technical assistance for the telecasts. "What we're doing is pretty complicated, and sometimes there are nuances that need to be worked out," says Hermes.
Meanwhile, Hermes is busy perfecting the Goalie Cam for Fox Sports' NHL broadcasts this season. "We're getting more business because the networks are allocating more resources for these types of cameras," says Hermes. "They compete to see who can get the coolest shot."