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Comedian Roy Wood Jr. gives VR equipment to Ramsay High School

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Roy Wood Jr. watches as Ramsay High School senior Eric Allen tries out the virtual reality baseball equipment that Wood donated to the school in partnership with Developmental Urban Baseball School and Meta + WIN Reality. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr. / Alabama NewsCenter)

Alabama Newscenter

Comedian Roy Wood Jr. sometimes jokes about his experience as a member of the Ramsay High School baseball team.

Like when he talks about playing left bench. Or was that center bench?

Or when he talks about his incredible, game-winning, walk-off strikeout against John Carroll Catholic High School. Seriously, that really happened.

But Wood wasn’t joking when he visited the Southside campus of his alma mater Thursday. The entertainer came bearing gifts that he hopes will make the Rams better baseball – and softball – players than he was.

Wood, through the Developmental Urban Baseball School (DUBS), is partnering with Meta + WIN Reality to provide Meta Quest 2 virtual reality (VR) headsets to the baseball and softball teams. The cutting-edge baseball software creates numerous virtual hitting drills that help to sharpen a player’s abilities at the plate. It can simulate innumerable pitch speeds, locations and scenarios.

“We went to the people over at Meta – formerly Facebook – and I made an ask,” he recalled. “I said, ‘If you’ve got any of those Oculus 2 headsets that you ain’t using, give me a couple. There’s some wonderful VR software where you’re able to merge technology with the sport of baseball and give kids the opportunity to play baseball competitively, not just in the real world, but virtually.”

Roy Wood Jr. brings the gift of VR to Ramsay High School from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Wood teamed with Lavert Andrews, with whom he grew up playing baseball in Birmingham’s Central Park neighborhood. Andrews was a freshman at Ramsay before completing his prep education at Ensley High. Now he is on the faculty at Ramsay while also working with his nonprofit DUBS to bring baseball to inner-city youth.

“The more good pitching you see, the better you are at baseball,” Wood said. “I feel like this hardware and this software create those opportunities for children in Birmingham city.”

The virtual reality sets are created by Reality Labs, a business of Meta, the parent company of Facebook.

Andrew McKirahan, director of player development, and the entire WIN team said in a release that they are thrilled to be a part of the collaboration between Wood and the student athletes at Ramsay.

“By integrating WIN Reality within their routine, they will now be able to unlock unlimited game-speed training that hitters can use to face any pitcher on demand,” McKirahan said in the release.

In addition to the VR sets, Wood is donating complementing Wi-Fi hotspots to enable the best use of the equipment.

Wood estimates that the total gift is valued at about $7,000. The headsets and the cases from Meta Facebook came in just under $2,000.

Roy Wood Jr. instructs Ramsay High School senior Eric Allen in use of the school’s new VR baseball equipment. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr. / Alabama NewsCenter)

“The Win Reality software in addition to the subscription for it and the discounts that they gave us (is) something that retails north of $4,000, maybe $5,000,” he said.

Rams senior Eric Allen took a turn at bat with the virtual device. He quickly learned that he has to get used to it.

“With the real (baseball), I actually have a better judgment of how the ball comes,” he said. “Virtually, it’s new. It’s foreign, so I have to get used to it. But I feel like it’ll help.”

Wood agreed with that assessment.

“It’s not something that you’re going to learn how to do overnight,” he said. “Virtual reality is definitely something that is new to a lot of people. It is awkward, but once you understand the timing of it … There is going to be a learning curve, which will probably happen the remainder of this season before the software is really able to help them and and they’re really able to take advantage of it.

“First, you just have to get used to wearing a headset and being in this space that’s not something normal that most people are used to.”

The comedian admits he wasn’t the best at baseball but he loved it. He then recounted a play that was one for the record book.

“I did get an RBI game-winning walk-off strikeout against John Carroll in 1995,” he said. “You can check your newspaper. That’s fact. I struck out with the bases loaded and a runner came home and scored the winning run.

“The catcher dropped the ball, which meant I got to run to first,” the comedian explained. “A game-winning RBI strikeout.”

This story originally appeared on www.alabamanewscenter.com