On Feb. 5, 2024, executives of the San Diego Padres organization joined PLNU and community members to celebrate the grand opening of a new state-of-the-art Biomechanics Lab at PLNU’s Balboa Regional Center. 

The lab features 28 cameras with motion-capture technology, force platforms, and ball and bat tracking equipment and sensors. The technology comes from leading-edge companies such as Theia Markerless, Qualisys, Trackman, Edgertronic, and AMTI. The unique new space will allow kinesiology faculty and graduate students to evaluate players from throughout the Padres organization as well as PLNU athletes and others. The situation is a win for everyone involved.

Leaders from PLNU and the Padres in front of the new biomechanics lab cutting the ceremonial ribbon.
Leaders from PLNU and the Padres cut the ceremonial ribbon.

“We intend to use the lab for player development,” said Josh Stein, Padres assistant general manager. He went on to explain that modern player development involves the coordinated efforts of coaches and measuring technology. The data from the lab can be used to improve or maintain players’ health as well as to enhance their performance.

Padres pitching coach Ruben Niebla was in attendance at the grand opening. “The lab is important to us as an organization because of where baseball is going with data collection and technology,” he said.

Niebla mentioned that around 30 players from the Padres organization have already been analyzed during the off-season. During the season, players can be brought in if they have performance dips or are returning from injury. He also mentioned that the Padres have already hired several PLNU biomechanics alumni, and the joint lab should strengthen that pipeline.

PLNU graduate student Tori Lucht, who is pursuing her Master of Science in athletic training (MSAT), said, “As an MSAT student, this biomechanics lab will provide me access to a state-of-the-art education in the physics of human movement. Biomechanics will be my concentration of study within the MSAT program, and with this new lab, I will be able to get an in-depth study of this topic and further my interest in human movement.”

Lucht and her fellow graduate students are not only benefiting from the new lab but also from the expertise of PLNU faculty, including Dr. Arnel Aguinaldo, associate professor of kinesiology. Aguinaldo was instrumental in bringing PLNU into partnership with the Padres on this project.

Dr. Arnel Aguinaldo, associate professor of kinesiology in front of the new biomechanics lab, giving a speech.
Dr. Arnel Aguinaldo, associate professor of kinesiology

“Arnel is a leader internationally in biomechanics and kinesiology,” said Padres CEO Eric Gruepner during his opening remarks. Not only is Aguinaldo internationally known for his work understanding the biomechanics and physics of baseball athletes, but he is also an outstanding educator who won a teaching award this year.

Padres players Yu Darvish, Yuki Matsui, and Daniel Camarena were on hand at the grand opening. Camarena joined PLNU baseball team member Austyn Coleman in demonstrating the equipment.

Coleman was first up to demo the technology. In addition to playing for the Sea Lions, Coleman is also a biomechanics graduate student at PLNU. He previously played baseball for Cal State San Bernardino but still has a year of NCAA eligibility due to the pandemic year. Already the winningest pitcher in CSUSB history, Coleman’s breaking ball has achieved an even higher level of success with the information he and his coaches have received from the biomechanics lab at PLNU. The key was the technology’s ability to analyze how Coleman’s grip affects the break of his pitches — and then to make the data visible to him in a way he could apply. According to PLNU baseball head coach Justin James, once Coleman applied what he learned to his grip, he gained an additional six to nine inches of break on his pitches.

“The real magic of this lab is that it is a world-class space to meet the Padres’ player performance needs while also being a learning lab to train our 750+ students in the College of Health Sciences.”

As Camarena took over demonstrating, Niebla shared that a big part of his and his staff’s role is to distill the data they receive into such “bullet points” for the pitchers to work on. The result is that a multidisciplinary team of strengths and conditioning experts, athletic trainers, biomechanists, and coaches individualize feedback and training plans for each player.

When asked how different all of this is from when he started as a pitching coach, Niebla laughed. “So different,” he said. “We used to just say, ‘That looks good.’”

Now, Niebla can offer his players so much more information to protect their health and enhance their performance.

Padres pitcher Daniel Camarena pitching a ball.
Padres pitcher Daniel Camarena gives a pitching demonstration during the grand opening.

 Dr. Jeff Sullivan, dean of the College of Health Sciences at PLNU, said, “This lab is a dream come true. We have two incredible partners who came together a year ago to make it happen. The real magic of this lab is that it is a world-class space to meet the Padres’ player performance needs while also being a learning lab to train our 750+ students in the College of Health Sciences. All of our students will train in this lab, and our goal is to send them out to impact the well-being of this community.”

The new biomechanics lab is now an important part of helping the College of Health Sciences achieve that goal.

Christine is the editor of the Viewpoint magazine at PLNU.