Joe Girardi Helps Develop Augmented Reality Baseball Game

Augmented reality game blends baseball and sci-fi

By John Bonazzo 

'Portalball' doesn't just use classic baseballs- balls made of electricity and fire are also employed in the game. (Photo: Screenshot)

‘Portalball’ doesn’t just use classic baseballs—balls made of electricity and fire are also employed in the game. (Photo: Screenshot)

Manhattan-based app developer Appetizer Mobile is having a moment thanks to Joe Girardi. The Yankees manager worked with Appetizer to develop a new multiplayer game called Portalball, which will be unveiled on August 5 at the Modell’s in Times Square.

Appetizer CEO Jordan Edelson told the Observer that Mr. Girardi, who got the itch to develop an app after seeing his kids play games on their phones, took an active role in the game’s creation to ensure it would be involving and addictive.

“He’s added a tremendous amount of credibility to turn this concept into something more authentic,” Mr. Edelson said.

Portalball allows players to hit and pitch at variable speeds with different kinds of bats and balls, using techniques based on Mr. Girardi’s swing path.

The game combines Mr. Girardi’s baseball expertise with a gamer-friendly alien invasion plot. Sports and space may seem like strange bedfellows, but Mr. Edelson said that the two worlds melded into a cohesive whole that would make the game appeal to a wide audience.

“Our whole goal in adding the sci-fi twist was to find something for everyone,” Mr. Edelson said. “We didn’t want to pigeonhole ourselves. The sci-fi part is not overbearing, it works really well.”

'Portalball' takes over your phone screen using augmented reality so you can play "atom ball" in Times Square. (Photo: Screenshot)

‘Portalball’ takes over your phone screen using augmented reality, so you can play “atom ball” in Times Square. (Photo: Screenshot)

Portalball employs augmented reality technology, which can take over phone cameras and project the image that the phone “sees” onto its screen. This allows backgrounds and portals to constantly shift, heightening the element of surprise (musicians have also started using this technology).

Mr. Edelson called augmented reality a new frontier, which the Appetizer team experimented with to create the smoothest possible experience.

“Augmented reality is an evolving medium as the industry expands,” Mr. Edelson said. “Gameplays are more immersive and integrated into daily lives. No one was really providing a cool multiplayer experience using augmented reality until now.”

Mr. Girardi, who only has a limited window of time every day to play on mobile apps, envisions Portalball as a platform that will appeal to both competitive and casual gamers, according to Mr. Edelson. To that end, Appetizer is planning competitive tournaments to coincide with the general app rollout.

“The person that’s looking for something different will find a lot, as will the casual sports fan,” Mr. Edelson said. “It’s a very cool platform.”

There is a philanthropic aspect to Portalball as well—Mr. Girardi is donating all of his profts from the game to his charity Catch 25, which provides financial support to people in crisis.

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Joe Girardi Adds ‘App Designer’ to Résumé With Release of ‘Portalball’

With the help of an app developer, the Yankee manager’s sci-fi baseball game is ready for download 

Joe Girardi, the normally staid and reserved Yankee manager, hit upon a new idea for a mobile game app.
Joe Girardi, the normally staid and reserved Yankee manager, hit upon a new idea for a mobile game app. 

On the video screen, Yankee manager Joe Girardi takes up his hitting stance, from his now far-removed playing days. He cocks the bat in his hands, and awaits a ball from the pitcher as he did so many times during his 15-year big league career.

Yet there is no pitcher. Instead, a portal opens, roughly where the pitcher should be. And the bat in Girardi’s hand is no ordinary bat; it crackles and sparks, flames licking off it. 

But when the portal launches a ball at Girardi, fire bat or no, he knows what to do. He swings, bashing the ball far into the distance. Another portal opens, and another—and time and again, Girardi swings his fiery bat, and blasts the balls into the stratosphere. 

Welcome to Portalball. 

Two years ago, Joe Girardi, the normally staid and reserved Yankee manager, hit upon a new idea. He saw his children playing mobile apps on their phones and tablets, and decided he wanted to try his hand at creating one, a family-friendly, multiplayer game with baseball elements that he could play with his kids.

Girardi is no tech savant—he cheerfully proclaims his ignorance of Twitter or Instagram or whatever he has heard is the newest craze of the moment—so his agent put him in touch with an app developer, New York’s Appetizer Mobile. Two years later, Girardi is the brains behind Portalball, a hybrid sci-fi baseball game that will be available for download in August. Most fans, and certainly his players, would be shocked to know that Girardi now has “app designer” on his résumé.

While this may seem out of character for a baseball lifer, Girardi is no nincompoop either, owning a bachelors in industrial engineering from Northwestern. 

A screenshot of the game Portalball played in Times Square.
“I’m a little surprised myself,” Girardi admitted. “It was just an idea that we could do with families. Kids connect on phones, and they connect with parents on phones. I know I text my kids a lot, and they respond quickly. It’s just another way to have connection with family.”

In Portalball, which appears to be set against the backdrop of an alien invasion of Earth, players compete in one of three phases of the game—hitting, pitching, and fielding—to deal with the portal invaders. As in the promotional video featuring Girardi and his fiery bat, players will bat, pitch, and field their way to success against their friends using balls flying in from portals all around them. 

The game uses augmented reality technology, meaning that it takes over the phone or tablet’s camera and projects the image that the phone sees onto the phone’s screen. Users then play Portalball against that constantly shifting background, with portals opening seemingly out of the walls, ceilings, and floors of the room around them. 

When Girardi offered to demo the app on Friday, Appetizer Mobile CEO Jordan Edelson fired up the game and showed off the action from inside Girardi’s Yankee Stadium office. On the screen, portals opened and balls flew in from behind Girardi’s desk, from the autographed pictures on the wall, from near the head of Girardi’s teenage son Dante, sitting on the office couch. 

“Whoops, sorry Joe,” Edelson said, as the game screen showed him batting a pixilated ball directly at Girardi’s head. 

When Girardi’s agent, Steve Mandell, initially set him up with Edelson, the idea was to use Girardi’s expertise to create a more traditional baseball game. But as the pair tossed ideas back and forth over many months, their ideas spread wider, eventually landing on the premise of a sci-fi/baseball mix to differentiate it from the competition. 

“There’s a lot of generic baseball games out there. We wanted to do something different,” Edelson said.

A screenshot of the mobile app Portalball

Girardi would toss a concept Edelson’s way, and Edelson would assess the feasibility; or Edelson would send a suggestion, and Girardi would assess how well it fit his vision. Girardi didn’t take part in the technical development of the app, serving more as the idea man.

“It was all way over my head, developing it. But we probably talked once a month, once every six weeks about different ideas,” Girardi said. 

Once they had settled on the basics, the Appetizer Mobile team came to Girardi’s house to capture his swings and athletic movements, which were to appear in the game; when a Portalball player swings, it’s Girardi’s specific swing path that is represented on-screen.

“That’s probably why there are so many swings and misses,” joked the career .267 hitter.

Kids connect on phones, and they connect with parents on phones. I know I text my kids a lot, and they respond quickly. It’s just another way to have connection with family.

—Joe Girardi

The app is free to download for both Apple Inc.’s iPhone and phones running Google Inc.’s Android operating system, but there are numerous in-app purchases that enhance the experience, like Girardi’s fiery bat, or a ball bearing his signature. Switching bats and balls is intended to be a core part of the gameplay: “Each ball has unique powers and abilities, and based on your matchup, an atom ball might be better against a fire bat, and so forth,” Edelson said. 

All Girardi’s proceeds will be donated to his charity, Catch 25. 

Girardi will fully unveil the app on August 5 at Modell’s Sporting Goods in Times Square, where he promises to take on attendees in Portalball matches. That could be a risky proposition—he may be the game’s creator, and the swings may be his own, but that doesn’t mean he’s any good yet. 

“I stink—I’ve gotta practice,” Girardi said, nodding over to his son, Dante. “I’ll practice with this guy.”

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Recently, Appetizer Mobile was named as a Top New York App Developer by research firm Clutch. Clutch is located in Washington, DC and has the most expansive research coverage on mobile app development agencies.

Clutch analyzed our previous work, client base, and overall ability to deliver on development projects, to map us against the other New York – Based firms on their Leaders Matrix.


As a younger company compared to many of the other companies featured, Appetizer Mobile is excited to be positioned as a Market Leader. Over twenty five app development agencies were included in Clutch’s research with Appetizer Mobile topping the list.

The most rewarding aspect of inclusion gleamed through in the client interviews that Clutch conducted with six different clients of ours.  Because we pride ourselves on being a professional but casual firm one of the quotes particularly stick out:


We’re always excited to be externally recognized for our work but enjoy most building successful mobile apps for our clients.

Read all of our great Appetizer Mobile Reviews or to learn more about how we were evaluated check out Clutch.

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