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Enjoying baseball in the time of (anti-) social media

Facebook and Google and Twitter, oh my! How social technology changes the way we observe the game.

Barry Cronin

The world has changed significantly since I was a young lad. Back in my day ("Thursday"), baseball was primarily a thing that I actively did, and less a thing that I passively observed. Which isn't to say that I didn't observe it. I did, religiously, but in those days my options were quite limited. There was no Internet, much less "Smart Phones" that would chirp and vibrate with alert messages every time a team scored a run. Cable television existed, but it was nowhere near the sprawling, 900-channel behemoth that it is today. In fact, I'm pretty sure that when my family finally upgraded to cable, we picked up maybe five additional channels (four, if you exclude QVC).

The Tigers' games were broadcast one day a week (Sundays) on WDIV (channel 4, and point the rabbit ears slightly to the south-east). Staying abreast of developments in the rest of the league could be accomplished by reading the newspaper, catching NBC's "Game of the Week" on Saturdays, and watching Mel Allen's "This Week in Baseball" (altogether now: "How a-BOUT that?!"). Baseball cards were my primary means of getting familiar with individual players on other teams, and sustaining gum chewing-related injuries. For the rest of the regular season, I kept up with the Tigers via radio, listening to Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey on WJR on the AM band (I'm fairly certain the only function of AM radio today is to carry QVC re-runs).

All of this, as far as you know, is not my point.

Today, I can watch every single Tigers game on Fox Sports Detroit. I can keep up with individual player performances on a daily basis through web sites such as Baseball Reference or FanGraphs. As far as following other teams, I can take out a second mortgage in order to pay for a yearly subscription to MLB.TV, bring up a list of all of today's MLB games, click a "Watch Now" link, and - through the wonders of modern technology - within seconds be looking at a "Blackout Restriction" message.

If I am unable to watch one of the Tigers' regular season games for some reason (such as needing to attend a Papal Audience), one of my favorite ways to follow the team is by reading Al Beaton's game recaps right here on Bless You Boys. For my money, Al is the best in the business. His recaps feature inning-by-inning summaries and a level of detail that make the reader feel as if he were actually, literally, logged into Twitter.

And that brings me to my next point (or perhaps my first point, or even my last point). These days, I watch the Tigers games while being simultaneously logged into multiple Twitter accounts, Facebook, MLB.TV, BYB, Google Chat, Skype and possibly even MySpace. It's getting to the point where watching a game looks less like recreation and more like running an NSA operation. ("Twitter, keep that search running for all occurrences of the phrase 'November Hotel'! Facebook, let me know the second someone posts a stupid comment about Leyland! MLB, if the Royals score, I want to know about it! BYB, paint that comment green and prepare the aardvark for deployment! Now let's go people, move, move, move, MOVE!")

The realization struck me the other day that, although this is the year that I have set a personal record for most number of games watched in a single season, I think I have actually seen less baseball than at any other time in my life. Yes, the game is on TV, and yes, I'm sitting directly in front of it, but I'm actually dedicating 90 percent of my brain power to reading posts, responding to posts, laughing at posts, and thinking up creative ways to make dirty jokes about Don Thomas Kelly. The other 10 percent of my brain power is devoted to obtaining and drinking beer.

Is this a good thing, or a bad thing? I don't know. On the one hand, I've never been so "social" while watching a game, sharing the highlights and lowlights of the season with hundreds and hundreds of people who I will probably only ever know as "TigrLuvr," "StatsMan," and "FakeJeffJones." On the other hand, I occasionally miss the "days of yore" (literally, "E'er") when I was totally absorbed in every detail of every second of the game, waiting on pins and needles to see if Jack Morris' mustache might take over even more of his upper lip, or possibly even engulf his entire face.

I still find ways from time to time of recapturing this feeling from childhood. On many Sunday afternoons, I prefer to sit out on the back porch with a radio and a frosty mug of beer (just like when I was a kid), where I can listen for hours as Jim Price struggles heroically to correctly pronounce "Tuiasosopo." But even then, I find that I have to at least have my phone with me, just in case I finally think of the perfect "Fat Prince Fielder" joke and need to tweet it immediately.

There's one thing I think we can all be universally agreed upon, though: with all of the ways technology has allowed us to track whichever and however many MLB teams we want, the fact that we no longer have to rely on NBC's "Game of the Week" for a chance to watch the Dodgers (for instance) is a good thing. Remember, when we're forced to watch national broadcasters, the terrorists win.

So much more to say on this topic, but I need to go -- Twitter is telling me that Brayan Pena just made another hilarious reference to his NERTS.

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