The Power and Passion of Online Baseball

Casey MichelCorrespondent IApril 15, 2010

SEATTLE - APRIL 14:  Chone Figgins #9 of the Seattle Mariners reacts after crossing home plate in the fifth inning against the Oakland Athletics at Safeco Field on April 14, 2010 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

No matter the march of time, the game of baseball will always be stuck in 1930. Grandstands, newsreels, games of pepper—the game has an old soul, an ingrained essence that taps into a different era, a different mentality.

Through the waxing and waning of exploding scoreboards, cookie-cutter stadiums, and uniforms with shorts—White Sox, I’m looking at you—the game has always had a streak of staidness running through it. It was of our fathers, and it will be of our children; this much is certain.

So when a new technology is introduced, or some type of change swirls around the sport, a pushback is inevitable. Look no further than the QuesTech debacle of 2003 or the debate over video replays in last year’s playoffs.

(Full disclosure: As a lifelong baseball fan, this conservative streak runs through me—only three years ago I wrote that “Instant replay belongs in baseball just about as much as Mick Jagger needs to lose weight.”)

And yet there’s the change that crops up every once in a while—night games, take a bow—that augments the sport enough to sway even the staunchest anti-change contentions. Enough to make the game better . Such is the case with my newest love, my newest infatuation, my newest time sink: watching baseball online.

Now, I’m a college kid—I’ve got leisure time like Sarah Palin’s got credibility. It doesn’t crop up too often. The situation was no different on a warm evening last September, when I sat on my bed, laptop lighting up my collared shirt and pressed jeans. My quadmates gathered outside my bedroom, jostling in the doorway to let me know, yet again, that it was almost midnight and the night was ticking away. All 21, all decked out, all impatient—I held up a "give-me-a-minute" finger, and turned back to the screen.

Thousands of miles away from my beloved Northwest, a days’ drive away from anywhere, Hall-of-Fame Mariners broadcaster Dave Niehaus could light through my speakers with his rye-bread-and-salami calls. I sat in fixation. There on my Houston computer swaggered Ichiro, coming to the dish against the Yankees’ colossal closer, Mariano Rivera. Two down, bottom of the ninth, runner on second with the Yankees clinging to a 2-1 lead.

Rivera offered his meal ticket, the Unhittable Cutter, the pitch that turned him from middling to miraculous. But where hundreds of bats have usually shattered, Ichiro tilted back and sent a shot past the right-field fence. He circled the bases, win in pocket, leaping onto home plate as I leapt through the air and out into the Texas evening.

It was then that I knew that my vote for Obama, the vote for change, was a good idea. I was watching the game on, part of the best online package that professional sports has to offer—and it was at that moment that I realized the program was going to be in my back pocket until the day I keel over (which will coincide with Seattle’s first World Series win, of course).

If you haven’t seen it yet, if you’re thousands of miles from home and missing out on Roy Halladay’s arm or Prince Fielder’s gut or Tim Lincecum’s pot-shag, I pity your poor, empty spring.

Now, there is a subscription fee. But look around you. See any baseball hats? Shirts? People who might look even the slightest bit athletic? Odds are, one of those strangers, now weirded out by your staring, are baseball fans. And since there’s nothing like sports to bring people together, then there’s little harm found in asking them to share a subscription.

Cobble together two or three friends and the price of an subscription will run you as much as a night out—though the purchase will also coincide with dozens or hundreds of nights in, depending on your level of fandom.

And if seeing the new Target Field a million miles from Minnesota isn’t enough, you also have all the information you could ever need at your fingertips. Home and away broadcast teams. Replays of the game’s highlights, seconds after they happen. Instant box scores and an all-inclusive GameCast—with every nuance and every measurement you could ever want—just a click away. There hasn’t been something this blissfully bloated since Fat Albert.

And since you’re already on your computer, you can bump around all the online and ex-pat communities that form around your team.

Want to see who’s Tweeting about Milton Bradley’s middle finger? Want to quip on your favorite squad-centered blog? Hell, want to just turn off the TV broadcast and stream the game from the home radio station’s Web site? You can do it, and you can all do it from the comfort of your memory foam mattress.

My roommates, God bless ’em, were patient with me that night as I waited out Ichiro’s heroics. I skipped across the sidewalk, recounting the scene for them over and over, grinning and gloating with glee. The smiled along, indulging me.

The next week, we planned for the same type of evening. I warned them the M’s would be playing again that night. Nestling into my bed, I flipped open my computer screen to take in the last three innings. I was ready for another go-round of baseball online, another round of Niehaus, another round of Mariners games where there were once none.

And then I realized they’d taken my laptop battery.

I guess some things never change.