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Following Baseball in the Information Age

By Uncategorized

I am a big baseball fan. Every morning I sit down at my computer in my boxer shorts with a cup of coffee and try to think of ways to feed my baseball fix, looking for news, information and insight. No matter what your particular pleasure, I’m convinced that you do the same thing every morning, too. You sit down, stare at your monitor, and surf the same three websites that you always do. Then, after you’ve watched every New York Times audio slideshow available, you want more. But you don’t know quite what you want, or just how to get it, and you give up, forced to interact with other human beings directly. Here’s the bad news: I’ve got no information or insight that might help you solve this problem.

Information Explosion

As a baseball fan, the information explosion dilemma is acute. Fans of the National Pastime are notoriously data-based, and it turns out that when you put them in front a computer they go absolutely bananas. If you aren’t familiar with the baseball-o-sphere, think about how celebrity blogging has gone supernova, burning up everything in the path of its hot pink paparazzi fireball. A few years ago, no one would’ve expected to see Nicole Richie brushing her teeth at the water fountain of a public park, or to read about Jake Gyllenhaal riding a bicycle.

Well, the same thing has happened to baseball. At any given moment, the Internet churns with blog posts, game-time chat sessions, industry outlet news, columns, and fantasy baseball, my God, the fantasy baseball. While the baseball ‘razzi hasn’t gone so far as to snap photos of John Kruk sunning on the beach, the sheer volume of data, both informed and half-baked, is overwhelming. Off the top of my head I could list you twenty different baseball web sites. Their range of informata-cum-babble would span college catching prospects with excellent walk-to-strikeout ratios, Gary Sheffield’s stance on race, a cripplingly complex breakdown of one day’s baseball action, etc. etc. etc.

When in Doubt, Specialize

The question, then, becomes: How to surf it? With so much to choose from, and so little time in the day, how does a baseball fan sort through it all. The answer is specialization. In the sports world, this is not hard, as one’s actual team of preference is the go-to specialization of choice. Like a lefty relief pitcher whose only job is to defeat one lefty hitter every three days, the new baseball fan must find his or her little dusty corner of the web and huddle there. Otherwise the overflowing miasma would crush him or her into non-existence.

My team—my own dusty corner—is the Houston Astros. And so I begin each day by visiting the site I’ve just linked to, the team’s mouthpiece and official site, courtesy of the Major Leagues. There I can find breaking news, interviews, some video highlights, and generally speaking the Company Line. From there it is on to the fastest-growing segment of fandom—the fanblog. Mine is called The Crawfish Boxes (making reference to the Crawford Boxes in left field at Minute Maid Park, where the Astros play). Most every fanblog out there will include a witty title, punning on the name of their team, or the nature of its fan base, or some quirk of their collective history. And when a team like the Astros is shorter on lore than, say, the Yanks or the Red Sox, then you name your blog after a piece of architecture.

The fanblogs are the most impressive aspect of the new baseball fan. There the amateurs come out and play. A post the other day, for example, included not only some Photoshop wizardry, but also a pro-grade statistical breakdown of Cubs v. Astros match-ups, down to the pitcher, the date, innings, the decision, etc. etc. These breakdowns, and the heaps of comments, transaction news and every other such conjecture, is where the true novelty of today’s game lie. Fans With Computers, they are, and they use them to make graphs and charts, charts and graphs, that can dizzy even an informed patron like myself. And keep in mind, every team has at least five of these bloggers churning away, and the more popular teams boast hundreds, if not thousands, of dusty, dusty corners.

And so specialization is the magnifying glass/database manipulation/statistical acrobatics/armchair quarterback of, for example, username “rastronomicals” of The Crawfish Boxes. If it involves the Astros, a spreadsheet, and twenty or more minutes of my time each day, this guy is a PhD.

What Does It Mean?

I will be the first to admit that I enjoy having so much information at my disposal. Anything that I want to know about a player I can learn within minutes. Does Player X strike out a lot? Yes he does. Where was he born? Caracas. Does he wear his stirrup socks high or low? He’s a ‘tweener. That can be really fun, and I take full advantage of the Internet, all the time.

But here is the existential turn: how does this effluvious info-tainment relate to Baseball, by which I mean a group of nine Gentleman on the pitch, chasing a ball and swinging a stick? Surfing from one site to another, chasing down minutiae and grabbing at statistical twigs can quickly become an exercise unto itself. Hours spiral down the drain at the computer, even as a baseball game on TV goes unwatched. The clear and present danger here is that baseball will go the way of Paris Hilton, in which the coverage is the means and the end, with no substance save for the barest act of covering something, whether or not the something is even a thing at all. I just watched The Terminator last night, so the prospect of a Machine_Takeover doesn’t seem so remote. Will baseball be played at all anymore, or will a team of nine Deep Blues simply take the “field,” a group of AI-servers in someone’s moldy basement, fabricating a sport comprised wholly and completely of statistics?
I have seen the future, and it is called Robocross.

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