Technology Makes Following Sports Better Than Ever

This article appeared in Issue 9 of The Loop Magazine.

Most of the nerds I know on the Internet have another “hobby”, something separate from coding, writing, or designing, that they’re heavily interested in. Some are passionate about coffee, while others geek out over comic books and sci-fi movies. And others still are musicians or they play video games.

Myself, I’m a huge sports fan. For as long as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed watching games, keeping tabs on player transactions, poring over statistics, and playing sports-themed video games. I even played Challenger Baseball, the Little League equivalent for children and teens with disabilities. When I was a kid, I was renowned for knowing where nearly every NFL player played his college ball, as well as having an encyclopedic knowledge of baseball history. (My recall of NFL alma maters has wavered a bit as I’ve grown older, but I’m proud to say the encyclopedia remains.) Without a doubt, sports occupies my largest area of interest outside of technology.

My favorite sports are baseball and football, but I follow all sports to varying degrees. My earliest memories of following sports are of when I used to visit my uncle on baseball’s Opening Day in the mid–1980s. There has always been an air of romanticism around Opening Day — for baseball diehards, it’s a day of new beginnings, hope, and a clean slate — and I loved spending the entire day with my uncle, relishing every moment of the just-born season. It was during those formative years that I caught the sports bug, and that baseball became my first love.

While I surely enjoyed the bonding time with my uncle watching baseball, my interaction with the sport was limited to just that: watching it on television. I’m fortunate insofar that I’ve spent my entire life living in a region (the Bay Area) that houses two teams — the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants — but following the league at large was limited to seeing the opponents of the local teams and the occasional national game on ESPN. Moreover, the Internet didn’t exist in the capacity it does today, so there were no websites I could visit to get up-to-the-second news and numbers. Thus, my only viable avenues to following the sport (and sports as a whole) were limited to TV (or radio) and the yearbooks and guides that publishers like The Sporting News put out each and every year. In fact, going to the bookstore to buy these magazines were events in and of themselves. Always an exciting time.

The Internet, and particularly smartphone and tablet apps, have been game-changers (pun fully intended) when it comes to following baseball. With apps like MLB At Bat, I have the ability to stay updated on every game, every day of the season. Being a National League guy — where real baseball is played, no designated hitter here — my favorite team in At Bat is set to the Giants. What this means is I get push notifications sent to my iPhone whenever one of their games is about to begin, when it ends, when a lead changes, and a noteworthy play happens. I can watch in-app video highlights of said plays, and even live-stream the game if I so choose. Furthermore, At Bat allows me to view stats, standings, team schedules, and more. Even better, being the aforementioned baseball history buff, I can watch full broadcasts of select classic games dating back to 1952. All this from my iPhone or iPad, whenever I want it. It’s amazing.

However, MLB At Bat isn’t the only place to get my baseball fix nowadays. There are other great apps as well, like Race to the Pennant, which offers a daily look at team standings. Though not entirely useful early on in the season, I keep Race to the Pennant on my devices in the event I want to quickly grok how well (or how bad) the Giants or others are doing. Likewise, a website such as Retrosheet is a wonderful resource for finding box scores and play-by-play accounts of games, past and present. And whenever I plan to attend a game in person, I can use MLB’s At the Ballpark app on my phone to buy tickets, get directions to the venue, find my seat and amenities, and so on. It cant be said enough: It’s truly amazing to have this wealth of knowledge sitting in my pocket.

Of course, using technology to follow sports isn’t limited to solely baseball. Virtually every major (and not-so major) sports league or organization, professional or amateur, has an app on iOS (and other platforms) akin to At Bat. Whatever one’s sporting fancy, from baseball to basketball to soccer and everything else, there is an app available. I have the NFL Mobile app on my devices to keep up with football season, as well as NHL Game Center to keep up with all things hockey. And the ESPN ScoreCenter app helps me keep tabs on the sports world with a broader lens.

That I do have so much access to sports by virtue of today’s technologies is a big reason why I feel so grateful to be living the prime of my life at this point in history. I often think about how limited my reach was growing up, and not being able to so easily follow every team and player. It was frustrating. But now, as cliche as it sounds, the sports world is my oyster; I have virtually unlimited access to all the sports my brain can handle. I often wish I could build a time machine to revisit my younger self armed with apps like At Bat. To have today’s tools yesterday would have been totally awesome, because it undoubtedly would have deepened even more my affinity for baseball and sports in general.

For all the adoration of technology today in this piece, though, it’s interesting to consider the other side of the coin. That is, I will admit that it sometimes feels like too much information. I do get overwhelmed by the constant barrage of information; especially in tight games, my phone lights up constantly with updates. Then it becomes an internal struggle: turn off notifications to save my sanity or satisfy my need to know the score whenever possible? More often than not, I leave them on, but I fully recognize that today’s perpetual connectedness certainly has its drawbacks. Perhaps my younger self wouldn’t have been so impressed by At Bat, because there’s only so much attention a 10-year-old can pay. (There’s only so much a 31-year-old can pay!) For sure, ignorance really can be bliss. Compare and contrast my experiences following sports then and now, however, and I’ll take the distractions. The upsides, to this nerd, are just too great.

The Internet and apps have completely changed the way sports aficionados like myself connect with the games we love. This phenomenon is similar to how Twitter has redefined the way breaking news is shared and discovered, and how digital publications like The Loop Magazine (among others) has redefined what it means to be a periodical. Such a paradigm shift has made following sports better and easier than ever before, and it’s all thanks to the technologies available now. In my opinion, there has never been a better time to be a fan.