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How I Watch Baseball

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A middle-aged man describes how he watches a child’s game to an audience that is hipper than he is.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Philadelphia Phillies
Rhys Hoskins is known for his excellent fielding. Look! He’s catching a ball!
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

I was never the smartest, stats-iest guy in the baseball room. On the best of days, I used to get by with a superficial, rudimentary understanding of metrics that are now passe. Leavened with an occasionally well-crafted piece or a few dick jokes, I’ve managed to carve out a sleazy niche of sorts around here, though it’s been pretty limited over the last few very frustrating seasons.

The Phillies are getting really interesting again, though. This Rhys Hoskins fellow sure seems to be Sluggy McSluggerish. Odubel Herrera, until he went on the shelf with his hammy, was leading all of the MLBs in fWAR since the All-Star Break. Nick Williams has rediscovered walking. Jorge Alfaro is riding a wave of BABIP to some offensive success. J.P. Crawford is killing the ball in AAA after we collectively started writing him off and after he came back from an injury.

I was obsessing over a projected lineup next year that could include some order/combination of Hernandez, Crawford, Herrera, Hoskins, Altherr, Williams, Franco, and Alfaro. Such a team could score a few runs.

As I did this, annoying the masthead people who follow along in a group chat and who have gone to bed, a fellow writer noted that ESPN’s highlights of tonight’s game excluded Rhys Hoskins’ second deck homer because, you know, nobody wants to see second deck homer highlights.

My comments in reply to this report of injustice were: “ESPN’s highlight biz is being disintermediated by sports fans and the interwebz, so f*** them anyway. What’s their value add now anyway?”

ESPN’s troubles have been covered well elsewhere and most of you are aware of the issues — people get highlights from Twitter, MLB.com, At Bat, etc. Nobody sits around and waits for Sportscenter to see what happened in the sports world anymore. ESPN is losing subscribers and viewers and relevance.

I’m less concerned with that than with learning from you folks how you approach a baseball game. The game is more or less unchanging, but our relationships with watching it and learning about it have changed dramatically since we last had a good Phillies team.

I’ve always found that a good way to explore the unknown is with a game I call, “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” Since that’s worked so well for me, I’ll adapt it for this exercise. You remember what I wrote in paragraph 1, right?

What goes on at our house...when we watch baseball...is something like this:

The TV is on. I still do have cable TV and I get CSN and Phillies games. Yes, I intentionally allow Ben Davis into my lair every night. I don’t ‘invite’ him per se — he just kind of kicks the door in when I turn the tv on to watch Odubel Herrera flip a bat or gesture around the strike zone. That means that Davis’ co-conspirator, Tom McCarthy, also sneaks in.

I used a “we” above, and I’m not a “royal we” kind of guy. I always watch with my son. We rarely flip channels, but we both are constantly attached to our phones. He’s watching the location of every pitch using Gameday in his At Bat app on his iPhone. I have my face buried in Fangraphs and Baseball Reference.

“Hey, Alfaro’s doing well...oh, wait. BABIP-fueled. Welp.”

“No way that was a strike! Lemme look...nah, it was on the paint.”

“Franco’s having a crappy year!” “Well, since the ASB, he’s been doing a lot better and his BABIP still seems crazy low.”

“Here’s the Hoskins homer from earlier...WOW...SECOND DECK!!!”

I check in on game threads here. I chat with TGP people sometimes. I email friends. I post links of Rhys Hoskins bombs on my Facebook that I will quit any day now, or at least when I run out of Nihilist Memes to read.

Sometimes, I’m watching on tv, and my kiddo is listening to the radio in the next room while he’s playing MLB the Show.

Neither of us Twitters, but many of you do. When I used to, I’d interact with that, too.

Tonight, after I saw Hoskins double past third to drive in two runs, I saw the Dodgers/Pirates game was a 0 - 0 game with a no-hitter going. I switched over to it, knowing that the Pirates game was “down” a few clicks on my cable package. After I had the brief text chat about ESPN being stupid, I realized that I don’t “know” what channel ESPN is on my cable package. I don’t even know if it is “up” or “down” from CSN because I haven’t watched ESPN since last football season.

I can hardly imagine trying to watch the Phillies without access to all of these things. When people talk about “speeding up the game” because it is boring, they are forgetting that I’m already filling that time and space with other things. I’m not losing it anywhere, and I don’t really feel bored at all. Stimulation is a highlight away. Or a statistical rabbit hole away: “Do the Phillies have any relievers who aren’t terrible? Are there any who haven’t been terrible at least over the last month? The last two weeks? Has someone had a good outing in the last week?”

Until I get a drone capable of bringing me a beer, or, more likely, a fridge upstairs near where we keep the idiot box, some things won’t change. I still need to get beer. Or, on the back end of that, hit the head. The time I used to spend waiting to see highlights or reading limited and rudimentary analysis in the papers? Replaced entirely with a richer, deeper experience that I’m in control of.

I have a vague romanticized notion of how I used to listen to Whitey and Andy and Harry on the radio during the pre-internet days. Then I’d read about the game in the Inquirer. I’d get a box score and there’d be daily Phillies stats and MLB leaders. I used to give credence to things written by clowns like Bill Conlin. Thinking back, he makes me think of nothing so much as Dylan Thomas — do not go gently into that good night. I’d get my meager helping of nearly useless stats from USA Today once a week. Maybe a magazine update once a month or so, if I felt the urge.

It’s laughable to think about now. It was still baseball, but we were looking at the shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave. It isn’t what we see today.

Some of the technological enhancement of the game comes with us to the park when we bring our phones with us. Contrary to the concerns of those who fear bigger and better screens in homes, the technology does not keep us away from the stadium. We go to more games now, probably because of outlets like Stubhub. Even at CBP, though, we have access to most of the goodies we check on at home (like Fangraphs, At Bat, etc.) though our faces are in our screens less.

Kids these days...I couldn’t write this as a Gen X parent without writing “kids these days”. Kids these days just don’t know what it was like to be so interested in something, but so ignorant about it at the same time. It’s as though the understanding and knowledge available to us grew in lockstep with the visual transition from our old, tiny low-def TVs to today’s massive, crystal clear HD TVs. It’s all part of the same revolution driven by technology, of course, but the metaphor works so well because of the increased clarity and understanding resulting from it.

Now that we’re on the other side of the Baseball Enlightenment, baseball is still about jacking homers, striking dudes out, catching and throwing in the field, and all the rest. The game is remarkably unchanged on the surface. But our interaction with it, or at least the interaction in our house, is entirely different today as compared to just five years ago

I’m not sure where things go from here. I remember bringing a laptop to a game years ago to try to blog using my wireless modem. It was clunky and unreliable, but it was easy to see the future was mobile data.

The next generation of enhancements isn’t as obvious to me. Maybe being in control of the strike zone overlay. Maybe being able to control the camera view, as you can in video games, turning TV images into in-home edited and processed video from whatever perspective I want.

Maybe virtual reality and stabilized Go Pro cameras on players’ hats will put us on the field in the future. That would be excellent. A Hoskins’ eye view of his homer going over the wall would be fun. Being able to see Chase Utley’s perspective on the liner he caught in during Rich Hill’s no-hit bid tonight? How cool would that be?

Circling back to the original thought, how are you watching baseball games now? What are you doing that is different than what you did just five years ago? What would you like to see, I mean, aside from less Ben Davis?

Poll

What is the most-amazing new technology according to Gen X?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    Those phones you can use in your car
    (3 votes)
  • 19%
    VCRs
    (8 votes)
  • 7%
    Xerox machines
    (3 votes)
  • 9%
    The Apple ][
    (4 votes)
  • 19%
    Laserdisc players
    (8 votes)
  • 4%
    Bill James’ newsletter
    (2 votes)
  • 23%
    Capri Sun
    (10 votes)
  • 9%
    Kennedy’s hair on Alternative Nation
    (4 votes)
42 votes total Vote Now