An iFan's Quest To Follow Baseball Without A TV

The Baltimore Orioles are in the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. The author, a life-long O's fan, has tracked the season via blinking dots on an iPhone, then Facebook, then through a pricey app. Somehow he's still married.

"Ain't the beer cold!"

As a kid growing up in a suburb of Baltimore in 1979, I often cuddled a transistor radio while drifting off to sleep. Some nights—many nights, actually, during that memorable, magical baseball season for the Orioles—I'd be jolted awake by my team's radio announcer, Chuck Thompson, celebrating another unlikely, late-inning win with his signature send-off. I hadn't yet tasted much beer, but I understood nonetheless: Yes, yes, it was damn cold, Chuck.

Now I think back very fondly on those summer nights, and the Rockwellian idyll of a boy, his radio, and baseball, but at the time I was pissed. That's because I was raised by hippies who went organic decades before it was fashionable—and for whom television was forbidden. I would've much rather fallen asleep in front of the TV back then, but we didn't own one. Instead, my mom told me to look out the window at "organic TV." Pissed.

As it turns out, mom's attitude was good practice for this year's Baltimore Orioles. Now a dad myself, about a year ago my wife and I threw our television away. Our two young girls watch their shows and movies on laptops and the iPad, anyway, so we figure this way they can do it ad-free. Protect their growing minds, and all that.

But that was before the Orioles went on an unimaginable, season-long tear, before they secured a winning season for the first time in 15 years, and, magically, qualified for the playoffs. Had I believed this was even the slimmest of possibilities, I wouldn't have tossed the TV so hastily.

These days, radio is far from the only technology that can enable a televisionally challenged sports fan to follow his team. Here, then, are one fans' notes on how best to keep the shine on the crazy diamond. (Apologies for mangling that Floyd ref.) First, a few words of caution: This tech-powered fandom may result in insomnia, heart attack, or divorce.

"Watching The Dots"

For the first few months of the baseball season, my go-to means for following games was, by today's standards, fairly low-tech. With most ballgames unfolding during dinner, homework, and bedtime, the least domestically intrusive approach was to keep my iPhone stuck on ESPN's Gamecasts.

Aesthetically it wasn't terribly thrilling: Red dots flashed for strikes and outs, green for balls, and my screen glowed blue when a batter made contact. On the plus side I was able to track each game's score without drawing too much attention to what I was up to.

Until I wasn't. By June my kids were onto me. When they should've been, like, memorizing state capitals or something, they'd wander over to see if the Orioles were winning. (Yes, they drank the Kool-Aid early in their lives—and they found it delicious, thank you very much!). This was complicated as my wife and I had followed the Obamas' lead and decreed a "no-screens" policy for the girls from Monday mornings to Friday afternoons. But Oriole magic works in mysterious ways—ways that are not always good for parental consistency.

Adding to the complications for this iFan was my club's penchant for playing extra-inning games, deep into the night. This meant, of course, that I had to take my phone to bed, hitting refresh furtively under the covers while my wife read or slept beside me. The first time she discovered me consulting my illuminated hand, Catherine was not happy: "You're watching the dots!? Here!?"

This habit would have to stop—because it took forever for my 3G iPhone to reload.

A Facebook Support Group

Clearly, I needed help. Which is why I was delighted when in the middle of the season an old friend invited me to join the Facebook group, "Orioles Bandwagon." As of this writing, the group includes 533 other sensible, like-minded sports fans. That is to say: raving lunatics who pray at personal Earl Weaver shrines.

I'm not typically a big joiner—and am far more active on Twitter lately than on Facebook—but joining this group was undeniably a good idea. I say that because it is at Orioles Bandwagon that I have a safe place to catch up on the previous night's game—"Taylor 'F-ing' Teagarden, people!!!"—reminisce about the strange glory that was "Wild" Bill Hagy, and discover online gems like this David Simon post about his recent Sports Illustrated story on the O's. Oh, and also because it may have saved my marriage.

Going All-In With The MLB.com App

Part of the reason I was content to "watch the dots" for so long and didn't just plunk down the $26 for the MLB app that would've allowed me to stream nearly all Oriole games to my laptop, iPad, and iPhone was that I figured, quite reasonably, that any day now reality would set in and my team would settle back into its rightful place—fourth or worse. For most of the season, after all, we were giving up more runs than we scored. At one point, our starting rotation was so bad, 60% of it was demoted to the minor leagues. And Taylor F-ing Teagarden? He's our backup catcher and has nine hits this season.

But here's the thing: Three of Teagarden's blows have been game-winners and he has as many RBIs as he does hits. That is perhaps all you need to know about this year's team and its ongoing skill at taking troublesome statistics out back and bludgeoning them to pulp with a clubhouse full of Louisville sluggers.

And so April gave way to May, and June dissolved into August. Suddenly it was mid-September and against all odds and experts and statistical sense, my Baltimore Orioles were still in the race. As John Lowenstein is my witness: It is now October and the Orioles are not only playoff-bound, they could beat out the New York Yankees for first place in the American League's East division. So of course I bought the app. And hid the iPad under the table when guests came to dinner. And watched Texas play the Angels because that game had post-season implications. And stopped before going underground to catch the F train home, in order to watch one more pitch on my iPhone, one more batter, one more out.

I like to think that part of my decision to hold off for so long on buying the app was that I really love my wife and would hate it if she left me. Also, I'm cheap.

We'll see how far the Orioles can go in the playoffs and if I still have any interest in watching the app's games when their season ends. But I already have an eye on next year. What new tech might help a far-flung fan stay connected with his club?

Hey, Sergey, now there's something you might consider for Google Glass.

[Image: Joel Arbaje]

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6 Comments

  • Papa Jam

    So wait, you're an ORIOLES FAN?

    Just kidding.

    In fact, I remember when you went to an Orioles World Series game in Baltimore, against the Pirates.

    Your grandfather had gotten special tickets in Section 1. OMG!! these had to be great seats. Wrong! It was some kind of beyond-the-bleachers pipe construction of dubious and shaky provenance. And it was cold. Snowing, actually.

    Luckily, we had dressed accordingly. Sherpas assaulting K2 gives you the right picture.

    I looked down at your hooded head and asked> "Are you sure you want to stay? We could just cruise over to granpa's house and watch this whole thing in comfort?"

    And you said, already diehard> "Dad, IT'S THE WORLD SERIES!"

  • Dudewhy

    So you can get Orioles games on MLB because you live out of market. Is that correct? I thought about getting MLB but I think Yankee games will be blacked out since I line in NJ.

  • Maccabee Montandon

     Exactly. I can't watch the Yankees--much as I want to see them lose. (Which they aren't doing nearly enough of lately!)

  • Kpstoia

    Just curious - why didn't you listen to the radio? I listen to the games a lot, especially because with a teenager I always seem to be in the car at night!

  • Maccabee Montandon

    Yes, you can listen to the games with the MLB app but if I did that at home I'd be even more conspicuous I think. I'd also look like one of those old guys in plaid shorts and sock garters with one ear bud in--not that there's anything wrong with that.