Better Baseball Through Technology

It all happened last summer.

For several years, figuring it was my parental prerogative, I’d been gently pushing baseball on my grade-school-aged son. For some unwholesome reason, however, he seemed to like basketball better. Sometimes I hate this godless culture.

Still, his mother and I indulged his insane whim. We got a hoop for the front yard, signed him up for the relevant rec leagues, and generally did the things that non-jock parents do when they’re presented with an athletic child.

I despaired that first-born son would never appreciate my particular brand of baseball fandom, conducted from the living couch and on obscure online forums dedicated to the Detroit Tigers and the San Francisco Giants.

But then something clicked around June of last year. Suddenly, he was mad for baseball – reading books, buying Topps cards and watching everything he could find on TV and his iPad. I’m not sure why this happened, but I suspect it has something to do with that weird ozone layer of baseball mania that seems to descend on American kids around fourth grade. Same thing happened to me.

So we spent much of the year playing impossibly realistic baseball video games on the PlayStation 3. If you’re not familiar with state-of-the-art sports video games, they’re really quite astonishing. You can recreate games with broadcast-level fidelity and customize players down to the color of their shoe strings. I’m not making that up.

My son inherited my favorite team affiliations – again, parental prerogative – so we would usually play Tigers versus Giants. As it happens, those teams ended up in the World Series last fall. We’d been simulating that series all summer, and knew the rosters inside and out. (I had to explain to him that, as a rule, your two favorite teams don’t make the World Series every year. More like once in a lifetime. Maybe.)

When I say we knew the rosters inside and out, the more accurate description would be: He knew the rosters inside and out. If you have a fourth-grader in your life, then you’re likely already aware that their brains are like sponges. Alien, sentient, highly evolved sponges. He more or less instantly memorized every player and relevant statistic.

Baseball is a game rife with statistics and arcane acronyms – ERA, OPS, WHIP, BABIP. Then there is the mysterious metric system that has emerged in recent years, which further obfuscates the acronyms with terms like “Defense Independent Component ERA”. All of these terms come with attendant numbers. My son, damn his little synapses, can retain these numbers with terrible efficiency.

Last year’s World Series came and went. My son spent the winter getting every baseball book he could find from the school and local library. In the spring, he decided to elevate his game by way of the many additional consumer technology options afforded today’s discerning young person.

Now he’s hooked on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight. It’s on too late for him, of course, so he records it on the set-top DVR device provided by our local cable TV service. He wakes up at 6AM each morning to watch the previous night’s highlights, then wakes me up at 7AM to give me the highlights of the highlights. We also have a subscription plan so that, on weekends, he can watch most out-of-market MLB games on his iPad or, absent that, my iPhone. Live. Wirelessly. Amazing.

I’m going to ballpark these numbers (ha ha), but I estimate it took me ten years to match my dad’s baseball knowledge. My son managed it in ten months.

I’m mostly happy and only slightly alarmed to report that all the technology has fueled a real-world baseball mania. He plays in two different little leagues now and is attending a baseball day camp this summer. He just had his tenth birthday party – at the ballpark, naturally.

As a baseball dad, it’s incredibly gratifying to see all this play out. But I find myself assuming the comic role of the grumpy old man – like my father and his father before him, I’m sure.

Why when I was a kid, we didn’t have these fancy wireless tablets. We watched games on fuzzy cabinet TVs the size of a Buick! And we liked it! There were no DVRs – we had to sit through those commercial breaks! PlayStation? Forget it! We had the Atari 2600. Or Coleco. Your shortstop was a blinking LED light! If you were lucky! You kids today….


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