Piggy-backing a bit on my post about cloud-based music systems last week, my baseball post for this week will focus on the changing broadcast technology of the game.
I first became a baseball fan in 1978. But I really went head-over-heels for the game in 1980, when we moved to Kansas City. Suddenly I could listen to every single Royals game. Every week or so a couple road games were on TV. When I opened the paper each morning (and afternoon!), the lead story was about George Brett’s hitting streak and his flirtation with .400, the Royals’ lead in the AL West, and if this was the year they could finally slay the Yankees dragon in the playoffs.
It was a pretty great time to be a Royals fan.
My other early memories of baseball involve my visits to my grandparents’ homes in central Kansas. Out there, the house radio was pretty much always tuned to the local station, which just happened to be a Royals affiliate. My mom’s parents weren’t big sports fans, so often when the Royals would come on, they turned the radio off and I retreated to my room to listen. My dad’s parents, however, were big fans. There were always at least two radios tuned to the game in their home. There was the main radio in the kitchen/eating area, which was on approximately 23 hours a day. And Grandpa always carried his own radio around with him while he was working in the yard or on projects around the house. When he took his afternoon nap, he would place the radio on the coffee table and turn it just loud enough so he could hear Denny Matthews and Fred White while he dozed. I loved walking through their house on Sunday afternoons, never being out of earshot of the game.
I think most baseball fans my age, and older, have similar memories about baseball on the radio.
The rise of ubiquitous, high-speed Internet access has made the entire country like my Grandparents’ home. For the third straight summer, I have the fantastic MLB iPhone app. This year I purchased the MLB.TV package as well. Between them, I am never out of earshot of the Royals.
Each time I’m lying in bed with my two-year-old trying to get her to sleep, sitting in the driveway monitoring the girls playing, or doing something else with a game streaming through my iPhone, I’m amazed at the magic of modern technology. No longer am I restricted by the range of AM radio signals or broadcast territories or the Royals sucking and never being on national TV. I can live 500 miles away from Kansas City (or more) and still hear the game just as if I lived in the KC suburbs and was sitting on my back deck, drinking a beer while the girls played on their swing set. I can sit anywhere in my house and watch the live broadcast of the game on my TV or on my computer, as if I was plugged into a KC-area cable provider. And going on vacation does not mean losing contact with your team for a week.
Thirty years ago, you would have relied on morning box scores to follow your favorite team. Twenty years ago you could catch highlights on Sportscenter or CNN. Ten years ago you could follow text play-by-play of games on Yahoo! or stare at the ESPN ticker all night.
Today, thanks to broadband pipes, 3G networks, and incredibly powerful handheld devices, we can control what game we watch and when and where we watch it. For those of us who grew up listening to baseball on the radio, having the audio option is especially sweet.
Once upon a time, being a fan of an out-of-market team was a difficult and tenuous thing. It was easy to lose touch with the teams of your youth when careers and family took you to other parts of the country. But thanks to MLB’s embrace of technology, it can feel like you never left home. At least while the game is on.