Despite being “America’s pastime” the appeal of baseball has eluded me for most of my life. As a child growing up in Indiana, I’m fairly sure its required of kids to play basketball. Once one gets to high school, football is all the rage. Baseball unfortunately was always this sad, outsider sport. The coaches and players were dedicated; they truly loved the game because no one gave them any respect for playing. Thus, I had the impression my entire youth that baseball was a slow, boring and way too drawn out affair. At the ripe old age of 33, I’m starting to change my tune.
With the number of technology related projects I juggle these days, taking time to watch sports has become a rarity. I watched maybe 15 minutes of the NCAA tournament, an event which used to consume days of my life. Recently I was listening to an episode of The Talk Show with John Gruber where Jason Snell was a guest. They spent probably the first third of the podcast talking baseball and gushing over the MLB At Bat app for Apple TV. Being the geek that I am, I was compelled to download the app, even if my interest at the time was limited to it’s technological feats. I am a satisfied, paying HBO Now customer so I thought it would be an interesting science experiment to see how the technology worked for other applications. What I did not expect was to be drawn in to the actual sport of baseball.
One evening while coding, I turned on the day’s free game and let it play in the background. I found myself watching the tv for longer periods of time, completely ignoring the actual work I had planned to do. When the weekend rolled around, I actually sat down and watched an entire game live. After a few days I was actually learning players, teams and seeing how the game worked at a level far deeper than I had ever taken the time to before. I finally started to get baseball. In my older age I understood what my younger self mistook as being slow and boring was in fact a well paced strategy, not unlike chess. I was impressed and, more importantly, actually enjoying watching a sport where I had no vested interest. Whatever game was the free game of the day, I watched. I had no favorite players or teams (Indiana has no MLB team, our in market team is the Cincinnati Reds) and I could simply enjoy the mechanics of the game. It was beautiful.
In the process of shipping Caffiend 1.5, which we finally did this past weekend, I haven’t had as much time to watch baseball as I did previously. Going forward I’m actually excited to set aside some time to watch a few games and I honestly have the MLB At Bat App to thank (and John and Jason for turning me on to it!). While I won’t be a paying customer this year, MLB has built some amazing tech that really shows off their game well. Next spring, I can definitely imagine myself subscribing to At Bat and making it a part of my television schedule.
The tech the Advanced Media Group at MLB has cooked up is very impressive; but the point I want to drive home is that it’s invisible. I downloaded the app to actively check out the tech and ended up looking right through it and getting hooked on a sport I had zero interest in. I didn’t care anything about baseball and now a few weeks later I’m a somewhat competent baseball fan.
This is a perfect example of what technology companies keep preaching – build the technology that enables consumers to buy your content and you will turn consumers into customers. MLB has knocked it out of the park with the tech – now if they could just fix those damn blackout rules.