Imagine! Baseball Without Twitter

Do you even remember watching baseball when there was no Twitter?
(via Chris Gold, Peter Bond & Michelle Jay)

A lone ceiling fan whooshed warm air over my head. I was in an empty New London, Conn., restaurant/bar, and I had chosen to be there.

It was Sept. 29, 2007. The Phillies were close to a historic National League East title, completely wiping away a seven-game New York Mets lead from 12 days before.

I wasn’t happy. The Phillies, who sent Adam Eaton to the hill for this game, were losing 4-0 to the Washington Nationals. Meanwhile, the Mets had already crushed the Marlins, 11-0. The late-afternoon game at Citizens Bank Park meant dreaded shadows for Phils’ hitters, who unlike the Nats, didn’t have the opportunity to swing against Eaton. The Phillies would manage single runs in the seventh and eighth, but it wasn’t enough. At least Eaton wouldn’t throw another pitch that season.

Just as bad as the loss, I could barely see the game. Restaurant staff wouldn’t permit me and my 18-year-old brother to watch at the bar. Forget that we were both drinking soda. Rules were rules. Frustrating as it was, the experience worked out for me. I chose the restaurant because it was on the way to an Elvis Costello concert we were attending that evening; obviously, it wasn’t a good place to watch tense baseball. But with Saturday out of the way and the Mets and Phillies tied for first place, there was one game left in the season, a day whose experience I could control from my own apartment.

Back in 2007, I listened to the Phillies radio feed on the audio option connected to MLB.com’s Gameday feature, and queued it up once the broadcast started at 1:30 p.m. I owned a basic Blackberry; the only use for the phone was to call my dad back in Philadelphia when I needed game updates. Since I lived in Connecticut, I was able to watch the Mets game live on television, and since that broadcast started at 1 p.m., I could fill in other Phillies fans with the happenings at Shea Stadium. I did this by commenting on a Phillies blog called Beerleaguer.

This was baseball consumption in 2007, a wild-west atmosphere where information wasn’t always immediate, Wi-Fi signals regularly failed and we relied on various platforms to experience games with other fans. Twitter was young, and we still used MySpace, sometimes more than Facebook.

The ways we consume baseball is very different today, but the underlying truth remains: In the moment, it’s damn fun.

“I have the Mets game on. Here we go, boys,” I commented at Beerleaguer, where I’d spend the first part of my afternoon watching the Mets broadcast featuring the usual trio: Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling. I’d turn the volume down and turn up the Phillies radio feed of Scott Franzke and Larry Andersen once that broadcast began. I told my dad not to call me with updates, as I’d be delayed, and around 2:45 p.m. I had to drive my brother to the train station to catch his ride back to Philadelphia.

While Shea Stadium was excited about a potential division clincher, the Marlins were ready for a fight. In that 11-0 game on Saturday, the Marlins’ Miguel Olivo had mixed it up with Jose Reyes over Reyes’  trademark in-game dancing. That led to a bench-clearing brawl.

After the game, the Marlins’ Hanley Ramirez was succinct: “[Expletive] the Mets.” The New York papers ran with it, dominating conversation heading into a relatively big sports Sunday that also included an Eagles vs. Giants football game. The Mets didn’t need that subplot affecting their biggest game of the year, but here they were – the spotlight shining, all eyes on Tom Glavine as he readied his first pitch at 1:11 p.m. against Ramirez and the Marlins.

Three minutes later Ramirez walked.

Me: “Force out at 2nd. Uggla at first. Shots of CB Bucknor: 1.”

“This is NOT a Glavine K-zone,” wrote commenter gipper913 at MetsBlog.com, the most popular Mets fan website in 2007. Founded by Matthew Cerrone, his only real comment before the Mets’ game that day came in a post about Glavine’s chances at earning his team the division crown: “it’s been a long ride … good luck … we’re all counting on you.”

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With two on and one out, Miguel Cabrera singled to make it 1-0, Marlins. At Beerleaguer, commenter “attytood will” – who may also be Will Bunch, a Philadelphia newspaper columnist – summed it well: “Whoo hoo – didn’t expect Fish to jump out like this — should create even more energy (if that’s possible) at CBP!”

At that very moment, Cody Ross struck a two-run double. A wide throw to home sent Ross to third, and getting to the ball, Glavine tossed a duck toward David Wright. The ball bounced into left field, Ross scored, and the Marlins suddenly had a 4-0 first inning lead over the Mets, sucking the air out of Shea Stadium.

Glavine kept struggling. Mike Jacobs singled, Matt Treanor walked, then Alejandro De Aza singled to load the bases. At 1:28 p.m., Glavine hit Dontrelle Willis with a bad change-up, sending home Jacobs and giving the Marlins a 5-0 lead. Glavine’s day was done; the Hall of Fame pitcher was booed lustily by Mets fans.

“I understood it,” said Glavine in John Feinstein’s book, Living on the Black. “I wasn’t expecting a standing ovation.”

Jorge Sosa entered the game for the Mets, still with one out and the bases loaded in the first inning. At that moment, 1:30 p.m., the Phillies television broadcast began. After the usual setup by lead broadcaster Harry Kalas, the game went to commercial at 1:33 p.m. Two minutes later Kalas returned with some news for those watching in Philadelphia.

“It is a magnificent day, and it just got even more glorious!” said Kalas, before showing fans the highlight of Ross’ double. Then the camera showed the Citizens Bank Park out-of-town scoreboard, which showed a 1-0 Marlins lead turn to 4-0, 12 minutes after it actually happened. “Watch that scoreboard change,” Kalas continued, “and look at the reaction from Phillies fans when they see the score from Shea Stadium.”

At that moment, color analyst Chris Wheeler – a lifelong Phillies fan who worked his way up from the marketing department to broadcasting with the team – let out an audible “Ooh!” He had just seen Dan Uggla strike a two-out, two-run double. It was now 7-0, and Kalas was catching up.

“The Marlins got one more; it’s now 5-0 Florida … and the Phillies have taken the field so they know now that the Marlins are leading the Mets … it’s now 7-0, two more runs scoring on a Tom Glavine throwing error … Glavine did not get out of the first inning.”

That wasn’t exactly true, as Glavine was already out of the game when Uggla doubled home the sixth and seventh runs; Wheeler wedged in a correction a moment later while describing the scene at Citizens Bank Park. While Jamie Moyer stood on the mound and readied his first pitch against the Nationals’ Felipe Lopez at 1:37 p.m., the crowd waved white rally towels and screamed en masse.

“If this doesn’t psyche you up I don’t know what will, cause we’re going nuts up here!” said Wheeler, ever a fan, summing perfectly the wild half-hour that handed the Phillies the division on a silver platter.

It’s hard to imagine a time when fans had to rely solely on out-of-town scoreboards to update them on other important games. But in September 2007 Twitter was one year old with somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 weekly active users. MLB Network was still 14 months from launching, MLB.TV was five years old and available only on desktops, and there was no smartphone app for following baseball. If you had a smartphone, you had to navigate MLB.com to find scores, and that could take a while.

So, unless someone called or texted people in the crowd that afternoon with updates from the Mets game, chances are those fans at Citizens Bank Park learned everything from that out-of-town scoreboard. There’s a burst of excitement when the number turns from “1” to “4,” and as the number climbs to “7,” it erupts. It surprised players taking the field for the day, as if the fans uncovered some monumental truth never before realized.

Ironically, Phillies fans would play a part in another scene that underscored the change in how we connect with the world. On May 1, 2011, Phillies fans began chanting “USA!” during the team’s game against – of course – the Mets. Little did the players know, but fans were finding out through text messages and their social media feeds that Osama bin Laden had died. Less than four years after screaming because of a change in the out-of-town scoreboard, fans were all looking at their devices.

A few months later, on Sept. 28, 2011, baseball fans witnessed one of the greatest final days of competition in history. As four games unfolded that determined the fate of the two Wild Card spots, MLB Network switched from one scene to the next. I sat alone in my house, first cheering a Phillies’ extra-innings win against the Braves to knock them out of the postseason and push the Cardinals in, then absorbing the madness that ended with Evan Longoria’s game-winning home run to propel the Rays past the Red Sox for the American League Wild Card. And all I had to do was turn off the Phillies’ feed on MLB.tv and switch to MLB Network. They handled the rest while I tweeted away.

These days, we switch between games when MLB.com sends us a push notification that a game is coming down to the wire. Or we simply check Twitter and find out a team has the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth. Or we can program MLB.tv Game Changer to do it for us. It’s nearly instantaneous, the emotions welling inside and pouring out as quick as the ball leaves the bat and leaps over the fence. In 2007, I clawed my eyes while at work, staring at Gameday and hoping the blue dot would show up as “In Play, Run(s).” Now the game’s on my phone, and the phone is tucked away safely. No need to wait.

Jamie Moyer, pitching for the Phillies, set down the Nationals despite a one-out Ronnie Belliard double. At 1:53 p.m., Jimmy Rollins led off for the Phillies with a single. He’d soon steal second and third base, then come home on a Chase Utley sacrifice fly. Meanwhile the Mets would finally get out of the first, then score a run in the bottom half. Also at 1:53 p.m., Ramon Castro slammed a Willis pitch deep to center field, sending Cohen into his home-run-call voice; however, the ball died short of the fence and ended the Mets’ threat.

Me: “It was a warning track catch. Castro certainly thought it was in the fifth row,” remarking that he raised his arm after he hit it.

Within 20 minutes the games would practically sync up for the rest of the afternoon. The Mets had trouble hitting Marlins’ relievers and trailed, 8-1, while the Phillies built their lead to 3-1. I drove my brother to the train station at 2:43 p.m., and just after sending him on the train, received an update from my dad that Tom Gordon had bailed out Moyer in the sixth with a double-play to end a one-out, two-on threat.

I raced home and, at 3:47 p.m., watched the sad faces of Mets fans at Shea Stadium while Scott Franzke called a Rollins liner into the right-field corner. He turned on the burners and slid safely into third with his 20th triple of the season, the capper on his MVP season as the leader of the eventual division champions. The Phillies led 5-1 and would stretch it to 7-1, while the Mets went quietly into the Flushing night.

At 4:31 p.m., Kevin Gregg struck out Luis Castillo to end the game at Shea Stadium, and the few fans that remained booed while the MetsBlog commenters debated whether the team should trade Reyes and if manager Willie Randolph should be fired the next day.

Four minutes later, Brett Myers struck out Wily Mo Pena to end the game at Citizens Bank Park. Myers threw his glove in the air and received a pile-on. The Phillies had won the division. I celebrated in my apartment by jumping, calling my dad and quickly writing something on the Beerleaguer comments: “WE’RE GOING TO THE PLAYOFFS!”

One year later, I understood the value of controlling my viewing experience. As the Phillies ran through the 2008 postseason, I ensured I could watch each game with full attention paid to the television. I didn’t want distractions or poor viewing experiences thanks to underage alcohol regulations. I also had room to post blog updates, chances to call my dad during momentous plays and all of the platforms necessary to consume the game.

Twitter came into my life around that time, and now it’s how I and millions more react to what occurs on the field. I don’t post comments on blogs anymore. I don’t listen to MLB Gameday Audio on my computer; instead, I can hook my television up to my out-of-market video feed. Or maybe if I’m cooking dinner I play the game on the phone through the app. In 2017, it’s easy to consume the game and react, keep updated with friends and family members and live the moments in real time. It wasn’t so easy in 2007.

I imagine 10 years from now we’ll say the exact same thing. We’ll also say that the baseball itself is pretty much the same.

References & Resources


Timothy Malcolm is a writer focusing on travel and experiences, sports and nostalgia. His work has been featured in Paste, October, Chronogram, Westchester Magazine and PhilliesNation.com, and in 2019 his first book, a travel guide of the Appalachian Trail, will be published by Hachette Book Group. Visit his personal website and travel writing website, and follow him on Twitter @timothymalcolm.
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Marc Schneider
Guest
Marc Schneider

I think the entire world would be better off without Twitter.

Mike
Guest
Mike

Damn, I miss 2007 Beerleaguer. 🙁

Frank Jackson
Guest
Frank Jackson

Never got into social media, don’t intend to, so it’s easy for me to imagine baseball without Twitter. If only I could ignore ribbon boards as easily.

Simon
Guest
Simon

How do you follow a game on Twitter? Do you follow a hashtag of the team’s nickname?

MustBunique
Member

I have the same, non-sarcastic question. Is there a way to just get game info? Anytime I check a #teamname there is so much garbage commenting and very little game info that I stopped doing that.

stephan8
Member
stephan8

It’s easy for me to imagine baseball without Twitter…
Spanish to English

walmart28
Member
walmart28

Its like USA without WalmartOne