The recent spate of no-hitters and perfect games has really helped to show us how far the technology for enjoying baseball has come in the last two decades. Comparing how we learn about and consume these historic games today with even ten years ago is a lesson in how rapidly technology can evolve in the Internet Age. For fans of baseball, this is a great thing.
In 1990-91, there were fourteen no-hitters thrown around the major leagues, including two from Nolan Ryan and a perfect game from Dennis Martinez. At that time, in our cable-less house, I would have been lucky to hear about the no-hitter by the next day, when my older brothers or I happened to see it in the newspaper. If it was a name I recognized, like Ryan, and it happened to fall on the right day of the week, I may even have been lucky enough to hear about it that night. If the event happened to fall through those cracks, however—a pretty easy feat to accomplish—I might not have heard about it at all until I ran across a Topps or Upper Deck card commemorating the feat the next summer. How else would a kid from central California have been expected to hear about the Kent Mercker-Mark Wohlers-Alejandro Pena combined no-hitter?
As the years passed and ESPN and Sportscenter made their ascendancy, it became more and more likely that I would hear about historic pitching performances on the day they happened. When David Cone and David Wells threw perfect games for the Yankees in 1998 and 1999, I learned about each from an ESPN-watching friend. For Wells, I was even given enough head's up to catch the local news station put his perfecto as the third or fourth story at the sports desk, behind some Steve Young or Jerry Rice news most likely.
In 2001, Mike Mussina missed his perfect game after going to a 1-2 count on Carl Everett with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. All he needed was one more strike to sneak past Everett for the perfect game to go in the books; instead, Everett sent a solid single to center field, ending Moose's bid at history. As a Mussina fan since his rookie year with the Orioles, I was thrilled to be able to watch it live, even threatening bodily harm on my roommates if they tried to change the channel. The game was aired nationally as the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball Game, making it one of the most accessible near-perfect games ever thrown.
In the past few years (much to the chagrin of many), we've had a resurgence in perfect games. Mark Buehrle, Dallas Braden, and Philip Humber have all lined up besides such luminaries as Tom Browning, Mike Witt, and Len Barker in the history books. And it's all come at the right time in the technology world, peaking along with the rise of the smart phone. When Roy Halladay made history against the Marlins in 2010, I caught the pitch-by-pitch of the ninth inning on my not-yet-smart phone through MLB.com's old WAP interface while in the stands at Miller Park. It wasn't a replacement for watching the game on television (or live from the stadium), but it felt great to be experiencing the moment in a near-live fashion—especially from another ballpark.
Then there was Yu Darvish on Tuesday night. Again, I was at Miller Park watching the Brewers. This time, though, I had a full-bore smart phone in my pocket. When Twitter alerted me to some potential history, I was able to pull up the MLB At Bat app and actually watch the Rangers' television feed of the ninth inning. Fans sitting around us shared in the moment as well. Not only was I sitting in the crowd at Miller Park watching the Brewers' fail to mount a comeback, I was also watching Yu Darvish make a bid at immortality on a four-inch screen in the palm of my hands. When Marwin Gonzalez singled the ball through Darvish's legs, I groaned along with everyone else in my section and around the country.
I didn't have to wait for a phone call from my buddy or even for the local news to come on. There was no newspaper the next morning, or Topps #631 six months later. One moment, I was scoring the odd 7-6 double play Jonathan Lucroy stumbled into in my scorebook and the next I was watching the bottom of Houston's batting order swing at anything and everything a thousand miles away. It's really an amazing feat, and yet another reason we should all be grateful that we're baseball fans in this day and age.
The future really is great.