Tracking the distant signals of the Dodgers

It's been a while since I've written in this space. But, the last 18 months have not been exactly been the most inspiring for me from a writing standpoint, for a variety of reasons (most of them involving personal loss), but lately I've felt that I could get back to writing about the topic that I've written the most about here: the Dodgers, a team that I sometimes feel I have no direct evidence of its existence.

My present relationship with the Dodgers is, like many people in the area, somewhat problematic. Like a lot of people, I have DirecTV so this means that I'm shut out from watching the Dodgers on television except for the odd game that shows up on KTLA (the last one was scheduled for May 7, but it was rained out) or happening to remember when the Dodgers are on a national TV broadcast on Fox or ESPN.

I could go for an old school solution and just follow the Dodgers on radio, except that living in the Sunland/Tujunga area places me too close to the mountains to reliably pick up any radio signals. Also, listening to a few games last year with Charlie Steiner and Rick Monday were painful experiences. Like it was said about 1920s announcer Graham McNamee, Steiner and Monday are often calling a doubleheader, the game that they are talking about and another game that is actually taking place on the field. Steiner still has trouble judging how far fly balls are traveling and Monday has a penchant for seemingly want to send players who lose fly balls in the sun into exile.

It wouldn't exactly be a difficult technical feat to get a VPN (virtual private network) for my computer and then watch the Dodgers on my computer through MLB.TV (the Dodgers do not allow any legal local streaming of their games), but I just don't want to do it. Why? Because I don't care that much. Also, why should I have to pay more money to watch a baseball game on my laptop? And, I have a penchant for taking stubborn stances against things that are remarkably unimportant. (Check my Twitter feed for my complaints about how the New York Times has weird ways of spelling acronyms and initialisms.)

Most of my sports viewing is reserved for the English Premier League where I can watch every match (yes, even something Burnley at West Brom, and I'm not sure where either of those cities are) on my TV. Of course, if I lived in the UK, I wouldn't be able to do that unless I bought a very expensive satellite TV package, but that's not my point here.

I still follow the Dodgers, and I use two different methods to do it. One is following the game on MLB.com's Gameday app. Every pitch of every game gets an animation (at least an approximation of its path), but the only "human" on the screen is a generic batter who is drawn so that his face doesn't show so every player is a generic white guy whose only difference is whether he bats left or right-handed.
Screen Shot 2017-05-07 at 8.32.31 AM.png

I glance in at the game from time to time waiting to see (when the Dodgers are batting) the magic words of "in play, no out" or the much better "in play, run(s)." And then the dispassionate description of each play, no matter how momentous it might be.

Screen Shot 2017-05-06 at 11.11.35 PM.png
The picture and the text are from different plays.

Following baseball in this way is not much different from how fans did in the era before radio. For more important games, fans would gather near telegraph or newspaper offices where live updates would be sent in and the results of plays would be announced or an imitation diamond would be used to show runners on base and their activity (The linked image shows an example from the 1912 World Series.) Real-time text updates for baseball games started appearing online in the mid-1990s

Growing up in L.A. in the 1970s meant that few Dodger games showed up on television. For most of my childhood, the Dodgers only televised games from San Francisco and Sunday afternoon road games. For many midweek games, I would find out how the Dodgers fared by seeing "the Dodgers scorecard" during commercials of the Merv Griffin Show (a staple of my parents TV viewing). On KTTV, the station would run a graphic that said "Dodgers win" or "Dodgers lose" with a studio announcer reading off the score of the game.

Over time, as pay television greatly expanded, nearly every Dodgers game was televised, home or away. But in 2014, Time-Warner drove several dump trucks full of cash over to the Dodgers front office to get the exclusive rights to show Dodgers games. And in 2017, the dispute between Spectrum (the corporate heirs of Time-Warner Cable) and DirecTV show no signs of ever being healed.

In addition to Gameday, there is another way I check in to see how the Dodgers are doing. And it's not a great way. It's Twitter.

Dodgers Twitter is an odd world, with numerous hardworking beat reporters from a variety of outlets all trying to get out their pieces of information before anyone else. During a Dodger game, my Twitter feed will often have multiple consecutive broadcasts of the Dodgers lineup (people LOVE to know the starting lineup as soon as possible, sometimes for fantasy baseball purposes, but also because it's the easiest thing for people on Twitter to complain about), consecutive updates on roster changes (the Dodgers change their roster quite frequently), and injury updates (I should set up a filter for the latest in news about the state of the skin on Rich Hill's left middle finger, but at least the blister has its own feed now.)

But one thing I don't really get to experience is just what people are getting excited or upset about. I've seen Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager play probably fewer than 20 times. I've been told that Clayton Kershaw is a good pitcher. Some Dodgers have come and gone without me ever seeing them play. I've missed out on the Scott Kazmir experience (Twitter tells me that's a good thing, although in theory he could return). I think I've seen Chris Hatcher pitch once (Twitter hates Chris Hatcher. A lot. This is not an understatement.) Twitter is also the place where you find out that there is a big undercurrent of hatred for Dodgers executive Andrew Friedman. Twitter likes to ascribe most losses to the front office. Or Chris Hatcher. Either will do.

The biggest difference between being a Dodgers fan now and one from just five years ago is intensity. When I could easily see the Dodgers on TV, I would be thinking about the team a lot. I would be very much invested in the daily ups and downs of the team. I would block out time at home to make sure to watch a game. Now, the Dodgers are something I can just check in on to see how they're doing without investing as much mental energy. Over time, the Dodgers may end up meaning as much to me as any of L.A.'s other pro sports teams. Which doesn't bode well for the Dodgers as I am hard pressed to name more than 3 or 4 members of teams like the Lakers, Clippers, or Rams.

For most of my life, the Dodgers were the constant background noise of my summers. And now, they are becoming more and more like the Voyager space probe, sending off increasingly fainter signals as they travel further away from my listening post here on earth. Eventually, the only evidence to me that the Dodgers exist will be a Twitter timeline full of complaints about Chris Hatcher. It is the 2017 equivalent of the Golden Record that the Voyager spacecraft carries with it in case it runs into intelligent life somewhere else in the universe. Except there will be no Chuck Berry music. No greetings from Jimmy Carter. Just a timeline full of people complaining that Chris Hatcher sucks and I'll just wonder why I cared so much in the first place.


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