04/05/09 5:50 AM ET
Coverage bigger, better on MLB.com in '09
New additions and upgrades for following baseball online
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
Now it is 2009 and the final season of this first decade in the new millennium is about to get under way. It remains to be seen whether the Phillies can end that long drought and finally give baseball another repeat champion, but one thing we do know is that fans embraced the technology MLBAM went on to introduce, and today you can experience baseball essentially anywhere in the world and in almost every way.
MLB.TV, Video Alerts, online ticketing, All-Star Game voting, MLB.com At Bat 2009 for the iPhone, MLB.com Shop orders, MLB.com Gameday, Fantasy games, MLBlogs and boards, detailed Draft scouting reports, live studio programming, 24/7/365 coverage from a network of 30 traveling beat writers -- those are just some of the advancements that came along this decade. As we welcome the new chase for a World Series title to close this decade of baseball tech, here is a guide to those favorite fan staples today:
Courtney Heitkamp, 21, of Sioux Falls, S.D., recently posted to Twitter: "Oh my gosh I'm watching the Twins...I love you MLB.TV!"
In case anything actually needs to be said other than that, then just let MLB.TV Premium speak for itself. If you are among the millions who have experienced live baseball over your computer with MLB.TV in the past, then brace yourself because it is more captivating than ever. Developers threw the kitchen sink in for the 2009 model, building a new Flash media player that has received rave reviews throughout public beta testing this spring. Many fans who do not have actual HD televisions at home are seeing what that crystal-clarity looks like on a computer screen. MLB.TV Premium is $109.99 for a year's subscription, a $10 markdown from last year despite numerous enhancements. You'll enjoy the proprietary speed detection; playback controls with DVR and jump-to-inning functionality; home-or-away and TV-or-radio swapping; picture-in-picture; archived games; and much more. Like Heitkamp, you will love MLB.TV.
Video Alerts were added to the MLB.com Mobile team text menu last season, and that was a smashing success. Fans enjoyed receiving video highlights over their enabled handheld devices, and that will be an important element again this summer. You can be working on a project around the house or walking through an airport on a business trip, and suddenly one of these highlights pops up and your mood changes and you just want to show it to the person closest to you.
Just sign up by texting "GET Club name" to 65246. For example, if you are a Cincinnati fan, you send the text "get reds" to 65246. Once you sign up for the text alerts, MLB.com will send eligible fans a second text message offering the Video Alerts service. The price hasn't changed, so this is the throw-in of all-time. As always, you can manage your Team Alert selections in the "m-dash" (Mobile Dashboard).
Remember when someone almost won a million bucks last summer playing MLB.com Beat the Streak? That was close. Maybe you will win that amount by playing the easy-to-manage game this season. Or take your chance at winning $10,000 by entering MLB.com 2009 Fantasy Baseball. Go to MLB.com Fantasy and look through all the opportunities, and dominate your leagues by taking advantage of the wealth of advice from experts. Fantasy has only grown in scope over this decade, to the point that our Player Rankings now are even being used to predict final standings based on aggregate fantasy rankings per team. Unlike 2000, a massive segment of today's baseball fandom get into the game because of fantasy.
"We've learned a lot this decade about the kinds of games fans are looking for, and most importantly, how to get new fans involved and enjoying fantasy baseball," said Gregg Klayman, VP of content development. "Back in 2000, you had a hardcore base of fans playing games online, whereas today you have millions of experts and novices competing in all different levels of games."
Want to see B.J. Upton highlights? Looking for examples of why Tim Lincecum won the last NL Cy Young Award? Just go to http://mlb.mlb.com/media/video.jsp and search for their names or any others. Search for anything around Major League Baseball, and there is a strong likelihood you will be satisfied.
As with Video Alerts, this is a demonstration of the penetration that online video has reached in today's world. It's one of the first things many fans look for, something they can actually see, immediate gratification at watching their favorite players in action. Video Search was added last season, and fans enjoyed the larger (512x288) viewing size and faster bit rate. MLB.com editors tag the clips and make them available for you, and then you decide exactly what is needed in that split-second.
MLB.com At Bat 2009
This was released in the Apple App Store last week and immediately shot up to No. 3 overall and No. 1 in Sports among all apps there. The big new feature for this year is the add-on of MLB.com Gameday Audio for the regular season. Fans will be able to listen to live audio broadcasts of every Major League Baseball game from the Sunday opener through the World Series clincher. It also features a live scoreboard with statistical data from current, previous and future games; MLB.com Gameday's detailed data featuring five interactive screens and exclusive pitch type, location and speed data; and high-quality video highlights quickly after they happen on the field. Just go to the App Store in iTunes and click on Sports, and you will find MLB.com At Bat 2009 there for $9.99.
Every year this decade it has grown more addictive by incorporating more technology. The same will be true for this popular real-time app as a season is ushered in with the Opening Night game between the Braves and Phillies on Sunday, followed by 13 Opening Day games on Monday. This season Gameday adds exclusive real-time scouting data to the mix, with pitcher and batter tendencies, hot and cold zones and head-to-head stats. These rich new data features complement the existing pitch-by-pitch data, including the Pitch-f/x technology that provides pitch speed, trajectory and location data for every game in every Major League park, along with Game Previews, in-game highlights and other game-specific video from right inside the app.
Before you do anything at MLB.com this season, create a free account so you are registered here. It's free and easy, and it is the gateway to many things that happen during the course of the year -- including ticketing, Shop offers, contest prizes, All-Star voting, blogging and posting messages, subscription signups and more.
News and opinion
Nowhere is there more comprehensive baseball coverage than at MLB.com. It blankets the game with 30 traveling reporters who are at the source, constantly filing news and features and Inbox replies to your e-mails as well as their regular MLBlogs and more. Fans can consume the information through headlines on MLB.com and the club sites, as well as RSS feeds, on the MLB.com Mobile WAP site and as text alerts.
MLBAM also operates Minor League Baseball's site, and the team of writers provide even further meaningful insight to Major League fans about how their organizations are doing and which prospects to anticipate in the big leagues. Perspectives from such veteran journalists as Hal Bodley, Mike Bauman and Tom Singer help shape the views of many fans and provoke arguments and agreement alike.
It is hard to say exactly what one facet of the Internet has been most important to baseball fans over this decade, but this is as likely a choice as any. Online ticketing gradually rose in popularity to the point that -- by the middle of the decade -- it was how most MLB game tickets were purchased, and then it became a de facto standard in fan life, with many fans simply printing their tickets out at home and bringing them straight to the gate. Right now, online ticketing further enables you to take advantage of the new MLB.com Fan Value Corner, showcasing the many ways that all 30 clubs are helping spectators get more for their money amid a staggering recession. From the My Team Account Manager to make season ticket payments to StubHub.com for secondary ticketing, this is a key reason many people keep coming back to their favorite MLB sites.
Anyone who might have been jittery about online transactions at the start of the decade is likely well over it by now. The bigger question is more likely when to say enough is enough and just put the shopping cart through checkout. Just as you probably went to the MLB.com Shop to do your last holiday shopping, you probably are browsing through there these days, and maybe you noticed that the new Spring Virtual Catalog has just arrived, offering convenient selection of the baseball fashion of the times. Order one of those Stance II Fashion Jerseys by Majestic Athletic and get a free cap.
Blogs and Boards
Everyone seems to be blogging and social networking now. There is a huge increase in player MLBlogs, with a prospect blog for every organization, and blogs by such big leaguers as Torii Hunter, Reed Johnson, Glen Perkins, Andre Ethier and Collin Balester. You probably noticed that MSNBC's Keith Olbermann has an MLBlog where he can talk about his favorite sport instead of politics. All 30 MLB.com team reporters now have MLBlogs, and even the Rangers Captain just started one.
Last year in this space, we mentioned a fan named phillies6phan26, who boldly predicted on the MLB.com Fan Forum message boards that the Phillies would win it all, Evan Longoria would be AL Rookie of the Year, Dodgers, Cubs and Angels would all win divisions, among some other prudent choices. It only makes sense to tip the cap here given what happened.
Every now and then, you see some expert fan opinion like that around the boards and at MLBlogs. And every now and then, you see some stuff that just makes you laugh. But whatever the case, this decade has become a giant snowball of user generated content, with you in control of your own spaces.
Whether uploading ballpark photos of yourself to put on products, customizing a new authentic jersey, bidding on game-used items, watching a live MLB.TV Premium stream, checking scores, commenting on a favorite player's blog or following the action with your new smartphone, you are fully immersed in a way of life that you might have found hard to believe at the dawn of this decade. Now that this decade is about to finish up with another long and fabulous season, it is time to take stock of how far we have all come together, take a deep breath, and start it all over again.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.