Monday, July 26, 2010

Technology and Sports

by Dick Mac

In the 1980s I read an article about Tony LaRussa, manager of the Oakland Athletics, consulting the team's computer staff about gathering statistics about opposing players. This was after learning about SABRmetrics, the series of measurements created by the brilliant Bill James to statistically analyze the performance of baseball production, past and present.

I am a bit of a geek. I'm not as good at it as many of my geek friends, but there is a soft spot in my heart (and a chunk of my hard drives) reserved for worshiping statistics and analysis. I often thought about working in technology for a sports team.

For a number of years, my buddy Chico and I managed a tabletop APBA Baseball League, and I dutifully kept all the league's statistics on my PC. Most people didn't have personal computers at that time, but my partner thought it was a good investment and we got every penny's worth from it. I would print out league and team statistics weekly and we would discuss trends, changes and team needs. This went on for years. I think I might still have a book of scorecards and a file folder full of printouts along with the APBA set in a box somewhere.

My PC changed our APBA league, for ever and for the better.

Yesterday, I had a different experience of technology changing my experience with sports.

About ten years ago, my friend Liz, from London, gave me a Manchester City Football Club shirt, just like the players wear. She had grown-up in Manchester and she and her dad were life-long City supporters. It was a wonderful gift.

My connection to her team went beyond just the jersey. The first live English soccer match I saw was at Highbury in London, and the home team, Arsenal played host to Liz's Manchester City.

I fell in love with soccer that day as Arsenal, who would become MY team, beat Man City 5 - 0, and the man who would become my all-time favorite soccer player, Thierry Henry, scored a hat-trick.

Over the past four days, my home team, Red Bull New York, hosted the New York Football Challenge and played a series of matches with Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, and Sporting Lisbon. Since Man City was coming to town, I promised Liz I would wear the City jersey to one of the matches.

Yesterday, before my Red Bulls hosted Man City, Tottenham played Lisbon. I wore my Man City shirt during that match, and wrote to Liz that I would be in the front row at the top of the box at the left-hand goal, and that she should watch for me on television. The match was broadcast in London by ESPN-UK. To make it easier to find me, I hung two red Red Bulls scarves over the wall in front of me.

A few minutes into the game, I received a text message from Liz that she had paused her television on a shot that showed me in the background, snapped a picture with her digital camera, and would post it on the web. Moments later, my wife texted me from Brooklyn to say she just saw a photograph of me from at the game on the internet.

So, using current technology, a friend in London, England, could see me at a soccer match in Harrison, NJ, take a snapshot of the television screen, post it to the internet, and my wife in Brooklyn, NY, could see me enjoying the match.

And here is the picture:

That is me in the blue shirt and white cap, behind the two red scarves!

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