Sitting on the first baseline in the stands Thursday at T-Mobile Park in Seattle, I felt like a true fan, in my white Mariners jersey with GEEKWIRE on the back, Louisville Slugger baseball glove, Mariners spring training cap , circa 2007, white Felix Hernandez socks and noise-cancelling headphones wired to my portable AM-FM radio, placed in front of me for optimal reception between seats.
At that moment, the guy turned toward me a few spaces to my left and made a humiliating observation…he was wondering if I was cosplaying as Steve Bartman.
You may remember Bartman as the hapless Cubs fan in the hat and headphones at the 2003 National League Championship Series who deflected a ball that otherwise could have been caught by Cubs outfielder Moisés Alou. If you’ve seen the video, or a picture, or the documentation of the incident, you’ll have a sense of what I looked like.
But that wasn’t cosplay. That was a technique test.
In this episode of the GeekWire podcast, we juxtapose old-fashioned terrestrial radio with a new-fangled digital audio stream for play-by-play in the stands. Then we discuss pros and cons of baseball analysis and robotic umpires. Finally, we experience the ups and downs of Amazon’s latest retail technology in the tech giant’s hometown ballpark.
Listen above and read on to learn more.
Radio vs smartphone: I like baseball, but I’m a real fan of multi-sensory experiences, especially seeing something live and speaking into someone’s ear at the same time, which points out things that might otherwise be overlooked.
In a modern baseball game, there is so much going on in the stands, on the scoreboard, and among the people around you that it’s easy to lose track of what’s happening on the field.
Longtime baseball fans know the solution: bring a transistor radio to the game, maybe with headphones, and follow the game with the help of the play-by-play announcer and color commentator at the top of the booth.
Nowadays there are several apps that offer the possibility to stream the audio of a game to your smartphone. In an ideal world, the experience of listening to the game through your phone in the stands would be perfectly in sync.
But in reality, anyone streaming the audio live from the MLB app, TuneIn, or the 710 Seattle Sports radio app would not have heard a home run call until at least 30 seconds after the event, given the delay in the audio stream.
That’s been bugging me for a while. My ideal scenario would be going to the game with a family member or buddy who also wants to keep the play-by-play running in the background, so to speak. Sitting next to each other, we could each have an Airpod in one ear, hear the live stream from our phones, and chat between pitches, almost like we were sitting on the couch together, except in real life the game was live from us.
But the delay makes the term “live stream” a misnomer, making this scenario ridiculous. When I tested it during Thursday’s game, the stream from my phone was typically about two pitches behind the action on the field.
I had a similar experience the last time I tried out at the stadium a few years ago so I was prepared this time. I brought a portable digital AM-FM transistor radio that I had bought from Amazon the day before for $21.99.
Sure enough, good old-fashioned terrestrial radio saved the day. There was a slight delay, but only a few seconds, between the action on the field and the AM broadcast reaching my ears.
It was certainly workable and an interesting example of old technology beating new.
I have a few theories as to why the difference might be — including network latency, additional advertising on the live stream, or maybe an MLB policy or media rights issue — but I wasn’t able to get an answer in time for this episode. I’ll see if I can figure it out and feel free to let me know your ideas and theories at email@example.com.
In the meantime, I’m perfecting my Steve Bartman cosplay in the stands. Anyone who appreciates listening to play-by-play while watching a live game is fine with me.
Technology in the stadium: In the second section, my colleague John Cook and I discuss and debate ways to make the game faster, the potential for augmented reality in the stands, the pros and cons of replacing referees with robots, and John’s surprising concerns about the retractable T-Mobile parking roof.
Amazon One and “Just Walk Out” at the game: Of course, one of the worst parts of attending a professional sports game is waiting for a drink or snack and missing out on a crucial game on the field.
But this is one of the places where Amazon is offering its Just Walk Out technology, at a takeaway grocery and beverage store called “Walk-Off Market,” which opened earlier this year at T-Mobile Park near Section 126 beyond Homeplate was opened.
You can enter by either swiping a credit card or scanning your palm if you’ve already registered with the Amazon One system, and the overhead cameras and sensors will track you around the store to see what you’re picking up and taking away, and automatically charge your card .
Having already registered my Palm and credit card with Amazon One in 2020 at the Amazon Go store at the company’s headquarters, I was able to enter the store at T-Mobile Park by simply running my palm over the sensor and the gate swung open. I went straight to the large fridges in the back but was stopped by a worker who asked for my ID.
I understand there are liquor laws governing this, but if I give Amazon my biometrics it would be great if the system could know I’m well over 21 and somehow allow me into the beer go section without having to show my ID. There’s some customer feedback for the folks over at the Day One Tower.
Anyway, after pondering the large beer selection, I made my selection and then grabbed a Mariner Dog from the hot box. Before leaving, I opened my beer can per another worker’s instructions – they don’t want fans to be able to use an unopened beer can as a projectile from the booth. Even with that and the carding, the whole experience lasted about two and a half minutes. It could easily have taken less than a minute if I had spent less time choosing the beer.
My colleagues Kurt Schlosser and Taylor Soper put together a full video and story of when the Walk-Off Market opened.
But I do have an important afterword to add to this hot dog that Taylor and I discussed while we were back in the stands Thursday afternoon. The hot dog was lukewarm and the bun was stale. As Taylor noted, I had encountered one of the downsides of takeout.
OK, podcast fans, that’s the ball game. Thanks for listening (and reading).
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