A year ago, during the Dodgers-Giants game in the ALDS, my friend Kasey turned to me and asked if I was alright. It wasn’t that anything was wrong, per se, but that I was rapidly cycling through watching the game intently, then grabbing my phone and furiously tapping out something, occasionally laughing to myself as I did it. I immediately felt self-conscious — which is to say I acted as I usually do — and apologized for being on my phone, before he said not to worry, it just “looked like I was having a lot of fun.”
What was happening was two-fold — I was watching the Dodgers, eating a chicken strip, and talking with four or five baseball reporters on Twitter. I was both extremely present at the game and engrossed with my phone, asking Craig Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus things like “which one of these guys is Gavin Lux?” and “do you think that was a slider?” despite the massive delay between real life and the television broadcast. I’d also have serious conversations with friends of mine about the game as it happened, while also talking to Kasey, while also eating more and more chicken strips.
I usually try — despite my weaknesses — to avoid being on my phone as much around other people, for fear that I would become distant and annoying from the people I was around. However, I’ve found that going to live sporting events and having a direct connection to social networking has, if anything, made me deeply appreciate sport on a level I didn’t grasp for decades before. It’s a more disciplined version of when something big happens in the news and your Twitter feed reacts — with the added benefit of being the physical person at the game who can fill the spaces between the broadcast and the stadium with stories of weird reactions or dumb crowd moments.
To test this theory — and out of an abundance of boredom — I went to see the first game of the Yankees-Guardians series at Yankee Stadium last Tuesday. The experience was just as good, partly because this was a lower-stakes game for me (I do not care if the Yankees win or lose), and partly because the ephemera of a Yankees game is extremely funny to discuss with people who aren’t there. I had a group text asking for updates on the old men next to me (at one point one of them turned to the other, when the Yankees were losing, and asked “how ya doin’?” He responded with “I’m doin’,” a thing that I would then recount and have recounted to me by several people since).
What’s also surprising is how meaningful moments are on TV that aren’t in person, and vice versa. When I saw the Warriors playoffs back in 2018, LeBron’s “what the fuck?” moment with JR Smith was instantly iconic — but something that I’d argue most people in the stadium missed entirely. Conversely, much of the “boring” part of a sports broadcast is electric in a great stadium — and it’s fun watching the entirely divergent reaction to online and offline moments.
It’s one of the few experiences I feel that actually gets better when you’re on your phone, but that may also be because I’m a nasty, perpetually online goblin. Your mileage may vary.