Screening Oriole Talk

BASEBALL JOURNAL

May 05, 1994|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Sun Staff Writer

The arguments may rage for days on end about Mike Devereaux or Cito Gaston or the corporate types who populate Camden Yards. No voice is heard, however, no fist ever pounded on the bar.

There is no tavern, no shared beer, no cigarette smoke or talk show host. The emotions, old as the first time a fan shouted, "Throw da bum out," are conveyed electronically through silent cyberspace.

The words light terminal screens across America, wherever computer-savvy Orioles fans seek connection to the unending conversation that is baseball. They log onto Internet, a worldwide computer network offering information banks and thousands of electronic bulletin boards called "newsgroups." Depending on the service through which Internet is reached, the cost can vary from about $10 to $25 a month.

Newsgroups cover every area of human activity: neuroscience research, virology and capital punishment, "Star Trek," "Seinfeld" and something called "light bulb use and abuse." No kidding.

And baseball. Internet offers a general baseball newsgroup, as well as groups devoted to teams, including the Orioles.

"Is there no one left in Baltimore that appreciates the game of baseball as it was meant to be?" writes one cyberfan, decrying the too-genteel atmosphere of Camden Yards. "There is a real problem when the ballpark transforms from a sports center into a place to be socially 'seen.' . . . The mere idea of a sky box makes me puke."

An Internetter in Cleveland posts a defense of Devereaux, saying he's "tired of all the moaning over Brady Anderson while Devo, who has outplayed Brady in every season, including Brady's only successful season, 1992, seems to be the target of a lot of unwarranted, ill-considered criticism."

And this response from a Blue Jays fan, contending that Toronto's Devon White is the real Devo: "So. It's bad enough that you O's fans unjustly malign Cito, but now you're going to steal nicknames, too. Pretty typical. Can't wait for the Jays to whip the O's butts."

From morning to night, about every day since the Orioles group was established last year, cyberfans post opinions, statistics, questions, answers and queries about tickets and baseball cards. Often, they marshal astute arguments backed by statistics in the Bill James tradition. Occasionally, they howl in the manner of Sam Kinison.

The passion of the newsgroupers can be intense, says Jon Stokes of Laurel, a computer systems manager who checks in on the group at his office in the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. During the recent Devereaux debate, he says, "you could feel the heat coming off the terminal screen."

"It's a rabid newsgroup," Stokes says. "You go to a bar, talking baseball. It's the same type of thing, only over the Internet."

Yes and no. The biggest difference probably is not so much the dialogue as the demographics. The Internet has grown popular with home computer users since it started in the late 1960s as a Defense Department system linking government laboratories and contractors. But if the Orioles newsgroupers who responded to requests for interviews are any measure, the net is used chiefly by white-collar professionals and students.

On the other hand, says Sean McGowan of Andover, Mass., not all newsgroupers fit the "computer geek 'I don't have a life' category. . . . There's plenty of people who are perfectly normal."

McGowan grew up in Bowie and works at Children's Hospital in Boston. He's typical of expatriate Marylanders for whom Internet is their chief source of Orioles talk. He looks in on the newsgroup once a day at his office, where he works in a Harvard University crystallography research laboratory.

The 18 men and two women who responded to a message on the newsgroup are from Maryland, Massachusetts, California, Utah, Texas, Virginia, Chicago, Ontario and London, England. Most moved away from Maryland and hunger for Orioles chatter.

Peter Dale of London says via electronic message that he got interested in Maryland sports because he has made frequent work-related visits to the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda. With news of American sports so scarce in London, Dale says the Orioles newsgroup is "a godsend."

Baltimore native Jason Thomas has felt at sea in Boston, where he's attending Boston University. Until you move away, he says, "you never realize how much you miss your home team."

Early this month, while fiddling around with a personal computer in his dormitory room, he stumbled on the Orioles newsgroup, a little oasis of hometown chatter.

"When I found it, I thought, 'This is cool,' " says Thomas, whose dormitory room is decorated with an aerial photograph of Camden Yards. Now, if he can just find a way to get Orioles game radio broadcasts. He picked up a tip on this over the Internet -- something about 50 feet of speaker wire hanging from the ceiling.

Janet Lynch moved from St. Mary's County to Santa Clara, Calif., six years ago, and since then, she says, "I became a bigger fan" of the Orioles. She runs a computer software consulting business from her home and picks up the newsgroup there.

Cyberfan Anne LeVeque, who grew up in St. Mary's County, was at Memorial Stadium when Wild Bill Hagy tossed his cooler onto the field from the upper deck. But that name rings no bells among her neighbors in Austin, where she is finishing her degree in library science at the University of Texas. She finds solace in the newsgroup.

"It seems like I'm probably the only woman who posts regularly," LeVeque says. "They're all guys. And they're all talking about statistics."

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