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Being an Astros Fan in the 21st Century

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How did you become an Astros fan?

Was it by going to the Astrodome, Minute Maid Park or Colt Stadium?

Was it by listening to Gene Elston or Milo Hamilton on the radio?

Was it by following box scores in the Chronicle or the Post?

I was thinking about this very thing the other day, as I was sitting in a rental car in the middle of St. Louis, listening to the Cubs radio broadcast on XM Satellite Radio and watching the game in a seamless video broadcast on my phone. It was one of those moments where I had to step back and consider just how far technology had taken us as sports fans.

Not 10 years ago, when I went away to college and left behind the cozy confines of the Houston area, I also lost many of the Astros broadcasts I used to watch. I found out quickly that regional broadcasts didn't always carry the same games as the local ones. Suffice it to say I turned on Fox Sports Southwest too many times and found Ranger games on instead of the Houston hometown nine.

Fast forward to now and I've got an entire network devoted to MLB, the Extra Innings package to watch any game I want and DirectTV to get the Houston feed for FSN, meaning I never have to miss a televised game. In case I have work, there's always the Digital Video Recorder (DVR) so I can watch the entire game once I'm home.

It's a brave new world indeed.

The question is, are we better off? Is your fan experience enhanced now that we have so much access to the team? I'm torn. For one thing, many of the advancements I've mentioned are really only for fans who are not living near their favorite team. With league blackout rules, I can't watch a normal game on my iPhone when I'm at home. I had to travel to St. Louis for that. Even then, I couldn't watch either of the games when Houston played St. Louis, because I was in the other team's blackout zone. Similarly, the XM broadcasts are always for the home team. So, even if I wanted to listen to Dave and Brett in my car, I might have to settle for Marty Brenneman or Jon Miller.

While all this technology may not give me more access to the Astros, it does open the possibility for fans to be more knowledgeable about the league at large. How many times could you listen to Hall of Fame broadcasters like Miller or Vin Scully 15 years ago, if you weren't in range of one of their radio stations?

By the same token, the explosion of fantasy sports (greatly aided by the internet and instant box scores) has opened lots of possibilities for fans to learn about players from all around the league. The internet has also made following the minor leagues much easier, letting fans keep closer tabs on the future of their organization.

The internet has also changed how we get the news. Moe Berg, the backup catcher turned 'spy' in the 30's and 40's, used to brag about reading five different newspapers every morning. That's the only way people could learn about the world. Now, there's Google Reader, ESPN.com, CBSSports and a host of other sites that carry news almost as fast as it breaks. Back then, reading all those newspapers is one of the reasons people thought Mo Berg was so smart. If that made him smart, what does that make Stephen when he can read everything in his Reader account?

All these seem to be good things. Still, I think the most important development has been the access to any stat you could want. Baseball Reference and Retrosheet have an almost unlimited number of game logs and player stats from baseball's past. Fangraphs, The Hardball Times, Baseball Prospectus and Bill James Online have a very different, very sophisticated set of statistics that paint a clearer and clearer picture of the game. I found this quote in a recently published book called Beyond Batting Average by Lee Panas, a writer for Tiger Tales

This is not a book that describes how teams use statistics to manage their organizations. Rather,
it is about how fans can use statistics to enhance their understanding of the game. In the last
dozen years, I have spent countless hours on Internet baseball message boards and blogs
engaging in debates about the game. What’s the best way to build a team? Who should have
been the American League MVP last year? Who is the best defensive third baseman in the
game? Who is the most effective baserunner? These debates inevitably evolve into a discussion
about statistics.

That's the crux of the matter. All of these advances help us as fans. The internet, statistics and even websites like this one give fans an outlet to debate ideas, confirm opinions or hang nicknames on players. We have more information now than ever before. Information is power, after all. I still wonder, though, are we bigger fans for it? Are we better fans? Or are we just better informed. I don't know the answers, but I do know it's fun to think about.