PORTLAND, Ore. TheStreet -- Major League Baseball's Opening Day is as much about sitting in the stands and staring into a screen full of statistics as it is about buying peanuts and Cracker Jack.
While we've made the argument baseball is the cheapest professional sport in the land, we admit high beer prices and ticket costs suggest it's far more of an investment than its major discount over other leagues would suggest. Fans would likely join their hockey, basketball and football counterparts in staying home and watching the whole thing on high-definition television if this wasn't the best time of year to be out at the ballgame.
Because folks will soak up the warm weather and a long game when they can, baseball's made a point of enhancing the live game experience through technology instead of using that technology to make live games obsolete. Also, the baeball season is interminable. Even if games against a rival are sold out and fetching huge prices on StubHub and elsewhere, there's always a midsummer stretch of games against cellar-dwellers or late-season games in which either the playoff picture is set or all hope is lost. Baseball's free market jacks up prices, but it has to bring them down when that demand fades in the late innings.
There has to be more than the game on the field, and the stat-oriented game within the game is a lot easier to keep track of from the nearest screen. Keeping all of the extracurriculars such as video, stats and fantasy teams in mind, we cobbled together five of the best baseball apps of the 2014 season. Even when your team isn't coming through in the clutch, these can help salvage a long season:
MLB.com At Bat
Platform: Apple iOS, Google Android, Blackberry, Amazon Kindle Fire, Microsoft Windows 8
Price: $0 to $19.99
The cost of the all-inclusive version of this app jumped since last year, but can also be paid in $2.99 monthly increments, which is still less than what you'll pay for a beer at any game in the league. At least that $20 gets you pitch-by-pitch updates, video highlights from games in progress and live radio broadcasts to go with free At Bat Lite content such as scores, news from MLB.com, schedules, rosters and team standings. The scoreboard option is a little more intuitive this year, while new push notifications keep you posted on every run scored in every game in the league. You still get a free MLB.TV game of the day (with better streaming), closed-captioning and a classic games video library. Want a better deal? Download MLB's free At The Ballpark app and get an automatic check-in courtesy of its ties to Apple's iBeacon. That little bonus feature also gives fans with Apple devices the ability to locate seats faster, stream video, pull up concessions maps and even upgrade seats.
Rotowire Fantasy Baseball Assistant
Platform: Apple iOS
Your Yahoo/ESPN/CBSSportsline fantasy league has its own app, but what if you're in more than one of those leagues? A company called Bignoggins used to let you combine all of them under its Fantasy Monster Pro app, but Yahoo bought that company last year and ruined all the fun. Rotowire's Fantasy Baseball Assistant has no problem importing those Yahoo, CBS and ESPN leagues and combining them with Rotowires own news, updates, stats, custom watch lists, player rankings, closer situations, prospect rankings and more. Rotowire's depth of information and contributor articles is daunting, but if you're juggling teams in three league anyway and could use some help sorting and separating, this is the app for high-stakes players. If you're ducking out of family events to make roster changes or spending beachfront time checking at-bats, you've already drifted into Rotowire's world.
Pro Baseball Stats
Price: 99 cents
The app formerly known as Batter vs. Pitcher comes in especially handy during fantasy baseball season for exactly that purpose. The app gives you a look at how each batter on your team fared against the starting pitcher they're slated to face and gives you an at-bat by at-bat look at their previous efforts. You can stack up as many batters against as many pitchers as you want and the app will rank them by batting average. If you have a guy on your team who's scheduled to play Boston and bats .130 against starter Jon Lester and another guy who's going up against the Dodgers and absolutely tees off against Clayton Kershaw, it makes it that much easier to set lineups and get an edge. Oh, and between innings, you can set up historic matchups just to see how Bob Gibson matched up against Al Kaline in the '68 World Series.
GameChanger Baseball Scoring
Platform: iOS and Android
Price: Free or $7.99 a month/$39.99 a year for premium access.
Even if you can't fill out a scorecard as well as the guy behind you with the golf pencil and reading glasses who's kept score in the same seat since before you were born, GameChanger doesn't care. It helps out newbies with tutorials and touchscreen scoring and can also make your scoring public so friends online can compare, to show folks at home how your kid's college team fared during a weekend tournament or what you're scoring that disputed call they're watching at home. For that extra $7.99 a month, subscribers get live play updates, game replay, in-game alerts and updated recap stories, stats and charts.
R.B.I. Baseball '14
Platform: iOS and Android
Not only one of best baseball games for the Nintendo Entertainment System when Tengen released it in 1986, R.B.I. Baseball is still widely considered one of the best baseball games in video game history.
For one, it was the first to get a Major League Baseball Players' Association license to use actual player names, which meant it was the only place where the Mets' Darryl Strawberry and Doc Gooden could match up with the Boston Red Sox's Roger Clemens and Wade Boggs without a kid having to enter those names on his or her own. As much as Bo Jackson's unstoppable performance in Tecmo Super Bowl became legendary, Vince Coleman's unparalleled speed on the basepaths made him unstoppable when stealing bases and turned every single into a guaranteed run.
Whether it was Nolan Ryan throwing smoke or Fernando Valenzuela moving the ball all over the screen, R.B.I. Baseball set up epic basement matchups that still live in Gen X lore and bring up hurt feelings to this day. So strong is the attachment to this game that sites such as Polygon and Joystiq devolved into outbursts of pure joy when Major League Baseball announced it was bringing the game to consoles and mobile devices this year. Two-button controls, 20-minute games, unlockable retro jerseys and full slates of MLB teams, All-Star squads and 480 active players are all in the works.
We realize this isn't really an enhancement, but if the team on the field is involved in a blowout, this is perhaps the most fun, baseball-related way we can think of to kill time.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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