Tony Battista and his 10-year-old son followed a familiar routine for parents who miss their children's sporting events because of business travel.
They would talk on the phone after each baseball game, Michael providing a recap of what happened and Battista doing his best to offer pointers. Until one day last spring, when Battista was able to launch right into congratulating his son on his hits.
He had watched the game — on his laptop, from his hotel room.
Technology is not only revolutionizing how fans experience professional sports but trickling down to remake how participants compete in amateur events. Just as Battista never imagined playing fantasy football online but now wouldn't do it any other way, he's quickly become spoiled by the streaming games. He wishes they had been available online when his older son played Little League.
New technologies have reshaped amateur sports for years, just as they have influenced every other facet of life. Youth soccer coaches can update league standings online, and road race organizers can post a video of runners crossing the finish line that entrants scan to try to catch a glimpse of themselves.
But the latest innovations offer an added level of personalization and practicality.
Scarlett Crews wasn't sure what to think when she first heard of ZumRun after she and her husband did the Wisconsin Marathon in May. Then they logged on to see a "virtual replay" of their races: an online animation that shows their progress around the course in relation to other runners.
"We must have sat there and watched it 15 times," Crews said. "We'd compare ourselves to each other. We'd say, 'Look, I'm beating you here.'"
A dietitian who lives in the Chicago suburbs, Crews has finished two marathons and a triathlon. Now she's hoping the ZumRun technology will be available when she runs the Chicago Marathon next month.
Parents around the country will have the same opportunity as the Battistas next year; Little League International has a new deal with Youth Sports Live to offer its video service to all of its more than 7,500 chartered programs.
"What we're hearing from our subscriber base is they get used to it to where it becomes the norm, not the exception," said Youth Sports Live co-founder and CEO Greg Centracchio.
The company installs a camera behind the backstop at each field. Leagues don't pay anything for the service; in fact, they can make money if enough people sign up. The revenues come entirely from people who pay for a subscription to view the games live or on demand over the Internet.
Centracchio believes enough parents who miss games, relatives who live far away and families who want to relive a child's big hit will be willing to pay for the service. Subscriptions are $4.95 per day, $9.95 per week or $14.95 per month. DVDs of games can also be purchased.
Battista, who lives in Livingston, N.J., is a manager for PSEG Electric and Gas and travels for business up to eight times a year. He's happy to pay nearly $15 a month, not just for times he's out of town but for faraway games during tournament play. And when Michael hit his first home run, Battista ordered the DVD.
ZumRun and the company's service for triathlons, ZumTri, are the next step in a technology that has been available in road races and other endurance events for years: chips and radio frequency identification tags worn by athletes that allow them to be accurately timed. These devices can also let friends and family sign up to receive text message updates as runners reach certain milestones along the course.
Crews was used to being able to look at a list of her splits after a race. But that seems prehistoric now that she's been able to watch a simulation of her animated self progressing along the marathon course.
Organizers of the Harvest Moon Triathlon used ZumTri at their event in Aurora, Colo., on Saturday.
"It's about how to differentiate yourself, how to set your event apart," race director Lance Panigutti said.
But not if it means raising registration fees. Panigutti would rather cut into profits a bit to invest in the event's future by adding the new technology.
Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla., hosts more than 180 amateur and professional sporting events and 250,000 participants each year. Alex Vergara, sports marketing director for Disney Sports Attractions, doesn't believe participants choose venues primarily based on technology just yet. Still, these innovations play a role in their satisfaction.
The complex uses technology to make athletes feel as though they're at a big-time event. A small broadcast center is being built onsite that will put together highlight packages of competitions, which will be shown on video boards around the complex.
Said Vergara: "There's no doubt about it that, as the consumer has gotten much more savvy and technology is part of their lives in every other way, that they're going to expect it in one area they have one of the highest passions for."