Harry Wessel can't wait for Major League Baseball's Opening Day tomorrow. This professor of political science is excited about rooting for his beloved Orioles. Unfortunately, he teaches in North Andover, Mass., at Merrimack College, which is nowhere near Baltimore.
"Being away from my hometown used to make it tough to keep up, but not any more," said Professor Wessel, whose research interests include the business of baseball. He now uses the World Wide Web to track his favorite sport. "I have a sense of being linked to my home team."
That the professor is so enthusiastic about using the Web in this manner does not surprise Patrick Keane, an analyst at Jupiter Communications, an Internet research company. "Of all the sports, baseball takes the most advantage of the Web's strengths," he said.
According to Keane, the Web serves at least two needs of baseball fans: the obsessive quest for statistics and the desire to constantly compare players' performances. For example, "most offices do not have radios or television sets, so audio-casts are the only way to get up-to-date scores," he said, referring to real-time radio broadcasts over the Web. And listeners like Professor Wessel need not be in the team's local area to get the game audio.
The big sports sites such as ESPN Sportszone, CBS Sportsline and CNN/SI have comprehensive coverage of baseball, but a Web tour can include more specialized destinations.
A logical place to start is MLB@bat, the official site of Major League Baseball, with links to the teams, the latest scores and the leaders in various categories. Its multimedia section houses a large number of video clips, including such World Series classics as Willie Mays' famous catch in 1954, Don Larsen's perfect game in 1956 and Reggie Jackson's three home runs in 1977.
While the league site does have small sections for the teams, each franchise's own home page remains the best place to learn about them.
"That's because, unlike the N.B.A. and the N.F.L., Major League Baseball has not tried to force consolidation on its site," Keane said. "Baseball has allowed the teams to be very aggressive in building their own Web presence."
That aggressiveness shows in some of the team home pages. Consider this season's two expansion franchises: the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Tampa Bay site is filled with bells and whistles (such as a virtual reality tour of the stadium) and a section that sounds odd for such a new team: "history" (turns out that professional and semiprofessional baseball has been played in the Tampa Bay area for 85 years).
The Arizona site is less fancy, but nicely introduces a new team. The retractable-roof stadium and its construction are featured prominently (the field uses grass specially formulated to survive in low light).
Meanwhile, baseball's most-storied team — the New York Yankees — is not shy about the Web, and its site has the usual features such as ticket sales, player roster and a press release archive. Be sure to visit the section that offers a variety of interactive games — but as the site warns, the games are "not for the impatient or faint of heart!" The New York Mets have their own site with a schedule, roster and other necessities.
The Major League Baseball Players Association runs a site called, naturally enough, Bigleaguers.com. It has pages for all its members and a glossary of terms such as "nubber," "raftman" and "quail shot."
Baseball fans pride themselves on their knowledge of the sport's history and few parts of its past have as rich a legacy as those of the Negro Leagues. A site called Black Baseball is a fascinating journey into the era before the integration of the sport.
At first glance, the site of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., seems light. Closer inspection reveals a deep and complex site that highlights the hall's collection. One current online exhibition features the story of women in baseball. The 150 years or so of women's participation in the sport — as players, officials and fans — is reflected in other sites as well, most notably in a site dedicated to the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. The site tells of the league that was created in 1943 to fill the void left by male players going to serve in World War II, and then was shut down in 1954.
Most of the women's sites are produced by individuals around the United States, and fan pages, which cover every baseball topic, are often the most compelling because of the sheer enthusiasm of their creators. One fan, John Skilton, a high school teacher in Delaware, claims to have the "most comprehensive collection of links," and his 3,800-plus links are well categorized and sorted.
Two players from the past featured in several sites are Jackie Robinson and Babe Ruth. There are also numerous sightings of Yogi Berra, the Yankee catcher. There is an official www.yogi-berra.com, with career highlights, autographed merchandise and "Yogi's links." Especially interesting are the various sites that have collected remarks attributed to Berra (such wise sayings as "It ain't over 'til it's over," "It's like deja vu all over again" and "You can observe a lot by watching").
Minor league teams are not left out of the Web fray. Links to teams such as the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes of California, Piedmont Boll Weevils of North Carolina and the Portland Sea Dogs of Maine can be found, naturally enough, on www.minorleaguebaseball.com.
Baseball's rich tradition of satire and jokes makes humorous sites easy to find. Two examples: Bud Abbot and Lou Costello's legendary "Who's on first. What's on Second. I Don't Know is on Third" routine (which is available in full in more than one place) and "The Hot Corner," an online magazine with plenty of bite.