by Mark Jurkowitz
You're sitting with friends at a fine restaurant when your beeper emits a familiar sound. Is it a patient in need of an urgent consultation? That investor who's decided to back your idea? Your law firm with news that the other side will settle?
Nope. It's someone hitting a home run in a faraway ballpark. And thanks to Motorola's SportsTrax (retailed by PageNet, 800-PageNet, for $199, with service through the 1998 season), you're practically the first to know. In an era when baseball junkies can get up-to-the-moment scores and updates everywhere from CNN to cyberspace, SportsTrax offers the crucial virtue of portability. Weighing less than four ounces and equipped with a handy belt clip, this traveling scoreboard goes where you go. The diamond-shaped display tells you who's playing, the score, the inning, which team is batting, the number of outs, and how many runners are on base at a given moment for every team in the major leagues. (The fan in a hurry can click through an entire 14-game schedule in 15 seconds.)
Like all good toys, SportsTrax comes with a few extra gimmicks -- most notably its sound effects. Rallies, for example, are accompanied by the familiar "Charge!" and a single beep marks the end of an inning. My favorite amenity, however, is the little runner who shows up on the screen when there's action on the base paths. This endearing feature transforms the device into something more visually enticing than just a ticker service.
Now the obvious question: What is the clinical term to describe the SportsTrax user? Well, there's the bona fide baseball fanatic or perhaps the gentleman sports wagerer (no money involved, of course). I happen to participate in the maturity-defying pastime known as Fantasy League Baseball, which requires constant scoreboard vigilance.
In a perfect world, I can imagine even further improvements to SportsTrax, like flashing the number of the hitter and the pitcher. But for now, it's the next best thing to being at the stadium -- every stadium at the same time, come to think of it -- without the bad hotdogs, the drunken fans, and that obnoxious wave.* * *
Mark Jurkowitz is the ombudsman and a media writer at the Boston Globe.