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Computer: the death of me and maybe of baseball

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Baseball has been through gambling scandals, strikes, and steroids, and still it has survived as the best of all games. But can baseball survive computers? The explosion of information we now have at our fingertips has led to launch angles, spin rates, and wins above replacement. But it's taken a lot of fun out of the game. For spectators, it's fast becoming a game of strikeouts and home runs and not much more. Sophisticated statistics extracted from computers now rule baseball; in fact they rule everything.

My smart phone, you know, that tiny computer I carry in my pocket -- I'm sure you have one just like it in your pocket or purse -- was supposed to be a great tool, something that would make life easier for me and for all of us. The truth is that the darn things have become our masters. They control our thinking and much of our lives. We are enslaved by them.

The reality of that was brought home to me on a recent Friday when I was scheduled to appear at a senior citizen's center in Franklin, Massachusetts, to recite some Red Sox poems, to tell some stories, and to interact with former Red Sox first baseman Sam Horn. Sam is particularly good at such events because he is so garrulous and is such an engaging storyteller. I make eight or 10 such appearances a month, about half of them at senior citizen's centers, and I love doing them, especially when Red Sox alumni are involved.

That morning, in checking my phone messages, I had a voice mail from Sam asking me for the address of the Franklin Senior Citizens Center. I tried to call him back, but the call didn't go through. I tried him several more times without success. Then, I discovered that for some reason I couldn't make any outgoing calls at all on my cell phone. A few years ago, when I moved into the apartment where I now live, I decided not to bother getting a land-line since I never used the darn thing anyhow, but now I couldn't get in touch with Sam or anyone else. I shrugged it off and headed to my car, hoping that Sam Horn could somehow find his way to the venue.

When I got into the car and tried to fire up the GPS system, which works through my cellphone, I discovered that the phone wasn't connected to the internet, so not only couldn't I call anyone, but also I couldn't get the directions I needed. I had no idea where the Franklin Senior Citizens Center was; heck, I wasn't even sure where Franklin was. It was then that I realized how totally dependent on that cursed cell phone I was. I hadn't bothered to ask for directions to the venue I was due at because I had become so used to just plugging the address into the GPS system.

Come to think of it, I hardly know the directions to anyplace anymore, because I don't have to think about them. I just enter the address of the place I'm going and then do as I'm told. I don't know anyone's phone number anymore, either. I just punch in the speed dial and that's it. There was a time that I had dozens of numbers committed to memory, now I barely know my own number.

But back to the problem at hand. I was due in Franklin shortly and had no idea how to get there. I knew generally that is was southwest of Boston, somewhere off of Route 495. So off I went in the direction of God-only-knows-where. I took a guess and headed to Taunton. I got there at around 10:30 a.m., just about the time I was due in Franklin, only to discover that I had misjudged my targeted location by about 20 miles. I jumped back into the car and headed back up 495, my anxiety level and my miles-per-hour both way too high.

Eventually, I came to the Franklin exit and took it. Now I had to find the senior citizen's center. I pulled into a combination gas station/convenience store and rushed inside the store to ask directions. Luckily, the woman behind the counter knew exactly where the senior citizen's center was. She gave me directions in the old fashioned way. "When you pull out of here, take a right and follow that all the way until you come to St. Mary's Church. It's just beyond the church on your left."

I got back in the car filled with a feeling of both relief and increased angst. It was now 11 o'clock, I was already half an hour late and hadn't been able to call ahead to tell the people running the program that I was on the way. They had no way of knowing if I was going to show up at all. Not only that, but also I had to assume that Sam Horn hadn't shown up either. After all, the last I'd heard was that he didn't even have the address of the place.

I came to St. Mary's and, sure enough, the venue was just ahead on the left. As I turned into the driveway I saw a big sign that said "Dick Flavin appearing today at 10:30 a.m."

"Good Lord," I wondered, "What if they've sent everybody home, thinking that I stiffed them?" I raced inside expecting to encounter staff people in various stages of distress. Instead, everyone was relaxed and happy to see me. Everything was just hunky-dory. I was led to the room where the program was to be held. It was filled with contented seniors, and at the head of the room, regaling them with stories of his days with the Red Sox, was good old Sam Horn, bless him. He had called the Red Sox office to get the proper address and had arrived right on time. Nobody even noticed that I was late. Neither did they notice -- I don't think they did, anyhow -- what an emotional wreck I was after the ordeal I'd just been through. I vowed that never again would I be held captive by that infernal device, my slave-master, the cell phone.

It was a vow that I kept until, on the way home from Franklin, my telephone and internet connection magically returned to service and now I'm hooked again, right back where I was before Sam Horn called asking for directions.

- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox “Poet Laureate” and The Pilot’s recently minted Sports’ columnist.

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