Does anybody still keep ticket stubs? Can you keep ticket stubs? I don't remember the last time I held a ticket, an actual ticket, to a sporting event. I've held all sorts of bar codes. I've held all sorts of random PDF files I hastily printed out right before I headed to the ballpark. I've even held my iPhone, which had some strange, indecipherable, scannable whirligig that an usher blooped at the front gate to let me in the game. But I don't think I've held a physical ticket in years.
So even if I wanted to collect all my ticket stubs, I couldn't. But I used to. I used to hang onto all of them, all those $6 bleacher specials at Busch Stadium, all those 20-buck Section B tickets at Assembly Hall in Champaign. I even have a mock ticket my dad got for me when my high school baseball team played cross-county rival Champaign before a Cardinals game in St. Louis. (I went 2-for-2 with an error.) I don't know where all those are; I like to imagine my parents have them saved in their attic in Illinois somewhere, but I doubt it.
So I have no idea which games I've been to at all. There's something sad about that, all those games I went to as a kid, all those memories … and absolutely nothing concrete to tie to them. Every box score in baseball history is available to me within a matter of seconds; games I saw when I was 7 years old and just learning to love the game, I could have them documented forever. I mean, I think I've seen Mike Schmidt play in person … but I have no proof of that. I don't know for sure.
And we are a generation -- we are a whole mass of consumers -- that requires proof. Every time we go to a game today, we are surrounded by people using their phones to prove that they were there; the actual experience isn't enough anymore. (If aliens visited us at a rock concert, they would be baffled as to why humans choose to go to public venues to watch live entertainment exclusively through tiny metal boxes they hold in their hands.) We want to document every aspect of our lives.
My sports fan experience is no different. Some people use social networks like Foursquare or Twitter or even Facebook to announce to the world where they are, but that doesn't get into the details of the sports experience and besides: As my dad puts it, "Oh, hey, I think I'll tell the world that I'm away, my house is empty and we are now ready to be robbed. Enjoy!" I don't care if other people know where I'm at; I just want to personally know where I was.
Which is why I am helplessly obsessed with ESPN Passport and MLB At the Ballpark. These are both ostensibly "social media" applications that tell the world that I'm at a sporting event -- the MLB app actually gives you access to deals at the ballpark, though I've never been thrilled with the offers -- but I don't use either of them that way. I use them as my modern-day way of collecting ticket stubs.
The applications are incredibly simple. When you get to the arena or stadium (or in At the Ballpark's case, the, uh, ballpark), you open up the app and select the game you're at. Location-based technology then confirms you're at the park, and then boom: It's logged for all time. You can connect them to your Twitter, Facebook or Foursquare accounts, but I don't do this. MLB At the Ballpark, in addition to those "deals," lets you see exclusive highlights at the game, and it saves all the games you've been to in your database. The only real problem with the app is the same problem everybody has with their phones at sporting events: The cell coverage is so horrible that oftentimes you can't connect to the servers, and if you don't connect by the time the game's over, you can't log it forever. I tend to show up at the park a couple of hours early, when there's better coverage, to check in, but that's because I'm an enormous nerd.
I greatly prefer the ESPN Passport app anyway, for two major reasons:
1. It has all sports, from baseball to football to tennis to soccer. Every game I go to, anywhere, is loaded in there.
2. You can go back in time, all the way back to 1995, and log every game you've ever been to.
That last one is the key, and the one that appeals to an anal-retentive completist like me. One afternoon, I spent a full afternoon going through files, old scorebooks, past schedules, every piece of memorabilia I could find to cover every sporting event I'd been to over the last 17 years. I may have missed one or two … but I honestly do not think so, save for a few Illinois college basketball games when I was in school (college games only go back to 2002).
And thus, I have a page that clocks every athletic event I've attended that updates every time I go to a new one. It's right here.
I've been to 299 events in the last 17 years, from a Jan. 10, 1995 Kings-Timberwolves game, to last Sunday's Jets-Bills game. I know what teams' records are in games I've attended: The Cardinals are 47-54 in games I've been to since 1995; the Yankees are 44-19. (Sorry.)
I find this an absolutely invaluable service, the Internet equivalent of a bottomless shoebox with every ticket stub I've ever had. There's only one problem: I don't think anyone else uses it. Seriously, have you ever even heard of ESPN Passport? Almost every sports fan I know isn't aware of it, and the number of people who check in to each game rarely reaches the mid-double-digits. I've never seen an ad for ESPN Passport, I've never seen it referred to on "SportsCenter" and I never see links to it on ESPN.com. From my experience, suffice it to say, ESPN is not exactly shy about the self-promotion.
You know what this means: I'm afraid they're going to kill it. ESPN, like most huge companies, is constantly eliminating products that aren't popular enough. (I haven't forgotten MLB.com's experiment with "Badges.") And its commitment to ESPN Passport is minimal, at best. ESPN Passport has an official Twitter account … that hasn't been updated in more than a year. That strikes me as an extremely bad sign. An even worse sign: You can no longer get the app for your iPhone; ESPN confirmed to me that it has been discontinued from the iTunes App Store. If you currently have it on your phone and are logged in, you can still use it. But if you log out -- say, to check and see if it still works for a column you're writing for Sports On Earth, ahem -- you'll never be able to log back in. You can only use the site version now.
I love ESPN Passport. It is my single favorite thing that ESPN does, save for maybe Mark Lisanti's "Mad Men Power Rankings" on Grantland. I use ESPN Passport every time I go to a game, and having a complete log of all my past sporting events is something that is invaluable. It is honestly priceless to me. For something that has a nearly infinite amount of space, the Web is terrible at archiving. (Try finding a tweet that's older than a couple of years old, or any old AOL or Sporting News blog post.) We're constantly feeding this machine, and, then, after a couple of years, losing everything we poured into it … and not really caring.
I care. I want this log of games, this testament to my life as a sports fan, and I'm terrified now that ESPN has dropped the mobile app, it's going to get rid of the site. Marc Horine, Vice President, Revenue & Operations, ESPN Digital and Print Media, insisted in a statement to me: "While the ESPN Passport app is no longer available, those who have logged their check-in's will still be able to access their information by clicking on 'My Passport' at ESPN.com/Passport." They say they're never getting rid of it, but if they don't promote it, and no one knows to use it … why keep it around?
So I implore you to use it too, even if it's just through the website. You'll love it. Like me, you'll remember: If you don't document that you did something, these days, it's like you never did it at all.
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This is probably as close I get to advocacy journalism. Thoughts, concerns, grousing, future column ideas? Remember, this column is meant as a valve, a release, for when you're yelling at your television during games, or, after reading a particular column, you're pounding your fists into your computer. Obviously, I'll need your help to do that. Anything you want me to write about, let me know, through email, or Twitter. I am at your beck and call.