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Spring must be around the corner, because the Boys of Summer are in Spring Training in Florida and Arizona. And of course, there's an app for that. Major League Baseball (MLB) has brought out MLB At Bat 2010 ($14.99), this year's app for following along with the big leagues, along with MLB At Bat Lite, a free version. I've been using the paid version for a week or so, and while I like it, I kind of hope it's still in "spring training" as well.

Both apps will show you the scores for games in progress (along with box scores for the paid version). They'll also let you check out news about your favorite teams, and check out player stats and team schedules. The paid version also gives you access to gameday audio. This is the main reason I originally purchased the app, and the audio works pretty well, The nice thing during spring training is that so far, there's been audio for all the Tiger games (except the opener vs a collage team). Local radio has only covered a couple of games, but the MLB app gives you access to not only your home team's audio, but the opponent's coverage as well. So on days like yesterday, vs the Washington Nationals, the only audio available was from Washington. Also, last Sunday, the local station had their announcers calling the game, but they were pre-empted here in the Detroit area for the Red Wings (which is understandable – the Wings are fighting for a playoff berth, and the Tigers are playing exhibition games – Go Wings!).  But I was still able to get the Tiger game on my iPhone.


So what's with the "spring training" crack? Well, the pitch-by-pitch seems pretty herky-jerky – it's often an inning or more behind. I've noticed that the MLB web site scoreboard is also pretty far behind, so I don't think it's a problem with the app, but with the data. Hopefully MLB will get their act together soon.

Another feature of the audio I like is the ability to put it into a background app. When you select your audio, you can touch a QuickTime symbol in the app, and it will open the audio stream in Safari. Touch the "Play" button, and you audio will play in the background (since Safari is an Apple app and allowed to run in the background). This means you can close down the At Bat app and do something else with your iPhone/iPod Touch.

The app also does push notifications – you can have a list of your favorite teams with different notifications (I have the Tigers set to notify me at the start and end of a game, and the rest of the teams in the AL Central set to just give me the final score). If you choose to get the final score, you also get the winning and losing pitchers.

You can also get the audio for this season on your Mac or PC for $19.95, or get live and archived video for $99.95 (or $119.95 for "Premium" level access, which allows you to fast forward/rewind a game, choose between the home/away announcers, and lets you view up to four screens at once, which could be four different games). MLB claims you can get an HD picture, but I haven't had a chance to see one yet (you do need a free plug-in for HD; for regular def the current Flash Player is enough). You can also buy a 1 month package for $19.95 ($24.95 for Premium). I did watch part of a game yesterday at work (don't tell!) but there wasn't enough bandwidth for HD (I think some of my fellow employees were using the Internet too for some reason).

Keep in mind that local teams are blacked out (except during spring training) – so if you're in the Detroit area, you can't watch Tiger games (even away games) unless you're out of the area (the app will try and figure out where you are currently, not just use your home address). So if you're just going to be out of town on vacation (or for work), and you're really only interested in your local team, a monthly package might be a better deal. If you want to see other teams, or watch a "condensed" version of games – presumably just the highlights – then the full year package might be worthwhile (you get those features on month to month too, but only for that month). Blacked out games are available 90 minutes after the game finishes (usually – check the fine print for exceptions).

Video is available not just on your computer, but on your iPhone/iPod Touch and iPad (already announced by MLB) as well in the At Bat 2010 app (if you paid for the monthly or yearly video).  I expect to use this on the iPad I'll have by the time I go on vacation this year. 

There are plenty of other blackout restrictions (such as Toronto Blue Jays games being blacked out in all of Canada) so make sure you read the fine print before spending any money. 

Since this is a Mac blog, I've focused on iPhones/iPods and Macs, but MLB has apps for Blackberry phones as well as Android devices. They also have a web site that's mobile-friendly (going to their main site with a mobile browser will take you there automatically). So they've pretty much got you covered.

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