SAN JOSE -- On game days, Ben Taylor has one of the most nerve-racking jobs on the San Jose Giants.
No, he's not the minor league team's closer or cleanup hitter. He's not a prospect hoping to make it to the big leagues. He's the communications guy on the front lines of the Class A team's push to offer fans the technology gizmos and doodads befitting a team that plays ball in the heart of Silicon Valley.
Think about it: If you're offering baseball in Milwaukee, you'd better have good beer. You're a team in Chicago? Your hot dogs better be heavenly. And in Silicon Valley? You better have the technology chops that the innovation capital of the world demands.
Taylor is front and center on that mission every home game, typing codes into his laptop that send a running play-by-play to fans following the action on their smartphones, tablets and computer screens.
"You know, it's a certain amount of pressure," Taylor, 24, says of being the digital town crier. "Especially, on a scoring play where there might be a distinction between a hit and an error."
Baseball has often been compared to a religion, and the lanky, aspiring broadcaster understands his sacred responsibility to sort out the earned from the unearned runs.
Taylor's contribution, feeding a database that in turn feeds hungry fans, is one of a series of tech upgrades the team has been working on in recent years. Juliana Paoli, the team's chief marketing officer, says club officials sat down before the 2012 season and focused on one off-the-field priority.
"The major theme was technology," she says. "We wanted to really focus on technology."
And so far? The Giants stream video broadcasts of their home games over MiLB. TV for a fee. The team is among those with the most active Facebook pages and Twitter feeds in the minor leagues. And, just last month, the team launched free Wi-Fi throughout 71-year-old Municipal Stadium.
But the mobile app, one of about 17 of various sorts on the 60-team Class A level, was seen as a potential game-changer, literally. Paoli says that when Major League Baseball's Internet division said they couldn't help with the app because their hands were full with big league and more advanced minor league teams, the Giants went out and hired Houston-based app developer Onseeker.
"The way we see this, especially from the Giants perspective," says Onseeker's Frank Danna, "is that they're understanding and moving forward with the times, and understanding where their fans are."
The end product gives fans the flexibility to listen to an audio broadcast of the game when they're not in the stadium. (Previously, the radio broadcast was available only inside the stadium.) It provides Taylor's running text commentary and live box scores. There are podcasts of interviews and fans can upload photos to a fan section. The team can push promotions and eventually sell advertising on the app.
Major league baseball fans might find the minor league Giants foray into digital media quaint. They've been feasting for years on the big league MLB app, which offers the features the Giants have rolled out and more. But the minor league world is a whole different ballgame -- and that's largely the beauty of it. Forget about the 41,000-plus sellouts at the other Giants San Francisco park. Municipal Stadium holds about 4,800 when fully loaded. The prices are lower, the lines are shorter. You can practically hear conversations between coaches and players from the stands.
In some ways, entering the cozy ballpark is like stepping back in time. The outfield walls are adorned with billboards and fans stroll out near left field to dig into barbecue at picnic tables. But look closer and you'll notice promotions for the Giants Twitter feed and Facebook page out among the old-timey outfield billboards.
It's the sort of juxtaposition that baseball fans have long embraced: They love the hand-operated scoreboard at Boston's Fenway Park, but they can't live without the ability to instantly check on a favorite team anytime, anywhere.
Mary Scott is a San Jose Giants season ticket holder who with her husband, Greg, has been a regular at Municipal Stadium for nearly 20 years. Of course she loves the sacred traditions of the game, but there is no reason they can't coexist with the 21st century. She's a fan of the new mobile app, particularly on nights they leave the game early to accommodate Greg's work schedule.
"I've used it to look at the score on the way home" says Scott, 65, of San Jose. "It's pretty cool."
Which is exactly the reaction Taylor was going for when he folded his frame into the cramped broadcast booth high above home plate for a game against the Lake Elsinore Storm at Municipal Stadium and flipped open his laptop. During the recent game, which stretched into extra innings, he worked his computer, his smartphone and -- honoring that new/old juxtaposition -- a paper score card.
He experienced the thrill of victory: quickly coding a heart-pounding over-the-shoulder catch by shortstop Bobby Haney, complete with a marker that would help MiLB. TV spot the play as a potential snippet for a highlight reel. And he endured the agony of defeat: Losing his connection to the play-by-play database in the first inning. "That's why we have paper and pen," Taylor says, explaining he'd enter the data when the system revived.
The glitch barely slowed Taylor down; and he was up and running hours before Giants first baseman Ricky Oropesa hit a dramatic game-winning home run in the 10th.
All in all, then, not a bad day for Taylor or the home team.
Contact Mike Cassidy at email@example.com or 408-920-5536. Follow him at Twitter.com/mikecassidy.