Meet the Boyfriend’s parents
Shortly after I posted my snarky love letter to Baseball Boyfriend, I was surprised to receive an e-mail from the app’s creators, a husband-and-wife team named Missy and Frank. They said that they loved the post (oh, the guilty anguish of being reminded that there are actual, nice people behind the things we mock online!), and our ensuing correspondence led to the idea of an interview. Read on to learn more about the creators of the app that’s got the crowd buzzing; you’ll find my thoughts at the end.
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Tell me a bit about yourselves, and specifically about your baseball fandom. I understand that you’re a husband-and-wife team; who’s the bigger fan?
In April we will be together for seven years. Our first date was to a Phillies home opener. After the game we got Vietnamese [food]; it was a good night. On our wedding day, after taking our vows, our friends played “take me out to the ballgame” on a bass and viola. They got the entire crowd to sing along. It was a touching surprise.
[Missy] I worked in my uncle Joe’s baseball card shop in San Antonio, Texas, during high school. At the time I was an Astros fan, Biggio was my boyfriend, and I startled boys in my chemistry class by knowing the ins and outs of the ’89 World Series (Giants vs. A’s). When I moved to Philly and got to know the Phillies, I knew this was my team.
[Frank] I grew up in the sticks playing hockey on ponds in the winter and driveways all summer. The Flyers were my team growing up. About nine years ago, a good friend of mine talked me into splitting season tickets for the Phills. I quickly grew to love the game and have continued to get partial season tickets every year since. I think Missy is the bigger fan. She keeps up with all the latest news and trades. She can talk sports much better than me and tends to crush other teams in her fantasy leagues.
According to your website, Missy, it was your idea to create a “Baseball Boyfriend” game so that your female friends could enjoy fantasy baseball without having to understand the sport.
If this was what was implied by the text, I made a major mistake. We’ve been playing this game for three years. Originally I kept the stats in my head, the next year it was on paper, and last year Frank made us a site, at baseballboyfriend.com, so we could track our players. We even had a draft night potluck. Everyone actually already understood the sport. BBBF gave us a reason to watch games together and something to talk shit about during the games. You know how busy everything is these days—sometimes bragging about stolen bases is just the excuse you need to hang out.
What prompted you to go the “boyfriend” route?
Boyfriend is just what happened. The word “boyfriend” wasn’t chosen as marketing angle—it made its way into the game naturally. Some of our friends might not know what a balk is but everyone has at least a grasp of the fundamentals and increased their knowledge by playing.
Before this was brought into the app market, we watched the term “baseball boyfriend” on Twitter for a while. We were surprised to find thousands of tweets from women referring to their favorite player as their “baseball boyfriend” already. Since there were so many people using this term in the same context, we didn’t expect people to be upset about using it in a “pick your favorite player” add-on game.
Has the online response to your app come as a surprise to you?
Yes, it did surprise us, tremendously.
In your e-mail to me, you said you “can see where it could be misconstrued as sexism.” I’d be interested to hear you explain why you think it’s NOT sexist.
Because we made a hard game that will take a lot of strategy and baseball knowledge to win, and gave it to the women who were already playing. The women who originally saw it said it was fun and sassy.
In response to my earlier remark that the app is “surprisingly sexually liberated,” you wrote “Hell yes!” Was that a deliberate choice on your part? If so, why?
Yes, all of it was. We were trying to hearken back to a more flirtatious time in life.
What are your thoughts about men using this app?
We are a “more the merrier” type of crowd. There are a number of men playing. We are already seeing them taking bets on whose boyfriend will take the top spot globally.
In retrospect, would you have designed or marketed your app differently? If so, in what way?
We would have vetted the site outside our crowd and probably waited a couple weeks to put the word out. There are still some features we are working on and if these were already in place the initial reaction might have been very different.
As you know, my suggestion for the next roll-out of BBBF is a feature that allows users to warn future users away from certain players (specifically, I was interested in branding Albert Pujols as a sweet-talker who will break one’s heart as soon as a richer mistress comes along). Are you planning any updates or modifications to the app? Anything you’d like to share?
Yes. We really don’t ever stop working on our site’s apps. What you can see right now is just the beginning of a fantasy. We have a lot of feature and story ideas that we will be trying to implement before the beginning of the baseball season.
One of the wonderful things about baseball is that it can be enjoyed by everyone in a myriad of ways. The next thing being released will be other themes and stories that you can choose to experience while playing. I’m hoping to start bringing these to the site in the next few days. Kind of a choose-your-own, beat-the-streak, fantasy adventure.
We love the concept of attaching public notes that other gamers can see and add to—so you can warn players about Pujols’s money fetish or that Jeter might just leave you with a gift basket.
There are two complementary apps almost finished as well. One is the seven-day weather forecast for each player on your roster. If the next game is played outdoors and the forecast is for heavy rain, you might want to switch that player for someone else in your lineup.
The other is a free pre-season app that shows you stat projections for the most activated, added, traded, dropped and benched players so far this season.
We have a few other ideas as well, but more than anything we want to hear from the people playing. The community is great at coming up with fun and unique concepts. We read everything that everyone shares with us, and try to implement ideas whenever possible. We see this as an opportunity for all fantasy sports fans to speak up and tell us what they would love added to the game.
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Despite the Phillie loyalty, it’s clear to me that Missy and Frank are people with whom I’d enjoy going to a ballgame, and that Missy, in particular, has a connection to the sport that’s far more than skin-deep. That they’ve been so taken aback by the response to what they conceived as a harmless game is illustrative not just of the flash-mob mentality of internet backlash, but of the difference between making an un-feminist choice for ourselves and having one assigned, actually or seemingly, to us.
Regular readers have already gleaned that it would be an egregious mistake to come between Julie and her baseball boyfriend, Rick Ankiel. But those who know her in real life know that it would be an equally egregious mistake to patronize her with an electronic “black book” in which to record her dreams and conquests. Lots of otherwise “serious” fans of both sexes nurse crushes, real or facetious, on the players they follow. Having a “baseball boyfriend” is, in unequal and shifting proportions, intimate, ironic, gratifying, embarrassing, ridiculous, and dead serious. We get that it’s silly, and perhaps even problematic, to frame our fandom as imaginary romance. But the real trouble begins when someone comes along to codify and commodify our experience, and an innocuous, not-exactly-feminist-but-no-big-deal choice becomes both a third party’s money-maker and a collective assessment of female fans as—well, stereotypically female.
It’s the difference between a little girl dressing up her doll as a cheerleader who hates math, and a toy company marketing a cheerleader doll that says “math is hard.” They’re both products of the same society and the same stereotypes. But the latter rankles us, rightly, because it capitalizes on those stereotypes while we’re still trying to figure out how, why, and whether to challenge them.
Did Missy and Frank intend any of that? Nah. They’re good, bright, kind, enterprising people who describe themselves as “liberal” and “progressive,” and whom, I repeat, I’d be delighted to meet for a game sometime. (I’m thinking 2011 NLDS Game 5. What do you say, Missy?) And in truth, as I told them in our initial correspondence, I have a hard time mustering much outrage over “Baseball Boyfriend”; it’s too obvious, too easy a target, and I worry that the mass online slamming of a frivolous app will only serve to distract us from the murkier, more insidious strains of sexism that pervade our sports and our society.
Baseball Boyfriend isn’t the enemy; it’s just a cautionary tale. Julie will be the enemy when she finds out that I’ve compared her joined-at-the-soul relationship with Rick Ankiel to a Barbie doll. I’m going to go into hiding now, but not before I offer one more round of gratitude to Missy and Frank for being so generous with their time and their thoughts.