On Sunday morning, our television was tuned to the Rai Italia broadcast of Derby della Capitale — Roma versus Lazio — because, as I’ve learned, Italian soccer is best experienced in la lingua bella.
Roma trailed, 2-1, when its captain — the legendary Francesco Totti — tied the match with an artful goal in the 64th minute. It was a classic moment in an ancient rivalry, but the celebration was even more memorable: A Roma staff member rushed over with an iPhone, and Totti snapped a selfie — against a backdrop of raucous, flag-waving Roma fans.
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After the game, the image was posted to Roma’s official Twitter account: @OfficialASRoma. The photo was retweeted roughly 5,000 times over the next five hours — remarkable social-media resonance, considering the relatively low-traffic period of Sunday evening and night (Italian time).
As I watched the scene at Stadio Olimpico from a continent away, my thoughts wandered back to the sport I cover: Baseball should do something like this.
The idea isn’t that farfetched — at least, it shouldn’t be.
Major League Baseball could place one portable camera near the instant-replay module in every ballpark. (Outside the dugout, to guard against sign-stealing and the like.) But a player who isn’t in the game — the designated tweeter, if you will — could leave the dugout and summon the camera, in the same way umpires beckon the instant-replay equipment.
Pose. Capture. Tweet. The whole process should take about 30 seconds.
If you’re concerned about pace of play — as outgoing commissioner Bud Selig certainly is — then limit the in-game selfie to the home team, once per game. The only permissible times would be when the game’s pitch-to-pitch rhythm already has come to a stop (e.g., home run, end of an inning, pitching change).
You are welcome to decry the inherent narcissism of the selfie. I won’t disagree with you. But it appears to have staying power — as much as anything can in contemporary American society.
The reality is that Major League Baseball could use the social-media boost, in the form of retweets and overall awareness among casual fans. Though @MLB has 4.08 million Twitter followers, that figure trails the @NBA (12.6 million) and @NFL (8.7 million). The in-game selfie is one instance in which the natural pauses of a baseball game are a clear advantage relative to basketball and football — not the detriment its critics would have you believe.
To underscore the need for baseball to take a more radical social media approach, consider the comparison between Andrew McCutchen and Kevin Durant, players of similar stature within MLB and the NBA. Both are superstars from small markets who have won league MVP awards. Both have an entertaining style of play and personal charisma, including accessibility and openness on social media. But through no fault of McCutchen’s, there’s a dramatic difference in Twitter followers — 9.02 million for Durant, 308,000 for McCutchen.
When officials from MLB and the MLB Players Association talk about ways to better engage America’s youth, they would do well to remember that the pace of play matters less than how much fun kids have talking about what happens on the field. Only a handful of boys and girls can bring home a foul ball from a particular major-league game. Many more would find joy in the form of a retweet — for reasons the grownups don’t completely understand.