Steve Varga has never been a baseball stats fanatic, the kind who pours over one box score after another. But as a baseball fan, he appreciates how the numbers help to explain the sport. He just prefers to breathe a little life into all the documented runs, hits, and errors.
The 2006 graduate has done that as the creator of Pennant, an Apple iPad app that is an interactive history of major-league baseball. Consider it the entertaining version of the Baseball Encyclopedia, in which users can browse and view data of every game and season from 1952 to 2010, with every team from the former New York Giants to a relatively new one like the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“The history of the game is completely recorded in numbers, but, at the same time, it’s very hard to get an actual feeling of the game out of the numbers,” Varga says. “It just seems like you get a sense if somebody was a good or bad player, but you don’t really get a sense on a day-to-day basis of how a team was or what happened during certain seasons without reading a whole book.”
Varga, 27, developed Pennant last year for his master’s thesis at Parsons the New School for Design in New York City. The app is not affiliated with Major League Baseball and instead draws data from online sources Retrosheet and Baseball DataBank. It is filled with color-coded custom graphics and provides an imaginative way to relive every moment of a season at the touch of a finger. Pennant provides everything from play-by-play results of games to standings to how a team compared to the rest of the league over a season or how it rose or fell over time.
“I think people are starting to understand that there’s a lot more you can do with it than just calculate numbers and performance, that you can kind of show the history of the game,” Varga says. “Some sports, I think it translates better than others. I think for baseball it pretty much works the best because it’s a very stop-and-go sport, it’s very easy to define a game by what happened. Other sports, like hockey, it’s a little tough because of the non-stop play. It’s not nearly recorded play by play by play, it’s goals and penalties and smaller events.”
Raised in Marlton, New Jersey, as a Philadelphia Phillies fan, Varga graduated magna cum laude from TCNJ in graphic design. The competitive experience on campus, with the vast student involvement and faculty instruction, fueled him. “It allowed a lot of opportunities for freedom to do what you wanted,” he says.
Professor Chung (“Fanky”) Chak, coordinator of the graphic design program, remembers Varga’s time at TCNJ as vividly as the graphics of his former student’s Pennant app. He considered Varga to be a “star student, very creative, very interested in technology, [who] took his study very seriously.”
Varga, who lives in Hoboken, returned to TCNJ last fall while Pennant was on display as part of the Art Alumni Exhibit 2010. Following its February release for the iPad, and subsequent rave reviews from the technology industry, Varga has been working on additional functions for the app, and to create an Apple iPhone version.
“What’s most rewarding is just having something you made in everyone’s hands,” he says, “getting your work in front of people and having them enjoy it.”