Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Best Story in Baseball

Now that Scott Raab and I are done (apparently, for the moment) trying to determine which one of us is the bigger douchebag. Let's talk about the National League, where the Rockies, making sure that TBS doesn't come anywhere close to making their money back on their big baseball contract, just completed its second sweep this month. Between both Division Series and the NLCS, TBS got one game over the minimum.

There are always nits to pick with TV coverage, but TBS brought two things to the table this off-season that I'll cherish. The first is the lack of stupid sound effects, particularly whenever a run scores. I did a double-take the first time a run scored in the NLDS and there was no stupid digital sound effect. And then there was the TBS Hot Corner, a simulcast (delayed about a minute off live) of the game, presented online with studio commentators. There were two teams, one out of TBS's studios in Atlanta (sadly, despite the presence of a pair of lovely young ladies on that panel, it had all the energy of the 3:00-4:00 AM shift at a telethon) and another out of New York, featuring the guys from MLB.com Vinny Micucci and John Marzano, along with, as special guests, a couple of my homeboys, Will Carroll and Joe Sheehan.

The MLB crew was really an alternate view of what baseball coverage could be--minimal narration of the game action, a freewheeling discussion that was simultaneously smart and casual. It was a bit like a baseball version of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It took a while to get used to, mainly because you're abandoning a large television to watch a small MLB.tv screen, split in four views--one a fixed camera view of the pitcher and catcher, another the studio, a third showing the pitch tracker, and a fourth aimed at one of the dugouts. It's hard to go from HD to the little screen. And because of that Atlanta crew.

Still, in a day and age where where I find myself muting the TV more often than listening to the on-air voices chatter...it's nice to have alternatives. One thing that this has reminded me is that, for all the technological changes we've seen in baseball broadcasts--HD, super slow-mo, pitch tracking--the human part of the broadcast has remained more or less the same, not all that much different from the way the game was (and still is) presented on radio. One guy describes the action, another tells stories and gives insights during lulls in the action. There's merit to the method, but it couldn't possibly be the only way to do a sports broadcast. And now we know it isn't. I wish we were getting more Hot Corner, but TBS is exiting the stage, and FOX hasn't picked up the concept.


As for the game itself, there was a moment that reminded exactly why the Rockies' NLCS victory was so exciting. The Rockies had just taken a 6-1 lead in the fourth, and the feeling was completely that the game had been broken open.

When exactly did we start considering a five-run lead at Coors Field a safe? Just now, within the last month or so. For the past ten years, even when the team was relatively successful, that five-run lead was as nail-bitingly tense as a two-run lead in most other parks. Some of the change is probably the humidor--but the improvement of this team is amazing.

Over in the AL, being a Red Sox fan for a series still isn't quite working out for me. I like Matsuzaka, but he doesn't look like the same pitcher he was at mid-season, and you have to wonder if he's totally gassed. Jake Westbrook, meanwhile, chewed the Sox up, letting them beat balls into the ground for the great infield crew behind him to gobble up. Cleveland's up 2-1 now, which puts a big weight on Tim Wakefield's shoulders.

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