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out of market, out of my mind
the challenge of online baseball broadcasts
by michelle von euw
5.11.07
sports

Earlier tonight, I watched the Red Sox spank the Blue Jays.

I use the term “watch” liberally: the game was not on my television set, but rather, broadcast in a complicated box on my browser, brought to me by the wonders of ESPN. Updated across my screen were a tally of balls and strikes, a running total of what each batter did during each at bat, and little pictures letting me know Matsuzaka was pitching, Pedroia was on deck.

Cool technology? Maybe. But NESN it isn't.

You know how annoying it is to watch the fate of your team decided by long pauses between pitches? At least with television, we get the zoom in on Josh Beckett’s game face as he stares down Vernon Wells, visits to Manny out in left, forgetting which way is home plate, and a sprinkling of crowd shots that highlight the plethora of Sox fans who fill their opponent's park.

Oh, the graphics are pretty neat: when contact is made, an image of a baseball goes flying off the end of the bat and into the thick stretch of green grass of the outfield. Of course, the stupid digital ball never lands anywhere close to John McDonald at short or Adam Lind in left, so I end up cheering for what look like “hits” until the computer helpfully flashes “flyout to left” several seconds later.

Yeah, I know I’m spoiled. The first days I ever spent in DC, aching for a Red Sox score, I had to rely on a copy of USA Today purchased at a rest stop outside Baltimore (and even then the scores were two days old). I’ve spent way too many evenings anticipating runs on out-of-town scoreboards in stadiums far from Fenway, my enjoyment of the Sox game limited to rising numbers flashing momentarily on a screen. The only time I’ve ever used my cell phone to access the internet was to obtain to-the-moment Red Sox scores, and my eyes are carefully trained to catch my team's name scrolling across the bottom of an ESPN feed.

It should feel miraculous that I can sit here, five hundred miles south of Red Sox nation, and be as up to date as those lucky Bostonians downing brews in one of the Lansdowne Street dives. But it doesn’t.

Truth is, I miss the Sox. Maybe it was our one week trial for the MLB package that got me excited for Dunkin Donuts commercials and nostalgic for Barry and Eliot. Maybe it was that early Yankees series that gave us all three games broadcast on national television. Maybe it’s just my general homesickness for clam chowder and the skyline over the Charles and those accents (often imitated, rarely successfully) manifesting itself in the most specific and tangible symbol of my hometown.

Whatever it is, I’m Sox-sick.

I want my bullpen. I want to see a guy named Okajima, who slid under the spotlight shining so brightly on his compatriot, stride across the outfield grass on a foggy night and catch the heart of a lineup completely off guard in the eighth. I want to watch Jonathan Papelbon shut down a ninth with his big, oppressive stare and his quick, slippery fastball.

I want to hear Curt Schilling blast Shaughnessy. I want to see Hazel Mae bop around the dugout. I want to guess which new and interesting ways Remdog will devise to display his Wally doll.

I don’t want to hear Joe Morgan butcher my starting pitcher’s first name or blast my GM’s latest trade. I don’t want to hear Jim Palmer insult the twenty thousand Sox fans who crowd into Camden Yards. And I don’t want to watch computer drawings of balls land on a stretch of outfield grass every time my team makes an out.

Look, I know there are solutions. But I can’t justify spending money on the MLB package when DirecTV can’t guarantee they’ll even show a Sox game, not to mention the fact that our satellite dish loses its signal whenever a slight breeze occurs. (Besides, what happens when the Sox-Tampa game that I paid for is on at the same time as the "Gilmore Girls" series finale? I don’t need those types of choices thrust upon me.) As for the offers MLB.com keeps bombarding my inbox with, I tried enhancing my free graphics with audio last season, and immediately the Sox took a nose dive out of playoff contention. I’m way, way, way too superstitious to let that happen again.

So I’m stuck with my Sox-lite version of being a fan. Calling my dad when we’re out to get score updates. Fast-forwarding through the evening version of SportsCenter to enjoy the Red Sox highlights. Staking out the good treadmill in front of the right TV set at the gym when Bob Ryan or Jackie McMullen are on “Around the Horn.” Keeping a browser open to the green diamond on ESPN, hitting the refresh button every five seconds so I don't miss a pitch.

So really, just as it was when Geddy was behind the plate and Clemens on the mound and Benzinger at first, my best option for actually seeing the Sox, for actually experiencing the ups and downs of my home team, is to move back home to Boston.

Until then, you can tell me how good the Sox looked last night -- I'll just have to take your word on it.


ABOUT MICHELLE VON EUW

Originally from Boston, Michelle is a writer, editor, instructor, obsessive sports fan, loud talker, quick laugher, new mom, and chances are, she watches more television than you do. Follow her on Twitter at michellevoneuw

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COMMENTS

lisa r
5.11.07 @ 1:58a

I feel for you, Michelle. I fight the same battle with the Astros. One would think that with the Pirates, Phillies, and Nationals all within 1-4 hours of Lancaster I'd get to see Houston on tv here semi-regularly. Not so.

Comcast must be owned by the cities of Philadelphia and Baltimore. We have ESPN, ESPN2, CSNPHL (Comcast's sports channel out of Philly)MASN (Mid-Atlantic Sports Network), and ESPN Classic. So who do we see play, incessantly? Philly and Baltimore. And not just on the cable channels--every other broadcast channel seems to carry on of those teams or the other. I'm lucky to see the Astros play Philly, the White Sox or the Braves (we have WGN and TBS, but invariably neither channel seems to be carrying a game when Houston is the opponent) one series a year.

I can't even listen to the game online any longer. KTRH, the Astros' home radio station, used to stream the games live on their website but MLB shut that down. The only solution is to watch (and I use that term loosely) the game on MLB.com's Gameday. It's even worse than watching the MLB.com "live" game you're describing.

For an organization that suffered such a loss of fan base during the last players' strike, you'd think they'd make the games MORE accessible to out-of-market fans rather than less. But that smacks of logic, and logic is something that the honchos at MLB seem to be running short of on a regular basis when it comes to fan relations.

mike julianelle
5.11.07 @ 9:46a

On first read, I thought "when Geddy was behind the plate" was a reference to the Sox first series in Toronto this season when Geddy Lee from Rush was visible in his front row seats behind home plate.

russ carr
5.11.07 @ 10:31a

Geddy Lee on baseball.

I think there are a total of like 18 Cardinals games on regular (local) broadcast TV this season. Not that they've been worth watching, but I hate that Fox Sports Midwest has sucked up pretty much the entire season.

I'm cheap, I admit it; I'm not going to spring for cable. And part of the reason is my frustration at the commoditization of things like baseball games. At least I can still hear the game for free on the radio.

sarah ficke
5.11.07 @ 11:29a

Erik and I have coughed up the money for MLB online - mostly because we have crappy rabbit ears at home and our "market area" hovers somewhere between the Orioles and the Braves. I like it, simply because we can get the majority of the Sox games and when we can't get them, we can always put something else on. Some baseball game or other is the usual background noise to our evenings. The only thing we don't get are the commercials.

alex b
5.11.07 @ 3:27p

I'm not an avid baseball fan, but I'd be bummed out if I could only view rugby games, soccer, or concerts and other broadcasts I've been dying to see online. Though it's a solution, it's kind of weenie.

michelle von euw
5.14.07 @ 11:24p

Sarah, can you always get the Boston feed with MLB online? My problem with the DirecTV package was that I had the KC announcers for the Sox games, which was miserable.

And speaking of bad play-by-play, Sunday's game was the perfect example of why I miss the hometeam guys. During the crazy ninth inning, the Orioles announcers calmly watched their team explode all over the place with nary a comment, and four out of the six runs scored by the Sox weren't even shown. It was frustrating for both me, the Boston fan, and my husband, the Orioles fan, who couldn't figure out why his starting pitcher had been pulled...and got no explanation from his TV guys.

sarah ficke
5.15.07 @ 9:36a

No, we only get the Boston feed when the games are played at Fenway (which is kind of funny, since the online radio gives you the option to choose the team feed you want). It is annoying to have to hear the other announcers, especially when I know that Remy and Orsillo are probably doing a better job of commenting on both the Sox and whoever it is they're playing.

dave lentell
5.15.07 @ 10:15a

I've got Dish Network and one of the things I'd always enjoyed about it was the obscene amount of baseball I could get. But these days, between special deals between teams and their broadcast partners, and some crazy dust-up between Fox Sports and the cable and Dish companies serving Iowa that I don't even pretend to understand, 90 percent of the games I'd normally be able to watch are freaking blocked!

I do however seem to get every Cardinals game, but can't see a Royals game (closest major league team to me) to save my life.

Thank God I'm an Atlanta Braves fan. I can watch them everynight they play practically. Of course, that was what influenced me to be a Braves fan growing up - back when cable TV was all shiny and new - the fact that I *could* see them everyday.



joe rodano
5.17.07 @ 8:56a

Quit your belly aching! You get about 50 games a year on t.v. as a Red Sox fan living in DC so you get to see them more then a Brewers or Pirates fan would out of market. So you don't get Remy and Orsillo, it could be worse. AND I FIXED THE DISH LAST NIGHT (lol).



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