As a diehard baseball fan a small part of me dreads the final out of the World Series.
Although there is satisfaction in knowing who wins the World Series there is invariably a let down. Of course, when the New York Yankees won it all last November there was already a let down. But even in the two seasons where it meant a trophy for the Boston Red Sox it also meant there would be no more baseball until the following spring. I would then proceed to go through baseball withdrawal with visions of hanging curveballs dancing through my head.
Now to be sure I like other sports. I watch the NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl. But football doesn’t hold nearly the same interest for me as baseball. I need baseball 365 days a year and 366 days during leap years.
Of course, one can enjoy baseball without watching it on TV or listening to it on the radio. There has been a lot written about the national pastime and believe me I have read more than my share of books on baseball. There are also baseball statistics going back to the 19th century. When someone like me absolutely needs to know who led the Washington Senators in wins in 1959 a website like baseballreference.com is there with the answer. (Camilo Pascual led the Senators with 17 wins that season.)
When I am really desperate I can always play Derek Jeter Pro Baseball 2005 on my cell phone.
But still there was always something missing. My off season appetite for baseball could not be satiated. That is until a year ago.
On January 1, 2009, the MLB Network made its debut. Headquartered in Secaucus, New Jersey (the former home of MSNBC), the MLB Network is exactly as advertised —Our national pastime all the time. Satiation has been achieved. So no more Derek Jeter Pro Baseball.
In fact, I did not realize I had the MLB Network in my cable package until the 2009 World Baseball Classic. That got the ball jumping. During the regular season, with instant access to all 30 parks, the MLB Network could do “a peek in” on any game at any time. Sometimes history is made. For example, I saw Vladimir Guerrero hit his 400th career home run. If not for the MLB Network I would have most likely learned about it on ESPN’s SportsCenter.
Most of the MLB Network’s on air personnel are former major league players. Dan Plesac, Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams, Harold Reynolds, Sean Casey, Al Leiter, Joe Magrane and perhaps-soon-to-be Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin are frequent on air contributors. All of them possess a tremendous knowledge and passion for the game.
But as my roommate asked me, “What can you watch on the MLB Network now that the season is over?” Well, aside from Hazel Mae there’s plenty. Here’s a short list of the classic games I have watched over the past few weeks:
• St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson striking out 17 Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the 1968 World Series.
• Texas Rangers pitcher Nolan Ryan throwing his 7th and final no-hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays in 1991.
• Kansas City Royals third baseman George Brett going absolutely berserk after having his home run nullified during the infamous Pine Tar Game at Yankee Stadium in 1983.
• The 1982 All-Star Game at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium.
• Game 7 of the 1979 World Series. The Pittsburgh Pirates defeat the Baltimore Orioles to win their last World Series title.
• Detroit Tigers pitcher Mark “The Bird” Fidrych throwing a complete game against the New York Yankees on ABC’s Monday Night Baseball in June 1976.
Yes, I already know what is going to happen during these games which might explain why I decided not to watch Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series a couple of weekends ago. I already saw Grady Little leave Pedro Martinez in with one out in the 8th inning and frankly didn’t need to see him do it again.
Yet it is fascinating to watch these old games. It is fascinating to watch a game in black and white with the limited technology available in those days. It is fascinating to be reminded there was a time when Olympic Stadium used to be full. It is fascinating to see what players, broadcasters, and other public figures looked like when they were younger. It is also fascinating but also sad to see players, broadcasters, and other public figures that are no longer with us. So R.I.P. to Harry Caray; Don Chevrier; Phil Rizzuto; Pierre Trudeau; Willie Stargell; Thurman Munson and especially Mark Fidrych. It is worth noting that weeks before his untimely death in April, Fidrych visited the MLB Network to conduct an interview.
So perhaps my favorite show on the MLB Network is Studio 42 with Bob Costas. I first watched Costas broadcast a baseball game more than a quarter century ago. I also remember him fondly from his old NBC talk show Later. So I know I am going to get a quality interview with a wide array of figures. Over the past few weeks, Costas has interviewed the likes of Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller, controversial slugger Dick Allen, and the beloved former Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell. In light of the fact that Harwell has terminal cancer with perhaps only months to live that interview is particularly poignant.
But the MLB Network is as much about the future as about the past. One can get the skinny on Bobby Howry signing a one-year contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks. I am looking forward to the 2010 Caribbean Series between the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela that will be broadcast in February. The MLB Network had a sensational rookie season. Diehard baseball fans needn’t worry about a sophomore jinx.