by Kerry Leibowitz
MLB.tv has been around for awhile now—I think I saw something a few weeks ago that suggested that 2013 was its 12th year. I never pulled the trigger on a purchase; I never wanted to spend the money, particularly during all those years when the Orioles were predictably horrid. Following the games via streaming audio (or simply Gamecast summaries) was enough for me.
Some background: my family moved from the Baltimore area in early summer 1969, shortly before I turned five years old, first to the Boston area and then to the Chicago area three years later. I’ve been in the Midwest ever since.
Following the Orioles from afar was extremely difficult until well into the 1990s. For a long time, I had to rely on little more than the morning newspaper (where, if I was lucky, I’d find a box score and a two-sentence wire service story) and The Sporting News. The exception was on the relatively rare occasion when the Orioles were playing the White Sox, when I might actually be able to catch a game on TV. Later on, I found that I could pick up radio broadcasts from outlets hosting O’s opponents—Milwaukee (always, even during the day), Detroit (at night, but I could often pick up a Tigers network station from Kalamazoo during the day), Cleveland (at night)…occasionally I could pick up the Twins flagship from the Twin Cities and, every once in a while, the Rangers’ Dallas-Ft. Worth affiliate. (I could pick up many NL radio stations, other than the local Cubs, of course—St. Louis, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and—believe it or not—KOA in Denver after the Rockies franchise was created. But this was all in the pre-interleague play era.)
The radio days, as I call them, were always interesting…I was often trying to listen to games through mounds of static, constantly fine tuning the dial, and occasionally turning the radio or adjusting the antenna in the hopes of better reception. I can vividly recall my mother asking me what I was doing—all she could hear was static. I’d say “listening to the ballgame.” And she’d shake her head...no way anyone could hear anything coherent through all that static.
When ESPN first started broadcasting major league games in 1990—it was six games a week back then—that was a big deal. The Orioles were on maybe twice every three weeks, on average.
When I was finally able to obtain direct access to the Web, right around the start of the 1996 baseball season, I discovered that many games were being broadcast as streaming audio. You needed the Real Audio player to listen back in those days, and during the first week of the season I discovered that WBAL was broadcasting all of the Orioles games. Reliability wasn’t a Web strong suit back then—and of course I was tying in via a dial-up connection—but for the most part I was able to catch virtually every game. I can’t begin to tell you what a huge deal that was at the time. After decades of following the team from afar I now had a way to follow the Orioles in real time. I planned my days and nights during the baseball season around those broadcasts for the next several years, and with time, service became more reliable.
Major League Baseball began offering the Extra Innings package back in the early 1990s, but its availability depended on your TV carrier I could never bring myself to plunk down the cash; the cost was considerable, and coverage was subject to some heavy handed blackout rules. Then it was MLB.tv, which was dependent on a high-speed connection, something I couldn’t firmly count on until about four years ago.
I gave some thought, during the off-season, to sticking a crowbar in my wallet and springing for the package this year, given the (reasonable) higher pre-season expectation of a competitive Orioles team but, as usual, inertia took over and I did nothing.
Then, late on the evening of Wednesday, April 3, I received an e-mail with the following subject header: “MLB.TV has been Purchased as a Gift for You.” My lovely wife, knowing that I’d never pull the trigger myself, had done so for me, without asking (because she knew what I’d say). So I quickly logged on to my new account. The Orioles game that night—this was the loss to the Rays—was already over, but the Cardinals-Diamondbacks game, being played at Chase Field in Phoenix, was only in the fifth inning. I immediately tied in to the 1-1 contest and stuck around all the way to the end. The game ran 16 innings and didn’t conclude until nearly 2 AM, Central Time, but I was there (so to speak) when Martin Prado lined a walk-off single to left-center field.
This is surely the greatest invention in the history of the universe. On Wednesday, April 4, I watched part of all 15 games that were played that day, including every pitch of the Orioles’ win over Tampa Bay, and I’ve watched each Orioles game since then, and parts of innumerable other contests. The MLB.tv service allows the user to watch as many as four games at one time (as I type this I’ve got the Rockies-Giants, Astros-Mariners and A’s-Angels on). This is a phenomenal feature.
But, of course, the best part about the service is having full access to all of the Orioles games for the first time in my life. For the first time, I can see with my own eyes what the players are doing on a day-in, day-out basis. This is really enlightening, because—even for a stathead like me—I’ve always known that a lot is being left on the table without being able to see what’s happening. I could see, for instance, that Chris Tillman struggled in his first start of the year precisely because he had absolutely no command of anything off-speed. I could see that Adam Jones really appears to have taken a step forward this season, not just because of the results but because he’s better able to lay off the pitches (low outside breaking stuff, primarily) that used to give him such fits.
I’d go on, but the ballgames call. I have to see if the Astros and A’s can hold on…
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