The last few years, baseball has slipped out of our family a little. And most of this was getting rid of cable TV, where Major League Baseball now lives. It might not be something you notice if, unlike us, you don’t get rid of cable (or, if you’re odd, you don’t care for baseball), but it’s increasingly the case. You can’t watch baseball on TV unless you’ve got cable, not much and not often.
And here’s the thing: Baseball is great on the radio, maybe better. I took a walk the other day and listened to a few innings, and it was a joy, made it feel less like exercise and more like just walking the perimeter of Safeco Field, looking for a bathroom.
Of course, baseball was wildly popular before television, and it was our national pastime before radio, even, in a sense. I’d suggest even that it’s a game paced for radio, filled with stats that fill the time between pitches. The pace is perfect for an audio audience, and taking a walk or mowing the lawn, or just driving to the store, allows us to drop into a particular game, winning or losing, and be reminded that it’s spring or summer and the boys are playing.
Here’s the thing about TV, though, at least what I’ve noticed this year: You connect to the team in a way you can’t, at least in this 21st-century version, where baseball cards aim for the collectible market and not to give you a mental picture, and where ticket prices can make an average game for an average team prohibitive for anyone but the biggest fan and the nosebleed seats.
The pace of our world has picked up in a way I’m beginning to think is exponential: Just look at same-sex marriage approval, gone through the roof in a couple of years, and that’s just a social issue affecting a very small percentage of people. The way we do things is changing rapidly, and television is right on the cusp, I think; we’re going to see some strange things in the next couple of years, as cable and satellite become demographic technology, something for the older folks (gulp, shut up) as the next generations explore their possibilities.
In the meantime, the business of baseball is business, and catching the local team on one of your broadcast networks that conveniently come via an antenna is going, going…almost gone.
And we missed it. We missed seeing the faces, and the stances, the swings and even the scratching. Smoak? How would I have affection for Smoak unless I saw his baby face and felt a surge of goodwill toward this kid?
But no cable, no baseball games, so we slipped away, barely keeping an eye on it. And last night, as Julie and I caught the last few innings (she saw the whole thing; I was busy until then) of the Ms beating the Orioles, I said, “This was one of the best things we’ve ever done,” and I meant it.
MLB.com has been around for 11 years. You can sign up for a variety of accounts, but the premium version will let you watch any game, anywhere, for around $25 a month (less, of course, if you buy a whole year). And with a variety of devices to suck that Internet into your TV (I prefer the Roku, which gives me a perfect HD picture without a bunch of Web-based nonsense floating around the edges), you can get cable-less baseball again, just like the old days except better. As I said, any game, anywhere.
Except for your team.
Baseball is business, as I said. So MLB TV is a fabulous thing if you live in Idaho and love to watch the Yankees and the Braves and the Bluejays and so on, but in Seattle? Sorry, Charlie. No Mariners games, home or away. Part of the deal with the cable company.
So I hoisted those bastards by their own petards, paying a Canadian company a couple of bucks (seriously; around $4) per month to route my IP address through a maze until it looks like I’m in Idaho or some other godforsaken place, and now I watch my games. And that has made all the difference. It makes radio better, even.
Is it illegal? Naw. Just tricky, and used for all sorts of things, and to be sure MLB is trying to stifle it, a little, but they can’t, I think. And I pay $30 a month, six months a year, to watch a product they surely want me to watch. They just want to sell me TNT and CNN and Lifetime along with it, and I don’t want it.
It’s baseball season. And in a world in which the pacing is picking up, it’s damn near the perfect game.