Missing the Show

It’s around this time of year, with the recent return of “Game of Thrones,” and new episodes of everything from “Mad Men” to “Bob’s Burgers” available on Netflix, that I’m glad to live in this so-called golden age of television.

In this era it is TV, not Hollywood, that boasts the most innovative and exciting cinematic blockbusters, in which much of the best directing, writing and acting can be found. Superhero movies are great, but few would argue that Iron Man 2 prompted more conversation or provided more thrills than “Breaking Bad” season 2.

As TV shows seem to get better and better, access to these great shows seemingly gets easier and cheaper each year. My fellow millennials also gain a certain satisfaction from being the driving force behind the decline of the outdated, expensive cable industry. I’ve been without consistent access to cable for the better part of a decade, and streaming options have seldom made me miss it.

But it is also in April that I’m reminded of how much I miss what might be my favorite Show of all, which remains far more elusive. That Show, of course, is baseball.

I’ll admit that what I mostly mean by “baseball” is “the Atlanta Braves,” a team with which I’ve shared a committed, monogamous relationship. But greater than the joy of doing what Jerry Seinfeld termed “rooting for clothes”  is the subculture that you get to be a part of every season. Baseball rewards intense viewing, the kind where, before too long, you can start thinking along with guys like Greg Maddux and know exactly what he will throw at a specific count, and always know that everything was fine as long as former pitching coach Leo Mazzone kept his hat on.

But most of all, I miss the relationship one develops with partisan broadcasters, who shamelessly root for their (your) team, which is more appealing than the usually banal neutral broadcast teams you get on ESPN and network television.

Some of my fondest memories of baseball come from spending summer days listening to the droll commentary of Skip Caray, who was always careful to assign a random hometown to all the fans who came up with foul balls, and the thoughtful analysis of ”The Professor,” Pete Van Wieren. I learned nearly everything I know about baseball from those two greats, and was even lucky enough to meet Van Wieren in person (I told him that very thing).

These broadcasters allowed me to vicariously become a part of the team, particularly when they talked about their interactions with superstar athletes. A great example of this was when Jon “Boog” Sciambi—a former Braves broadcaster (and now one of the better members of ESPN’s baseball crew)—once tried to teach Chipper Jones about sabermetrics.

But even if I was content to watch any team just for the sake of getting my baseball fix, the options are fairly dismal without one key ingredient: monthly payments to a cable company. Since the cable cord was cut from my life, I’ve been forced to be a bit of a baseball nomad, catching bits and pieces of a game when I can. I’m usually in public, around people who are far less interested in the game than I am.

I did give MLB.TV a shot. It’s a fantastic service, though its appeal is hindered by the fact that I’ve mostly lived smack-dab in the middle of the Braves TV-blackout zone. I tried to settle for watching games the day after, and even stretched my nefarious technical abilities by trying to hide my IP address, but I eventually elected to quit paying for the service altogether. I have since contented myself with the random “Free Game of the Day” provided online, along with FOX’s weekly Saturday broadcast.

I don’t have a problem with the way cable companies cling to the nightly drama of baseball. Anyone who follows the game knows how much teams depend on the revenue generated by their territorial TV monopolies. We all want our teams to win, and usually that means we want them to earn as much money as they can. But it would be nice if the MLB could provide more options for fans in my situation. It’s also no coincidence that there are fewer ardent baseball fans in my age group than football and basketball fans.

Baseball has been doing a lot of hand-wringing on how to grow the appeal of the game. Their goal is to attract younger viewers, but I’ve rarely heard discussions of how younger fans are expected to get access to the game itself. People my age are abandoning cable. Does that mean we are also abandoning baseball? I hope not, but in the meantime, I do my best to savor those rare moments when I get to watch my show, The Show, whenever I get the chance.

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