Category Archives: National

Two Things You Should Know Today About Major League Baseball on TV

 

1: Televised baseball is not dying.

Several times each year over the past several years, we have been treated to predictions of the demise of baseball in America, and the main proof of that always comes in the form of comparative TV ratings.  Just last year, for instance, we were informed that the opening tilt of the Royals-Giants World Series was the lowest rated Game 1 in history.  “[The World] Series is on, and everybody is watching … football”, gloated the New York Times headline.  Not only that, but more people watched “The Big Bang Theory” and “NCIS: New Orleans” than the World Series, which was outdrawn even by “The Walking Dead”, a cable show about zombies, for crying out loud.  In case you were too thick to understand the implication, the Times made it clear in so many words: “Baseball is no longer the center of attention in a new landscape”.  Translation: Baseball is dying.

So what are we to make of Maury Brown’s article in Forbes yesterday: that in most of the largest markets in the country, baseball is actually outdrawing the NBA and the NHL in TV viewers?  You can see from these ratings in 14 markets from last Wednesday night, when two top NBA playoff games and the NHL’s Rangers-Capitals overtime win competed against the Mets and Cubs on ESPN, that baseball won the night against basketball and football:

RSNRatings1
h/t Forbes. Click through graphic to full article.

Isn’t this going against the narrative we’ve become so accustomed to hearing lately?

Yes, it is, but the thing is that that narrative always contemplates baseball’s national telecasts versus those of the other sports, particularly football, and especially in October.  Here is the thing to remember, though: baseball is a local and regional sport.  People care about their teams.  So when their team is on their local regional network, people will watch those games over playoff games in other sports involving out of town teams.  And that’s what we see in the chart above: baseball on regional sports networks beating other sports on the national sports networks.

Granted, none of the markets above had any local teams in the NBA or NHL playoffs, so there was no competition between multiple local teams in different sports in any of these markets.  And the NBA and NHL national telecasts did beat the baseball national telecast.

But really, that’s the point: baseball, and all league sports in this country, are a local and regional obsession.  People are naturally more interested in their local team than in out of town teams.  And people are naturally more interested in playoffs games than in regular season games.  If the Mets did not beat the Rangers in New York, or the Braves did not beat the Hawks in Atlanta, that’s really understandable, isn’t it?  After all, the Rangers and Hawks are in the playoffs fighting for their lives.  In baseball, it’s still mid-May.

But if televised baseball really were dying, it would be losing to televised basketball and televised football every time, regardless of the team involved.  That’s the central conceit of the (admittedly strawman) argument.  But it doesn’t, because baseball is a local and regional sport, and a thriving one at that.

Just remember the part in italics above next time anyone suggests to you that baseball is no longer important in the “new landscape” of American sports.

2: The potential removal of the MLB blackout restriction took an important step forward on Friday.

Judge Shira Scheindlin, the judge from the Southern District of New York who is hearing the suit against MLB and the NHL brought by a group of fans, has allowed the suit to advance to class action status.

The fans claim that the leagues engage in anticompetitive behavior by forcing out of market fans to purchase a high-priced complete bundle of every game except those involving their local teams, which forces those fans to also subscribe to their local regional sports network through a cable or national provider in order to be able to see their local teams, which from the plaintiffs’ view must be the worst of both worlds.  This circumstance mainly hurts the fan choosing to see their baseball on MLB.TV who, unless they are smart cookies, may never be able to see their local team on TV while they’re at home.

By allowing the suit to be heard as a class-action suit, fans can now fight the leagues in court collectively rather than on an individual basis, which makes it easier and cheaper for the plaintiffs to pursue the suit at all.  The plaintiffs are seeking lower prices for streamed games resulting from greater competition; to be able to pick and choose which out of town teams whose games they want to purchase rather than buying a bundle; and to be able to watch their local teams via streaming.

This is a fairly slow moving case that will probably take a period of time measured primarily in years to resolve, but the suit is moving apace.

CBS Sports Net to Air Minor League Baseball Again for 2015

CBS Sports Network, the cable sports arm of the Tiffany net, aired fifteen minor league games during 2014, their first season doing so. They must have gotten something positive out of it, although maybe not a whole lot.  They’re returning to the minor league well again for 2015, but this time for only ten games.  Not a ringing endorsement, but it will give them an opportunity to fill vast spaces of air time with something live.

Minor league baseball is a hard sell on its own terms, since it is by definition “minor”.  It’s certainly not the best baseball you can see—the best can be easily seen practically every night between early April and late October, as many as 15 games in a single day.  But minor league ball is interesting to those people who are very interested in top prospects.  It’s an opportunity to see the stars of tomorrow performing in their embryonic stages today.

CBSSN’s schedule acknowledges that fact, as the schedule is heavy on teams with top prospects such as the Chicago Cubs’ AAA (Iowa) and AA (Tennessee) squads, the LA Dodgers’ AA (Tulsa) team, and the Pirates’ AA (Altoona) affiliate, teams that are all stocked with top 20 prospects, according to MLB.  Of course, these prospects may or may not still be with these clubs by the time the broadcasts roll around, but the presence of such prospects as of today probably factored into CBSSN’s decision to select these games for broadcast.

Here is the full schedule for the season, subject to change I would assume:

• May 28: El Paso Chihuahuas (Padres) at Round Rock Express (Rangers), 8 p.m. EST
• June 4: Salt Lake Bees (Angels) at Nashville Sounds (Athletics), 8 p.m. EST
• June 11: Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Royals) at Tulsa Drillers (Dodgers), 8 p.m. EST
• June 18: Mississippi Braves (Braves) at Tennessee Smokies (Cubs), 7 p.m. EST
• June 25: Toledo Mud Hens (Tigers) at Durham Bulls (Rays), 7 p.m. EST
• July 9: Frisco RoughRiders (Rangers) at Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Royals), 8 p.m. EST
• July 16: Memphis Redbirds (Cardinals) at Iowa Cubs (Cubs), 8 p.m. EST
• July 23: Altoona Curve (Pirates) at Akron RubberDucks (Indians), 7 p.m. EST
• July 30: Lexington Legends (Royals) at Greenville Drive (Red Sox), 7 p.m. EST
• August 6: El Paso Chihuahuas (Padres) at Albuquerque Isotopes (Rockies), 9 p.m. EST

Will Hosting on Fox Sports Baseball Help Get Pete Rose Reinstated?

It was announced this past Saturday afternoon that Pete Rose had been hired by Fox Sports to be a guest analyst on the MLB pregame shows airing on the broadcast network and on Fox Sports 1, as well as being a commentator on several other Fox baseball programs. Since Fox Sports is not part of Major League Baseball—at least not technically—Rose’s permanent ineligibility status does not extend to its game broadcasts.

“No, I am not Elton John. Why the hell are you asking me that!?”

 

In the FoxSports.com article that broke the story, “Rose said that he is not joining FOX with the idea that it will help him gain reinstatement.  ‘I don’t even worry about that. I’ve never thought about that,’ Rose said. “I’m just trying to give back to baseball …'”

If that sounds disingenuous to you, don’t blame yourself for being a nasty person not willing to give poor Pete the benefit of the doubt. Pete Rose is, after all, a proven liar when it comes to how his gambling behavior interfaced with his roles as an active performer either playing or managing in major league baseball contests.  At first he claimed he never bet on baseball games he was involved in.  But then he said that he had indeed done so, but admitted such only once he believed that coming clean would help his case for reinstatement. But hey, don’t worry, Rose says: I never bet on my team to lose.

We’ll never know the truth about that one, though, since Baseball agreed to halt its continuing investigation of Rose once he agreed to accept the permanent ineligibility penalty for the involvement he did admit to.  In the final analysis, Pete struck out with his delayed honesty strategy.

I suspect the last couple of paragraphs read as though I am anti-Pete Rose. I’m really not, as far as it goes.  It’s true I’m not a fan of the guy—never have been. Maybe that’s why I’m not clamoring for his reinstatement as are so many of my age peers who grew up with Charlie Hustle as their #1 baseball hero. I do recognize, though, that other things being equal, a man with his on-field résumé should receive a slam-dunk, first-ballot induction into the Hall of Fame. Other things are decidedly not equal, though, and a Hall of Fame induction can’t happen for Rose until Baseball reinstates him.

And despite that Rob Manfred has said that he be taking “a full and fresh look” at the Pete Rose case, I’m going to go out on a limb and predict, right now, that there is no way Manfred, or any number of his successors, ever reinstate Rose. I believe that the only way Baseball can reinstate Pete is if they change the rules and start allowing players and managers to bet on baseball games they are involved in. But as long as they intend to keep the rules intact, they have to keep him out.

(There is a third alternative: keep the rule intact for everyone except Pete. Baseball would have to explain why they are making an exception for Pete, though, and they definitely don’t want any part of that.)

I get why a lot of people want Pete Rose in, and I am sympathetic to their argument that after 25 years, Pete Rose has suffered enough and should be reinstated so he can take his rightful place in the Hall of Fame.  But even granting that, I have no sympathy for Pete Rose himself, because since 1921 or thereabouts, posted in every major league clubhouse is rule 21(d):

BETTING ON BALL GAMES.  Any player, umpire, or club official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has no duty to perform shall be declared
ineligible for one year.

Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.

This is as clear and unambiguous as it gets.  Bet on a game you’re not involved in: one-year ban.  Bet on a game you are involved in: permanent ineligibility.  Not a “lifetime ban”.  But permanent ineligibility.

Pete Rose and his supporters might have a case if his penalty had been applied capriciously or dictated by personal fiat.  Neither is the case. The penalty is written in plain black and white and was posted in the clubhouse for Pete to see during every one of the 3,562 games he played in and the 785 games he managed in.  No one can claim ignorance of either the rule or its consequences, least of all Pete himself.

To reinstate Pete Rose would be to open up every other case of permanent ineligibility handed down for gambling on baseball games in which the baseballer had a duty to perform, including the eight men put out for the Black Sox scandal. That might suit many people just fine, perhaps including many of our friends on the Black Sox Scandal Committee, but it would also call into question how Baseball can maintain such penalty for future infractions.  They couldn’t, of course, so they would have to take a considerable amount of time and effort to debate what an alternative proper penalty should be.

Pete Rose Baseball
                  I know you are, Pete. I know.

Such a debate, in addition to an actual reinstatement of Rose, would dominate the baseball headlines for years afterwards, casting a pall on the sport, including on all the current games that Baseball is working so hard to market to fans so they can continuing reaping their annual billions in revenue and profits. All this while trying to maintain, with a straight face, that the competitive integrity of the game of baseball is now as ever above reproach, even as they ease up on the strictures and penalties against players and coaches gambling on games they are involved in.

Given that, why on Earth would Major League Baseball ever reinstate Pete Rose?  Besides creating a lot of noise around the game for years and years, what’s in it for them?  Where is the “there” there?

I don’t think there is a “there” there.  Baseball depends on the goodwill of not only its fan base and corporate sponsors, but of Congress, the guarantor of its precious Sherman antitrust exemption. Because although the exemption is worth billions to Baseball, it also gives Congress the right to stick its nose in Baseball’s business when it feels like it.  And the last thing Baseball wants, or needs, is congressional oversight in the wake of its weakening its stance on in-game gambling by people in a position to affect the game’s outcome. Just give us our antitrust exemption, please, and you won’t hear a peep out of us.  We promise to be good boys.

I just can’t see any other alternative for Baseball, regardless of how well Pete Rose does in his new broadcast gig on Fox.  If they want to continue to limit the amount of noise surrounding the game and keep Congress, the majority of fans, its corporate sponsors and random moralists at bay, I don’t see any other practical choice for them but to deny Pete Rose’s request for reinstatement yet again, now and probably forever.

Old Faces In New Places Dot 2015 Broadcasting Landscape

Regardless of what market you’re in, there’s a lot of baseball at your disposal this week in one of the two free preview weeks of MLB Extra Innings. Of course, as I started writing this, two of the six games in progress were in rain delays, to say nothing of blackouts (sorry, Iowa), so your mileage may vary.

In Bill James’s Historical Baseball Abstract, he uses the abbreviation S.O.C., Same Old Cities, to describe the places where the game was played from 1903 to 1952. Even though the teams didn’t move, the game continued to evolve, however. The part about moving is true again in 2015, but the state of broadcasting has evolved in several places as well.

Following the rule that it’s not plagiarism if you cite your sources, below are several places where that has been the case. Numbers in parentheses indicate the number of national games each announcer has called entering the season, taken from SABR’s national telecast database.

In Chicago, the Cubs leave longtime radio home WGN 720, breaking a 62-year run on that station to jump 60 kHz up the dial to WBBM 780. Judd Sirott, who had handled the fifth inning of play-by-play since 2009, stayed at WGN rather than switching stations with the team. From what I’ve heard in the spring, color man Ron Coomer is calling that inning, although TV voice Len Kasper (2) did so on Opening Night.

Kasper and Jim Deshaies (9) are no longer plying their trade for a national audience as WGN America dropped Chicago sports this winter. The Cubs took a package of 24 games to ABC affiliate WLS, and both Chicago teams moved their WGN overflow from independent WCIU to WPWR (MyNetwork TV).

In the Metroplex, Rangers radio moves from KESN 103.3 to KRLD 105.3. The Rangers had two previous stints on KRLD, 1972-73 and 1995-2012, although major portions of those stints were at 1080 on the AM dial. Orioles radio broadcasts shift from WBAL 1090 back to WJZ 95.7, where they had been from 2007-10.

The Mets add Wayne Randazzo from low-A Kane County to replace Seth Everett as pre- and postgame radio host. If Randazzo adds fill-in play-by-play duties when Howie Rose (2) is with the Islanders or Josh Lewin (274) with the Chargers, he would usurp Ed Coleman.

Kevin Burkhardt (3) leaves Mets TV for Fox, and he’s succeeded by Steve Gelbs. SNY also signs Cliff Floyd, who had been at MLB Network. Elsewhere in the N.L. East, Jamie Moyer leaves Phillies TV to spend more time with his family. Ben Davis replaces him.

Gabe Kapler (2) leaves Fox for the Dodgers’ front office. Dusty Baker (10) will start drawing paychecks from Fox, as will Raul Ibanez. Carlos Pena and Pedro Martinez join MLB Network. Barry Larkin (8) exits ESPN.

The couple dozen Yankees games that aren’t on YES in New York move from WWOR (MyNetwork TV) to WPIX (CW).

Jeff Levering moves from AAA Pawtucket to the Brewers’ radio booth. When Bob Uecker (147) is off, Joe Block assumes the main role and Levering the #2 spot, doing three innings of PBP (the Brewers typically don’t do much in the way of color commentary). When “Ueck” works, Block fills the #2 position and Levering “will provide video, photo, audio and written content for Brewers.com and various other Brewers social media platforms.”

Speaking of aging legends, Vin Scully (273) is also back in the radio booth for his age-87 season in Los Angeles. When Scully works, Charley Steiner (84) and Rick Monday (1) call the final six innings on radio: when he does not, Steiner joins Orel Hershiser (226) and Nomar Garciaparra (55) on TV and Monday calls the radio action with Kevin Kennedy (145).

Eric Chavez replaces Shooty Babitt on Oakland television for 20 or so games. I think this is unfortunate, because it greatly reduces the number of opportunities I have to type “Shooty Babitt.” On the radio side, Roxy Bernstein steps in for Ken Korach, who’s having knee problems, for the first couple of weeks.

Jack Morris (1) (last at Fox Sports North) and Kirk Gibson (7) (former Diamondbacks manager) join Fox Sports Detroit to occasionally spell Rod Allen (16). This author will now join Morris and Gibson in their endeavor: R-o-d A-l-l-e-n.

And now, leaving that tangent aside, we return to our rundown.

At the national level, ESPN returns its Sunday Night Baseball crew of Dan Shulman (364), John Kruk (64) and Curt Schilling (14). Dave O’Brien (448), the most-tenured active national announcer not named Buck, returns to Monday nights with Aaron Boone (129) and either Mark Mulder (22) or Dallas Braden. O’Brien’s old partner Rick Sutcliffe (433) joins Doug Glanville (24) and Jon Sciambi (93) on Wednesday. Since ESPN has the budget to assemble a 25-man roster of its own, we’ll likely also see cameos from Sean McDonough (172), Steve Levy (7), Dave Flemming (4), Karl Ravech (30), Chris Singleton (24), and several other people.

Fox’s lead trio of Joe Buck (515), Harold Reynolds (88) and Tom Verducci (124) returns for its second season, joined by Ken Rosenthal (326), who has reported from the field more than the second- and third-most common field reporters combined. The Fox stable also includes Joe Davis (2), who was in elementary school when Buck called his first World Series, Mariners radio voice Aaron Goldsmith, Justin Kutcher (29), Matt Vasgersian (163) and network standbys Thom Brennaman (363) and Kenny Albert (347). On the analyst side, Ibanez is joined by C.J. Nitkowski (8), John Smoltz (166), and Eric Karros (184).

MLB Network’s showcase games feature Vasgersian or Bob Costas (354) with Smoltz and/or Jim Kaat (184). As I finish this post, their first game of the season is in a light-failure delay.

TBS will return with a package of Sunday night games in the second half of the season using talent that has not been announced.

And most importantly, night after night, from now till the end of October, baseball is back.

News Bites for February 10, 2015

Jack Morris, Kirk Gibson join Rod Allen as FSD Tigers analysts. Looks like there’s going to be a season-long audition for the second seat on Tigers telecasts during 2015.

Thoughts on the Nationals’ Radio Deal in Central Pennsylvania. Here’s the take on a Harrisburg radio station affiliation change from Phillies to Nationals, from SB Nation’s Washington Nationals site. Just for reference’s sake, here’s a Facebook fan map for the Harrisburg area.

Mark Grote to join Cubs radio team.  Remember all those amateurs who thought they were qualified to be the Cubs pre- and post-game hosts?  Yeah, none of them got hired.

White Sox announce ’15 spring-training broadcast schedule. Ten Cactus League spring training games plus eight webcasts will air on whitesox.com. Nine games will be broadcast on flagship radio station WSCR-AM (670-AM), starting March 4.

And now, for a whole slew of baseball media announcements about college baseball:

ESPN to Present Record College Baseball Coverage This Season. More than 675 exclusive regular-season and conference championship games will air on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, SEC Network and Longhorn Network, as well as digital networks ESPN3 and SEC Network+.  This is than triple ESPN’s previous high for number of telecasts, set last season.

LCU Baseball Broadcasts Make Debut With Ramar Communications. An unaanounced number of games will air on AM950/100.7FM (KJTV) and Double-T 104.3 (KTTU).

Lobo baseball releases broadcast schedule. 15 University of New Mexico home games this year will be shown live on UPUBLIC TV and MY 50, starting Fenraury 27.

FSU Baseball Broadcast Schedule Announced.  Florida State baseball will air over 36 games to be televised nationally and/or regionally by ESPNU, ESPN3, SEC Network and SEC Network+, starting this Friday, February 13.

ACC SPRING OLYMPIC BROADCAST COVERAGE ANNOUNCED.  This will include a record 147 baseball games, including all 15 games of the ACC Baseball Championship.

Follow NM State Baseball on KRUX and Online – Adam Young with the play-by-play. 32 New Mexico State baseball games will air either KRUX 91.5 FM or online at www.NMStateSports.com, Adam Young on play-by-play, starting February 27 against Incarnate Word.

Clemson announces baseball video & radio schedules. Five regular-season baseball games will be televised on cable and 42 more will be available exclusively via live online video on TigerCast or ESPN3, starting with this Friday’s tilt against West Virginia.

2015 [Georgia Tech] TV Schedule Announced. No less [sic] than 25 Georgia Tech baseball games will be broadcast this year on television or online via ESPN3.

All 29 [Kansas State] Home Games to be Broadcast on TV. Starting with the Febrary 27 game against Eastern Illinois, games will be split between K-StateHD.TV and various Fox College Sports regional networks.

[Kansas] Baseball Announces TV Slate for 2015 Season.  38 games will be made available to Universoty of Kansas baseball fans, starting this Friday against LSU on SECN+/ESPN3.

Pac-12 Networks announces on-air talent & programming for third season of baseball coverage. “Former Major League Baseball player Randy Flores and longtime play-by-play man Daron Sutton join JT Snow and a bevy of broadcasters on Pac-12 Networks’ 114 collegiate baseball telecasts this season, [which] kicks off Friday, February 13 at 3 p.m. PT when Stanford hosts Indiana.”

2015 [Big 12 Conference] Baseball Telecast Schedule Announced. Seven regular season contests will feature all nine of the league’s squads, beginning on March 15 with Texas hosting West Virginia.

[North Carolina State] TV Schedule Announced.  36 games will air in 2015 on GoPack All-Access, ESPN3, ESPNU, and RSN.

 

In Case You Missed It …

It’s been a long time since we’ve posted anything in the way of news here.  Bad on us, and we’re working to be better in 2015.  We have to, because it’s our New Year’s resolution.

So we’re jumping back in by providing links to some of the top baseball media stories that have broken just since the end of the season.

World Series TV Ratings: Giants/Royals Game 7 Nears Ten-Year High: Game Sevens really do matter. The only game with a higher rating in the past ten years was also a Game 7 (2011 Rangers/Cardinals).

MLB’s Low National Ratings vs. Record-High Local Ratings: I love dichotomies, and not just because it’s a fun word to say.  Although as the Sporting News says in that first linked article, it might be more of a Fox problem than a general national problem. If you want to know what I think, ask me offline.

DIRECTV and Disney sign long-term agreement; adds WatchESPN and Longhorn Network: Oh my god, THANK you. Finally. This means you (and I) as a D*TV subscriber will soon be able to watch baseball on your smartphone or tablet without begging a friend for their Dish or WOW login credentials.

Early overdose: Even without Jeter, ESPN still loves Yankees for Sunday night: You probably already saw this in Chad Osborne’s post from last week.  Eye rolls, yeah, I know, but let’s face it: almost 9% of the entire US lives in the New York and Boston TV markets, but also, according to Facebook, the Yankees and Red Sox are among the top teams in basically every county in the United States. Just goes to show you: you don’t always have to rob banks to know where the money is.

Chicago news: Harrelson pumped up about White Sox moves; won’t cut back schedule: Vin Scully isn’t the only multiple decade-tenured broadcasters working well into his golden years.  And just think, Hawk Harrelson is 13 years younger than Vin, so maybe he’s got a long way to go?

ESPN goes all in on Cubs to open 2015 baseball season: And really, who doesn’t want to spend a chilly Sunday night in April gazing at a Jumbotron rising from the surrounding wreckage whence people once watched baseball games?

Networks will be active in quickening the pace in baseball; New commish expected to be ‘open to new ideas’: This is one of those rare instances in which the interests of fans and of broadcasters are well-aligned.

Long-time Detroit baseball writer retiring after 29 years on the beat: Did you know that John Lowe invented the quality start?  He may be ink-stained, but he’s not a wretch.

The Sportswriter of the Year is Si’s Tom Verducci: Tom is both a baseball journalist and a baseball broadcaster, so he’s double trouble, and thus a favorite.

SportsNet LA standoff was top story: Because of TWC’s strong-arm methods, 70% of the LA market did not have Dodger games available to them, and there doesn’t appear to be any thawing for 2015 as of yet.

Scully may travel less in 2015: And really, who can blame him? After all, the guy is 86 freaking years old.  Most people born the same year as he was aren’t traveling anywhere anymore.  (Yes, it’s because they’re dead.)

Fox’s Chatty Booth Makes Few Good Points to Speak of During World Series: Two’s company, three’s a crowd?  Four is definitely a British Invasion band, though.

Postseason Vanishing From Broadcast Networks: But with the combination of cable and “alternate delivery systems” penetrating about 90% of TV households, will anyone really miss it?

Enberg, Gage Named Ford C. Frick Award Winners: Big shout out to two Detroiters made good in baseball media.  Hat tip to you both.  Congratulations.

 

ESPN announces Opening Day quadruple header, first month of Sunday Night games

Where you are right now, it may be sunny and bright or it may be cold and white.

But one thing is for sure as we mark another day off the calendar: Major League Baseball’s Opening Day is right around the hot corner.

Today, Jan. 14, ESPN announced its slate of Sunday Night games through May 3, including the April 5 opener pitting the St. Louis Cardinals against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. The network also announced a quadruple header for April 6.

Your first question might be: Is my team playing in one of the ESPN televised games? Maybe. You’ll have to check the schedule.

Your second query may ask: How many times will a Yankees-Red Sox game be televised during this first month of the season?

Twice.

There has to be at least a couple, right?

Right!

The Monday, April 6, Opening Day ESPN schedule begins with a 1 p.m. American League East matchup between the Blue Jays and Yankees in New York. Of the nine broadcast games announced, the Yankees will play in four.

At 4 p.m., viewers can see on ESPN a potential pitchers’ duel between the Mets and Nationals in Washington, D.C. ESPN’s Buster Olney recently ranked the Nats’ and Mets’ pitching staffs as the best and fifth best in the MLB, respectively.

Cleveland visits the Astros for a 7 p.m. game on ESPN, and then at 10 p.m. on ESPN2, the World Series champion San Francisco Giants visit the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Beyond the aforementioned opener at Wrigley, ESPN announced the lineup for its next four Sunday night games, which include:

April 12, 8 p.m. – Red Sox at Yankees

April 19, 8 p.m. – Reds at Cardinals

April 26, 8 p.m. – Mets at Yankees

May 3, 8 p.m. – Yankees at Red Sox

ESPN is entering its 26th season of broadcasting Sunday night games and will again use the three-man booth of Dan Shulman, John Kruk and Curt Schilling. Olney again will serve as the field reporter.

And if you’re a radio guy like me, you’ll be glad to know ESPN Radio will also carry the Sunday Night games with Jon Sciambi and Chris Singleton calling the action.

MLB Network ratings spike during busy Winter Meetings

How often are you glued to a television watching men chat in a hotel?

If you’re like me, that’s what you did during the 2014 MLB Winter Meetings, held Dec. 7-11 at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel. But don’t feel too bad for spending hours of tube time on what many baseball outsiders may see as the TV equivalent of watching paint dry.

Since launching into our living rooms in 2008, the MLB Network has been a game changer in terms of how we get our baseball fix. It’s baseball 24 hours a day, seven days a week, a concept I couldn’t imagine while growing up in the 80s and reading box scores and game recaps in the morning newspaper.

The network offers its viewers a plethora of options from games and highlights to loads of chatter from a talented, knowledgeable and entertaining – I could listen to Billy Ripken talk all day about baseball – group of studio hosts and reporters.

MLB Network has developed a successful formula for attracting viewers and giving them a reason to put down the remote. Its live coverage of the Winter Meetings serves as a prime example.

According to Forbes’ Maury Brown, MLB Network’s primetime coverage set a new ratings high for the network by attracting 179,000 viewers, an increase of 48 percent over the previous record.

“The record speaks much to how deals that go down during the meetings, when there is so much interest, and yet often times, when the meetings yield little in terms of such critical contracts that create a domino effect, can affect television ratings,” wrote Brown on Forbes.com.

Much of the interests, as Brown notes, was the Jon Lester watch. For which team would the lefty sign and when. Would it be the Cubs? Or, the World Series Champion Giants? How about a return to Boston? There was even talk the Yankees were lurking, waiting to swoop in at the right moment.

That’s a lot of drama, even for night-time TV.

I’m not a fan of any of the teams that were reported to be targeting Lester at the time, but being a baseball fan, I wanted to know the minute he committed to a team, a city. I knew MLB Network had us covered.

And sure enough, when I hoped out of bed at 4:45 a.m. Wednesday and turned on the television – the channel was still, of course, on MLB Network from my previous night’s viewing – I saw in a little red box on the bottom right of my screen that Lester had indeed agreed to be a Cubbie.

“Yes,” I said with a half-hearted fist pump. As I said, I’m not a Cubs fan, but I was excited for their fans, one of which is my 9-year old son, Ty.

But it wasn’t just Lester drawing us in. This was one of the most active Winter Meetings, in terms of players swapping teams, in recent memory. Free agent signings, trades and persistent rumors of both types of transactions left us feeling like we couldn’t turn away from MLB Network.

I couldn’t.

Being a Nationals’ fan, my ears perked up even more when there was talk of my team potentially making a trade that would “blow the roof off this place.”

According to MLB.com, 79 players – 15 of those were All-Stars – changed teams during the 2014 Winter Meetings through free agency, trades or the Rule 5 Draft.

“Teams handed out more than $500 million in guaranteed contracts and signing bonuses this week in deals that either became official or were agreed upon at the Winter Meetings,” MLB.com reported after the meetings broke up.

The Winter Meetings were gold, and so was MLB Network. It provided us baseball enthusiasts with the ability sit in our living rooms and man caves and track the hot stove league in front of, to paraphrase Homer Simpson, “TV’s warm glowing warming glow.”