Don’t look now, football fans, but MLB Network is making baseball great again

MLB Central has given baseball fans a much-needed outlet in a time when conversation has quieted nationally.
MLB Central has given baseball fans a much-needed outlet in a time when conversation has quieted nationally.

(WTNH)–You may or may not have heard this, but the Chicago Cubs are playing the Cleveland Indians in the World Series.

I know, I know—these games don’t involve your fantasy team, or your pick ’em league, or 250-pound men colliding with one another for three hours and the NFL pretending there’s any way they won’t develop CTE.

But there was a time, not that long ago, when people actually cared about baseball.

Like, really cared.

Cleveland Indians' Francisco Lindor (12) hits a single during the fourth inning of Game 3 of the Major League Baseball World Series against the Chicago Cubs, Friday, Oct. 28, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Young stars like Francisco Lindor are exactly what baseball needs to be popular again. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

There was a time when baseball wasn’t covered like it’s the national squash championships, when its playoff games weren’t hidden on FS1 or MLB Network or TBS, and when major sports networks like ESPN actually showed its highlights and broke down its storylines.

Baseball used to really matter–it’s why Cubs fans are so fanatical about their team having the chance to win the World Series for the first time since 1908. But if this World Series happened to be Indians-Nationals, or god help us, Rays-Marlins, would anyone be watching?

Baseball was never my favorite sport. That was always basketball. But in its conspicuous absence from national media coverage over the past few years, I started to really miss it.

And then I found MLB Network. And everything changed.

I don’t know what it is, but that glorious channel (1714 on Comcast, 1634 on Frontier, in case you’re interested) has honestly made me more interested in the national no-one-seems-to-have-time-for-this-anymore. It’s filled a long-open void that I didn’t even know was there.

Baseball talk used to be the background noise of the summer, and without MLB Network, I would’ve spent this summer listening to idiots like Paul Finebaum talk about how good Clemson was going to be. In July. I don’t care.

Instead, I’ve spent the past six months watching MLB Central in the morning, MLB Tonight at night, and before bed, Quick Pitch. They’re all television gold.

Chicago Cubs second baseman Javier Baez throws out San Francisco Giants' Conor Gillaspie at first base during the sixth inning of Game 3 of baseball's National League Division Series in San Francisco, Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Few players in the game are more exciting than the Cubs’ Javier Baez. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Again–baseball isn’t even my favorite sport–and MLB Central is my favorite show on TV. It’s phenomenal.

Mark DeRosa is quirky and locked-in and hilarious, Eric Byrnes approaches the show with the energy of a 10-year-old who just ate three bags of M&M’s and downed a Monster, and Matt Vasgergian is a baseball junkie who lives and breathes the game. Lauren Shehadi is gorgeous and constantly being ribbed on. The show is to baseball what “Inside the NBA” is to basketball, in that it succeeds in being both hilarious and authoritatively informative.

The whole thing comes across awesome on TV.

MLB Tonight is pretty outstanding as well, as host Greg Amsinger is energetic and invested and seems genuinely in awe of the game every single night. Between him and Harold Reynolds, Dan Plesac, Kevin Millar–they’re all great.

These guys are as energetic and passionate about baseball as ESPN used to be passionate about sports back in the day. It reminds me of the early “SportsCenters,” which were informative, hilarious and awesome.

Those SportsCenter anchors–Dan Patrick, Kenny Mayne, Keith Olbermann, Karl Ravech, Craig Kilborn brought an energy and fanatic’s credibility that ESPN no longer has. MLB Network has that credibility.

I’ve watched so much of that channel over the past year-plus that I actually started getting the itch to play baseball again.

This past summer, I signed up to play in a league in New York City, and traveled an hour and a half both ways on Sundays just to get out on the diamond again, standing under the sun in the outfield with my brand new glove and taking hacks with a new bat.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, and my hamstrings aren’t as pull-proof as they used to be, but I think more about lacing up my cleats than I do my Jordans nowadays.

I can’t wait until April, when that NYC league starts up again and I can start crushing balls into the Hudson River at Whitey Ford Field in Astoria. That was so freaking cool.

What does baseball need to be popular again?

Well, shorter games, more exciting players like Cleveland’s Fransisco Lindor and Chicago’s Javier Baez, and the Cubs in the World Series doesn’t hurt.

But if more fans would just turn on MLB Network and watch for like, five minutes, I’m willing to bet they’ll get hooked, too.

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