Over the last couple of years, baseball has really supplanted cricket as my summer sport of choice – the reasons why are as odd as they are complex.
At first sight, there’s a lot of common ground here; a guy with a bat is trying to hit a ball that is propelled at high speed in his direction, the ultimate task is to hit the ball out of the ground, you can be caught out, run out etc etc. My mate Adrian, who’s a real cricket aficionado, would probably suggest at this point that cricket is a subtle game with lots of nuances that are not immediately apparent to new viewers. Well, something I’ve discovered over the last few summers is that baseball is exactly the same. Ostensibly, it might just seem like a glorified game of rounders, but it offers a lot more than that once you begin to appreciate its subtleties.
Of course, human nature dictates that when adopting a new sport, one has to adopt a favourite team, so given my love of New York City and with family connections in The Bronx, adopting the New York Yankees as ‘my’ team was inevitable.
Given my football loyalties (see previous post) there is a bizarre and amazing symmetry about choosing the Yankees. They are, in many ways, the Manchester United of baseball – actually, Real Madrid might be a more accurate match. They pay the biggest salaries to attract the biggest stars, they have the history and the success, they have the arrogance of serial champions and – of course – they are pretty much detested by fans of every other MLB team. They even have huge and hated rivals just down the road – for Liverpool, read the Boston Red Sox.
Anyway, for a number of years, my baseball habit was fed by Channel 5’s late-night coverage on Sunday & Wednesday nights. They would take a live feed from ESPN of whatever game ESPN were showing and the whole thing was hosted between innings by the ebullient Jonathan Gould and a series of American sidekicks – most memorably Josh Chetwyn or the sardonic David Lengel.
What was going on there was little short of revolutionary; after the Channel 5 drones had finished their day of toil, churning out hours of sub-standard programming watched by a select group of coma patients and not too many others, the airwaves would be handed over to a bunch of chancers, whose left-field humour and freewheeling style, allied to a deep love of baseball made these programmes unmissable, irrespective of the quality of the game they were showing.
And then, quite without warning, Channel 5 pulled the plug on proceedings just before the start of the 2009 season, so no more free-to-air baseball….Johnny Gould has since popped up covering cricket for ESPN, which must be a bit like being the Hurling Correspondent for the ‘Montevideo Bugle’. I don’t think I’ve watched anything on Channel 5 since.
There was a brief reprieve in August, when, thanks to the collapse of Setanta and the takeover of their live Premier League games by ESPN, we got free ESPN for a month as Virgin Cable subscribers, but since then, I’ve been reduced to following the Yankees’ fortunes via the MLB website.
Anyway, as the regular season comes to a close, the Yankees are already assured of a post-season spot and they are playing well enough to win the World Series this year. Last night’s 9-5 win over the despised Red Sox leaves them just 3 wins shy of securing the Division title, so I am optimistic….but I still miss my insomniac nights with Channel 5