When David Wells delivers the first pitch to Cleveland outfielder Kenny Lofton today, the moment will not only mark the Orioles' return to the postseason, but the next step in the progression of ESPN toward equal billing with broadcast sports divisions.
For the first time in its 17-year history, ESPN will televise a playoff game from one of the Big Three professional sports, and everyone associated with the network understands the significance of the moment.
"The first time I threw it out to our first NFL game was unbelievable and this is the same thing. Our chests will be out. It's something we've been salivating over all year," said Chris Berman, one of two original ESPN on-air personalities who remains with the network.
Jed Drake, who heads up ESPN's baseball coverage, said the network, which has from six to 12 Division Series games, will share production facilities with NBC and Fox, which will do prime-time telecasts during the week.
Where the three entities will differ, Drake said, is in approach.
"Our approach to coverage is with the baseball fan in mind, and no one else," said Drake. "We approach Sunday night baseball as if it's playoff baseball, so for us, the transition [to postseason] is the easiest."
Drake said ESPN will add a couple of robotic cameras, including one mounted on the screen behind home plate, for different looks during the two games at Oriole Park, one of baseball's most television-friendly facilities.
"If I'm watching a game from, say, Pittsburgh or Houston, vs. one from Camden Yards, it's no question. It's a great venue. It's got so much charm, and its sensibilities are perfect for baseball," Drake said.
Jon Miller, who knows a little something about working at Oriole Park, will call the action for ESPN (1 p.m.) for today's Game 1 and tomorrow's Game 2. He'll be joined in the booth today by Dave Campbell and former Minnesota outfielder Kirby Puckett; Joe Morgan comes to Baltimore tomorrow.
For the cable-deficient, all Orioles games that air on ESPN also will air on Channel 54.
As usual, all Orioles games will air on WBAL (1090 AM), but with Miller working for ESPN, Fred Manfra and Chuck Thompson will have the calls.
The station will begin airing Orioles-related programming this morning at 9 a.m., with Pam Ward and Josh Lewin manning the microphones until game time. WBAL also will carry all games in the New York-Texas series this week and the National League series this weekend.
That was some glow you felt the other day when the Orioles clinched a spot in the playoffs. Well, savor it for now, because Fox analyst Bob Brenly thinks it might be all the Orioles and their fans have to remember of October.
"It's tough not to like Cleveland," said Brenly, who will work tomorrow night's second game of the Yankees-Rangers series (Channel 45, 8 p.m.) with Thom Brennaman.
"We saw Baltimore early in the season when they were sputtering and didn't look like a playoff team, but Cleveland is an awesome machine, and only if they come in unprepared and not taking their opponent seriously will they lose. They're not going to be beaten by anyone in the American League," Brenly said.
New York state of blind
Major League Baseball officials are justifiably touting the fact that all postseason games can be seen nationally, unlike last year under the Baseball Network, when games were regionalized until the World Series.
Now, if they and the networks can just get over their New York fixations.
The first three games of the New York-Texas series will be seen in prime time on NBC (Channel 11, 8 o'clock tonight) and Fox, while the Orioles-Cleveland series would have to make it to a fifth game just to get to prime time. NBC, which will carry next week's American League Championship Series, will not have a single game of the Orioles-Cleveland matchup, meaning whichever team faces the Yankees-Rangers' winner apparently will have fallen from the sky, as far as NBC viewers are concerned.
The rationale, of course, is to get the glamour team from the nation's No. 1 market on as much as possible. What's bizarre about this move is that Baltimore and Cleveland were among the top cities in local baseball ratings and would deliver big audiences to Fox and NBC. Next year, let's see a system in which at least one of the first three games of each series appears on broadcast TV, regardless of market size.
A message to Albert
On behalf of all the assembled media who will be covering this series and all of the postseason, let's take this opportunity to wish our esteemed friend Albert Belle all the best in October and beyond, and to ask that he keep his bats and his bad thoughts to himself while we do our jobs, OK?
Make of it what you will, but the Orioles' wild-card-clinching game in Toronto Saturday outdrew Sunday's Ravens clash at Memorial Stadium, according to Channel 45 research director Barry Schiffer, this week's sole and official "Media Watch" ratings provider.
The battle of the birds on Saturday got an 11.2 rating and 30 share of the audience on Channel 45, and Sunday's Ravens-Saints contest, airing 24 hours later on the same station, did a 10.1/25.
Pub Date: 10/01/96