As Fox begins its third season of baseball telecasts this weekend, it appears that the confluence of a lot of little things is adding up to a big break for the network.
To recap, in returning the Saturday afternoon "Game of the Week," Fox officials met with a bit of indifference in the first two years, both in a ratings sense and from some players such as Atlanta's Greg Maddux and the Orioles' Mike Mussina, who were occasionally slow to climb aboard the network's attempts to bring new technology to the telecasts.
But as the network opens an 18-game weekly schedule with four regional telecasts tomorrow, things seem to be turning around for the game and for Fox.
Network officials say the cooperation level between themselves and baseball has never been better, and that has translated into a schedule that should yield some interesting weekly matchups.
Most importantly, the season's first two months have produced some potentially powerful story lines that should keep people talking and, hopefully, from Fox's perspective, watching all summer.
"The good Lord gave man the ability to walk upright, he gave him the ability to reason and he gave him major-league baseball. The stories -- and there are a lot of them -- are on the field, where they belong," said senior coordinating producer John Filippelli. "Whatever damage was done by the labor scenario a couple of years ago, baseball is more than on its way back. The game is in for a huge renaissance."
Of course, you couldn't prove that by looking at the Orioles' current fourth-place perch in the standings, but the fortunes of Baltimore's baseball club have never been critical to the networks, though the team will get eight Fox appearances this year.
Nope, the fact that teams in each of the top three media markets -- New York, Los Angeles and Chicago -- are performing well and that a club from one of those cities will appear each week, plays no small part in the buoyant feeling at Fox headquarters.
"I would suggest, and I'm on the record as saying it, at the very least, we will hold our own with our baseball ratings," said Fox executive producer Ed Goren. "And I have some candles right on desk straight from St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York that say our ratings will go up."
Baltimoreans will get the Boston-Yankees matchup tomorrow (Channel 45, 1 p.m.), preceded at 12: 30 p.m. by a slightly revamped "In The Zone" kids pre-game show, with Steve Lyons and Valarie Rae Miller as hosts.
Up first is a look at a Silver Spring teen-ager who sang the National Anthem before a recent Orioles game and the first installment of "Junior's Jargon," a weekly visit with Seattle's Ken Griffey.
Around the dial
Whether there's any more basketball this weekend after tonight's sixth game of the Eastern Conference championship series (9 o'clock, Channel 11) is entirely up to the Indiana Pacers.
If they beat Chicago tonight, the deciding game would air Sunday at 7: 30 p.m., following "NBA Showtime" at 7 on NBC. Otherwise, we'll all have to wait until Wednesday for the championship series to begin.
There's more postseason play afoot this weekend. The College World Series begins this afternoon, with Florida State meeting Arizona State at 3: 30 on ESPN and Miami (Fla.) taking on Long Beach State on ESPN2 at 7: 30. CBS (Channel 13) takes over tomorrow, with Southern California challenging LSU at 1 p.m., and ESPN2 has the final first-round game, Florida-Mississippi State, tomorrow night at 7: 30.
The NHL's conference finals continue as well, with Dallas-Detroit going off tonight at 7: 30 on ESPN and Sunday at 2 p.m. on Fox (Channel 45.) The Washington Capitals spend tomorrow night in Buffalo for Game 4 of their Eastern series tomorrow at 7: 30 on ESPN, then come home Monday night for Game 5, same time, same station.
Tomorrow morning at 11, Nick Charles' "Page One" series on CNN takes a look at pre-game sex (hey, now!) and its effect on players, with a comment or two from Orioles outfielder Brady Anderson. On a far less racy level, TBS debuts a one-hour, behind-the-scenes look at stock car racing with "NASCAR at 50: Good to Go" Sunday night at 9.
The ratings for the top 10 most-watched sporting events on broadcast television in Baltimore last weekend:
Event .. .. .. ..Day .. .. ..Ch. .. .. ...R/S
O's-Yankees .. ..Thu. .. .. .13 .. .. 12.3/21
Pacers-Bulls .. .Mon. .. .. .11 .. .. .8.9/21
Pacers-Bulls .. .Sat. .. .. .11 .. .. .6.4/19
NBA pre-game .. .Mon. .. .. .11 .. .. .5.6/14
Lakers-Jazz .. ..Sun. .. .. .11 .. .. .5.4/15
O's-A's .. .. ...Sat. .. .. .54 .. .. ..4.6/9
O's-A's .. .. ...Fri. .. .. .54 .. .. .3.9/10
Bowling .. .. ...Sat. .. .. .13 .. .. .3.7/13
Indy 500 .. .. ..Sun. .. .. ..2 .. .. .3.4/11
NBA pre-game .. .Sun. .. .. .11 .. .. ..2.5/8
Pub Date: 5/29/98