Angelos dislikes sharing spotlight, but Nats blackout wasn't his fault

April 13, 2005|By PETER SCHMUCK

THE WASHINGTON Nationals opened a big series in Atlanta on Monday night, but there's a pretty good chance you didn't see the game if you're a cable television subscriber, because the TBS telecast was blacked out in the Baltimore-Washington area.

Must be some kind of conspiracy, right? Peter Angelos doesn't want you to see the interloping Nats and he's pulling strings behind the scenes to keep them off the air. What other possible explanation can there be?

Actually, a fairly logical one.

The blackout didn't have anything to do with the Orioles ... or specifically the Nationals. The superstation is required by Major League Baseball to withhold its signal to the visiting team's market to protect the broadcast rights of that team. The same thing happens in San Francisco when the Giants play at Turner Field, but no one raises a stink because most or all of the games are on local TV.

The trouble in this area is that the Nationals' broadcast network is not completely up and running yet. The budding Mid-Atlantic Sports Network that will carry both Orioles and Nationals games has been in official existence for less than two weeks, and it's going to take some time to get all of the broadcast and cable outlets signed up.

"There's no hidden agenda to keep the Nats off TV," said MASN executive producer Bob Whitelaw, who is in charge of bringing the new network together for the Orioles. "It is our intention to see that both teams do very well."

This is going to take some getting used to. Washington baseball fans have long viewed Angelos as the major obstacle to the return of baseball to the District - and with good reason - so it's easy to jump to the conclusion that he would do anything to keep the Nationals from enhancing their regional appeal.

But now that the Orioles have gained control over the broadcast rights to both teams, Angelos has millions of reasons to hope the Nats are a big success, at least from a broadcast revenue standpoint.

"Absolutely," Whitelaw said. "The desire is to get as many games on the air as possible from Harrisburg [Pa.] all the way down to North Carolina. [The Orioles are] paying the Nationals a rights fee. Why wouldn't we want to show all the games?"

Angelos does bear some responsibility for a shortage of early-season broadcasts, because it took so long to reach a compensation agreement with Major League Baseball. If Nats fans want to blame that on him, go to town, but they'll eventually get to see their team.

"I hate to ask people to be patient," Whitelaw said, "but it's going to take a little bit of time."

Monday's game was broadcast on WDCA, but that station doesn't have wide distribution on local cable systems. The network still has to work out agreements with eight different cable providers. The sooner that happens, the more the Orioles recoup the rights fee they must pay the Nationals. That may be hard for the D.C. conspiracy theorists to swallow, but there's a whole new baseball dynamic at work in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Because I recently became a champion of ballpark safety, here's another suggestion for the folks in stadium operations who are so intent on making Camden Yards a better place to watch a ballgame.

Raise the screen behind home plate a few feet. Too many sizzling foul balls are buzzing fans in that area of the field level, which includes the section for the players' families.

I'm certainly not suggesting the Orioles should be more concerned about the safety of the players' families than the rank-and-file fans in other parts of the ballpark, but that section has a far higher concentration of small children than any other area close to the field, and it gets peppered with a far higher number of foul balls.

Take this from someone who has sweated out a sharp foul ball and a series of skull X-rays (though the incident took place at a different ballpark). Fortunately for my kid, the X-rays were negative, but the danger is real.

Former Red Sox pitcher Derek Lowe got permission from the Los Angeles Dodgers to return to Fenway Park to receive his World Series ring at the Sox home opener on Monday. He even wore a Red Sox jersey for the occasion.

Don't know what the proper etiquette is on that, but I think it frees me up to wear a Tony Kornheiser T-shirt to the Nationals home opener tomorrow night at RFK Stadium.

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