If no injuries, World Classic healthy venture for baseball

ON MEDIA

March 03, 2006|By RAY FRAGER

On the rare occasions when I try something athletic -- say, tennis or basketball -- I usually have one overriding goal. It's not to play well or to be a good teammate or to display good sportsmanship. No, what I want most is to not get hurt.

So, what a surprise it was to learn my sports goals may match those of the best baseball players in the world.

Speaking about the World Baseball Classic, ESPN analyst Orestes Destrade said Wednesday: "This will be a success, I feel, if we don't have any injuries."

Fortunately for ESPN, which is carrying all 39 games of the Classic on various channels, the teams likely will have goals a bit beyond staying healthy.

Tim Scanlan, ESPN senior coordinating producer, said in the same teleconference Wednesday: "These games are historic. It's the first time a tournament of this sort has been held with this caliber of player. ... It's almost like an Olympic event."

The tournament began today in Japan (actually last night Eastern time). All of the games are available on ESPN's Spanish-language channel, ESPN Deportes, with others airing on ESPN and ESPN2. Two games were televised early this morning -- if you're reading this before the sun comes up, hurry to your TV and maybe you can catch Japan vs. China, which started at 4:30 a.m. on ESPN2 -- but you can catch a China-Korea game at 9 p.m., also on ESPN2.

One of the most anticipated matchups, Venezuela vs. the Dominican Republic, will be carried by ESPN on Tuesday at 1 p.m.

The network's top baseball announcing crew of Jon Miller and Joe Morgan will call the semifinals and championship game. Among the other ESPN announcers will be Karl Ravech, Gary Thorne, Jeff Brantley, Orel Hershiser, Harold Reynolds and Steve Phillips.

For Phillips, the former New York Mets general manager who has been such a strong, informative voice on ESPN's baseball coverage, the Classic is an outgrowth of the game's globalization.

"We always struggled with where we were going to find players," Phillips said. "... It's closing in on 50 percent of minor league players are foreign-born players, so the game today, in order to maintain the quality of play, has to grow internationally."

The wild card in the tournament is the Cubans, Destrade said.

"The Cuban team is kind of an enigma. ... You don't know them as well, which makes them dangerous," he said.

A much more known quantity, but also intriguing, is Roger Clemens, pitching for the American team at a time when it's not clear whether his major league career is over.

Clemens' presence, Destrade said, "will definitely influence other players" to participate in the future.

"That sends a message," Phillips said, "... that there's something special about playing with `USA' on your chest."

Still launching

At the Orioles' Mid Atlantic Sports Network, it's time to gear up for the start of the baseball season. And that also means talks continue in an effort to get on Comcast's cable systems, MASN executive Bob Whitelaw said this week.

Again, this is no issue for Orioles fans, who continue to get full access to games via broadcast stations and Comcast SportsNet. But for most Washington Nationals fans, three-quarters of their team's games won't be available, because the MASN portion of the schedule can be seen only on DirecTV and three smaller cable systems.

Meanwhile, Whitelaw said, MASN is continuing with plans to launch as a full-fledged regional sports channel sometime this summer, whether or not it has a deal with Comcast.

Stan the Magazine

Speaking of launches, Stan "The Fan" Charles is starting up a free weekly sports newspaper called Press Box, due to debut April 27. In conjunction, he has renamed his Saturday morning talk show on WJFK (1300 AM) Press Box Live (though let's not be too lively on Saturday at 7 a.m., OK?) and also plans a Web site connected to the venture.

Charles, who will serve as editor and publisher, said: "Going on the radio was the first step in building this small sports media company. We hope by the fall to be involved in something in television."

The envelope, please

Oh, that wacky Billy Packer. Appearing on ESPN Radio's Colin Cowherd show yesterday, CBS' lead college basketball analyst offered an off-the-wall idea for NCAA Coach of the Year. Packer suggested that, given how Roy Williams had won a title at North Carolina with players another coach recruited and how Bruce Pearl was succeeding at Tennessee with players another coach recruited, the award could be split between the guys who did that recruiting and then lost their jobs -- Matt Doherty and Buzz Peterson.

ray.frager@baltsun.com

Read Ray Frager's blog at baltimoresun.com/mediumwell

Top-rated sports

Highest-rated sports programming for Baltimore for Feb. 22-28 (ratings measure the percentage of television households watching a program):

Program Date Ch. Rtg.

Olympics-a 2/23 11 23.2

Olympics-a 2/24 11 12.3

Olympics-a 2/25 11 11.0

Olympics-a 2/22 11 10.7

Olympics-a 2/26 11 9.6

Olympic Zone 2/23 11 7.9

Olympic Zone 2/22 11 7.7

Olympic Zone 2/24 11 6.4

Olympics-b 2/23 11 5.8

Olympic Zone 2/25 11 5.8

a-prime time; b-late night [ Nielsen ratings courtesy of WBAL-TV]

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