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ESPN, Orioles victory make for a great Sunday night of TV baseball

BaseballFox Broadcasting CompanyChris DavisBaltimore OriolesESPN

What a great Baltimore weekend for lovers of fine TV baseball.

The Orioles sweep the Yankees, and ESPN comes to town Sunday night and delivers a winning national telecast. Plus, it comes hot on the heels of first-rate coverage Saturday night from Fox Sports. (Read my review of Fox's Saturday night telecast here.)

I'm not all that crazy about the three-guys-in-booth broadcast team of Dan Shulman, Orel Hershiser and John Kruk. But I loved the sound, look and feel of Sunday night's production.

ESPN anchored the telecast with some of the most eloquent and evocative panorama shots of Camden Yards that I have ever seen. And that's saying something since I've been watching games telecast from that venue since it opened.

The finest shots in Sunday's 4-2 Orioles win came from the right field side of the stadium shooting toward third base and up into the twilight as it settled over the stadium early in the game.

Later, the production featured a shot that looked to be coming from the light tower in right field down onto the field.

And then, there were the hand-held camera shots, like the one that accompanied Chris Davis as he circled the bases after yet another home run.

As he moved from third to home, the camera person shot up toward him, so that the Orioles first baseman looked bigger than his usual big -- he looked positively mythic as the camera's line of sight took in Davis, the stadium lights and the deepening black night sky. The shot screamed epic. Of such images are legends made.

If that image of Davis in his home run trot set against the stadium lights and night sky isn't the TV sports telecast as poetry, it's close enough for me on a Sunday night in June in front of the tube.

ESPN made a bunch of smart choices in this production. The audio was excellent. You heard the crack of the bat on Manny Machado's home run, and you knew it was gone. The singing, clapping and roar of the crowd was always in your ears.

The cameras were in the stands and on all those 40,000-plus fans from the opening moments. And they successfully captured the energy, edge and little bit of craziness in Baltimore fandom.

I'll admit the guys in the booth even grew on me a little throughout the broadcast.

Bottom line on play-by-play announcer Dan Shulman is that he does not have the sense of authority or commanding vocal rhythms of Joe Buck, who did the Fox broadcast Sunday. In terms of vocal presence he's just not in the same league.

But, by the end of the game, I had to concede that he did a solid job of keeping the broadcast on track and maintaining control of the conversation.

At one point in the seventh inning, the trio started getting a little goofy talking about who would protect whom if a ball were hit in the booth. Just as I started to write the word "stupid" on my pad, Shulman instantly forced his team to focus back on the field saying the next pitch could change the outcome of the game.

It didn't, but it was a call to attention, and it worked.

Hershiser is a strong analyst. He's not Jim Palmer, but he's close enough. It took him an inning more than it would have taken Palmer to explain to viewers that Orioles pitcher Chris Tillman had nothing but a fastball the first three innings. But eventually Hershiser explained what was and wasn't working on the mound -- and he did in precise and easy-to-understand language.

"That ball had a little turbo-sink on it," he said of one pitch.

And for all the deserved talk about Chris Davis in the Fox booth Saturday, neither Buck nor Tim McCarver said anything that seemed as apt as Hershiser describing the first baseman's home run stroke Sunday by saying, "It's really a majestic swing right now."

I am not sure what Kruk's role is. He's supposed to be a bit of comic relief, I think, but he simply felt extraneous to me all night.

As much as I like Fox's Ken Rosenthal, ESPN's Buster Olney gets my vote as best former Sun sportswriter in town this weekend as an onfield TV reporter for the anecdote he shared about Orioles legend Brooks Robinson calling Machado over to his side recently and asking the 20-year-old "to make an error once in a while" to make him "feel better."

It was a lovely little touch linking the Orioles of today with the greatness of Baltimore's baseball past. Thanks to Olney for sharing it with us Sunday night on ESPN.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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BaseballFox Broadcasting CompanyChris DavisBaltimore OriolesESPN
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