Early in the baseball season, when everything is new, each movement on the field is put under a microscope. So the Orioles' 0-3 start gets scrutinized far more than a three-game losing streak in the middle of the season.
Likewise, with the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network not only beginning a season, but also debuting as the Orioles' (and Washington Nationals') sole telecaster, MASN's performance gets viewed under the harsh lights that include making a first impression.
While keeping in mind that MASN is just starting out and - one would think - should be able to iron out any technical glitches soon, I offer the following observations from the first three games:
• When the crowd noise rose, it would often drown out the announcers' voices.
• The standing graphic - with score, inning, outs, count and runners on base - that sits in the upper left of the screen was too big, sometimes protruding down into a player's helmet or cap on close-ups, and generally distracting. Combine the graphic with the MASN logo and the advertising signs visible on the wall behind home plate, and there was an awful lot of stuff on the screen competing with the actual players for your eyes' attention.
• Over here, Rick! Studio analyst Rick Dempsey was having problems figuring out which camera to look into.
• Silence might be golden, but not when you cut to your announcers and you initially can't hear them talking. For example, it happened Wednesday when MASN switched from manager Sam Perlozzo's post-game remarks to game announcers Jim Hunter and Buck Martinez.
• At the end of Wednesday's post-game, host Tom Davis was in the middle of signing off when the telecast abruptly switched. (Though, to be fair, these last two could have been a function of my cable carrier.)
Beyond the technical aspects, MASN has installed a major upgrade with new play-by-play man Gary Thorne. He carries the gravitas of a seasoned, accomplished professional, and he simply just knows how to call a game.
Thorne sprinkles his call with incisive observations and nuggets of information relevant to the game situation. For example, on Tuesday, he noted how Kevin Millar's stance indicated Millar was expecting inside pitches from the Minnesota Twins' Boof Bonser. After Daniel Cabrera yielded an inning-opening walk, Thorne mentioned Cabrera's mark of retiring 61 percent of leadoff men in 2006 against the 70 percent of first-batter outs recorded by effective pitchers.
Describing Melvin Mora's home run, Thorne said: "He looked like he was ready for the Masters on that one. He 9-ironed it out."
And over the course of a long season, a play-by-play announcer needs a sense of the whimsical. When a dugout shot showed the Orioles coaching staff chomping away while watching from the bench, Thorne said: "Gum-chewing contest going on in the Baltimore dugout. We have an early leader in Leo Mazzone on chews per minute."
MASN also had some nice camera work. A couple from Game 2: the pictures of Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada's diving stop to start a double play and a replay showing how the Twins' Rondell White shifted his stance to make sure he hit the ball to the right side to advance a runner.
Given my general aversion to sideline reporters in any sport, I shouldn't pass judgment on Amber Theoharis' performance. It's not her fault, but any information she is passing along during the games could just as easily come from one of the game announcers.
The bottom line? It's early in the season. Plenty of time to make adjustments. Already, Dempsey has ditched that radioactive red jacket he wore for the opener.
Drink upYet another reason to love listening to Joe Angel: During Wednesday night's radio broadcast, with the Orioles trailing 7-0, Angel jokingly expressed his frustration to partner Fred Manfra: "The Orioles need seven runs. And I need a Seven-and-Seven."
Cal and Chuck?During yesterday's conference call announcing TBS's addition of Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn to its postseason baseball telecasts this year, Ripken said one of his reasons for agreeing to become a studio analyst was his enjoyment of TBS's NBA show with Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley.
"I'm a big NBA fan," said Ripken, who will partner with Johnson for TBS's coverage of the Division Series and National League Championship Series. " ... I envision an opportunity to do something like that show."
It's hard to picture Ripken - to whom "outrageous" has never been applied - approaching anything like Barkley's outspoken persona, but asked if he might get Barkley to join in Ripken's well-documented pickup basketball games at the gym on his Reisterstown estate, Ripken said: "That's one of the perks of this job is I have access."
Ripken said he joined TBS because the job fit the criteria of a position he was interested in along with one that worked in his lifestyle.
"It gives me a chance to give my insight to the games and analyze the games that fits into my schedule," the former Orioles All-Star said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun