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Baseball Network strikes out again for Oriole fans


For the second time in a week, the Baseball Network and its restrictive rules strike again, costing Baltimoreans a chance to see their hometown team.

Emerson Coleman, programming manager at Channel 11, which as an NBC affiliate has the rights to the Friday "Baseball Night in America" telecasts, said the station -- after a series of discussions with NBC's affiliate relations department -- opted not to push for the Orioles-California Angels game. The game starts at 11 tonight, which would have meant bumping the late local news and NBC's late-night programming.

Instead, Orioles fans will see the Detroit-Cleveland game at 8 p.m.

"It [carrying the Orioles game] was an undertaking they [NBC] preferred we not do," said Coleman. "There's an argument to be made on all sides. There's rarely a situation in scheduling where everybody can be happy. Taking out several popular shows in a time slot where they're expected to be is not always an attractive option."

And because the Baseball Network has exclusivity, local carriers aren't allowed to bring games that don't air in a market back to that market. Orioles fans aren't alone. Games involving the Red Sox and Yankees, who also are playing out West this weekend, are not being seen in their cities, though New Yorkers will get to see the Mets play host to San Diego.

Of course, interrupting the NBC late-night schedule in three large Eastern markets might throw a kink in Jay Leno's momentum surge against CBS' David Letterman, but an NBC spokesman said the circumstance was "just coincidence."

In addition, Channel 11, which just beat Channel 13 in the July ratings book, probably wasn't interested in blowing off its late local news, even for the Orioles, whose ratings have risen steadily since the All-Star break.

This whole sorry situation just reinforces the bankruptcy of the Baseball Network, an experiment steeped in madness.

By the way, NBC, like ABC before it, told Major League Baseball yesterday that it would not give up its 45-day exclusive negotiating window for a rights package. NBC already has expressed that it will not bid for broadcast rights, but likely is attempting to keep other networks, namely Fox and CBS, at bay.

Quick hitters

The only good sidelight of tonight's baseball telecast is that Bob Costas, and NBC for that matter, returns to regular-season duty for the first time in six years.

The best boxing choice of the weekend is the Pernell Whitaker-Gary Jacobs WBC welterweight title fight from Atlantic City on HBO at 10 p.m. Super middleweight titlist Roy Jones Jr. will join the network's telecast team as an analyst for this fight.

ABC (Channel 2) begins its 30th season of college football telecasts with two preseason contests, leading off with the Pigskin Classic as Michigan plays host to Virginia at noon tomorrow, while Sunday's Kickoff Classic pits Ohio State against Boston College at 2 p.m. from the Meadowlands.

Finally, as a warm-up to next week's U.S. Open, CBS (Channel 13) will serve up tennis Sunday, starting with the Arthur Ashe AIDS Tennis Challenge, a series of exhibition matches from the National Tennis Center in New York at 1:30. That's followed by "Pete and Andre's Guerrilla Tennis," a behind-the-scenes look at the rivalry and lives of Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, the two top seeds at the Open.

The kiddie corps

To a lot of sportscasters, drawing sideline reporter duties at the Little League World Series finals (Channel 2, 3:30 p.m. tomorrow) is a lot like having a root canal done. After all, interviewing a bunch of precocious kids can hardly do a lot for a big-time sportscaster's image.

Except that wading in among the moppets is right up Maria Sansone's alley. At 14, she's America's youngest sportscaster, and Sansone, who starts the ninth grade in Erie, Pa., next week, believes that, for this assignment at least, her age is a bonus.

"They [the players] are probably nervous about being interviewed on national television, but when they're talking to me, they think, 'She's my age.' They don't have to worry about feeling stupid around me. I'm so much easier for them to talk to," said Sansone.

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