Wednesday October 15th, 2003. I woke up on this morning with more anticipation and excitement than any other. The previous night the Marlins had played the Cubs in Game 6 of the NLCS and I knew that if we’d won Game 7 would be live on UK television that night. Not only could the Marlins make it to the World Series but I’d get to see it live. In the UK we only get coverage of ESPN’s Sunday Night and Wednesday Night Baseball and Marlins games are quite rare. Our most important game in 6 years would be live, if only we could win Game 6…
I headed straight for the university library, logged into the Marlins homepage and prayed for good news. I wasn’t disappointed. Marlins 8, Cubs 3. Game 7, Wednesday night, live on TV. Wow.
I look back on that day with great fondness but sadly, days like that aren’t going to be happening anymore. Channel 5 in the UK has announced that they will no longer be showing live baseball on Sunday and Wednesday nights. For the fans of baseball in this country it’s a hammer blow. No more coverage. No more baseball. The UK market has been blacked out.
It’s the global economic crisis that’s to blame apparently. Since the show goes out between 1am and 5am it’s not exactly a prime spot for advertisers (often whole shows would run without commercials – what a luxury for us fans) and there were simply too many costs to cover. The presenters, Jonny Gould and Josh Chetwynd, made the show special. Yes, the live game is what we’d tuned in for, but in between innings the highlights and stories from around the league, the chat between the presenters, the fun and games and the viewer interaction was just as entertaining. That won’t be a part of my life anymore and I’m saddened by it. Yes, I’ll still watch games on MLB.TV like I have for the last couple of years but this isn’t a luxury that many fans have. I’ve had emails read out on the show, got a birthday shout-out for my dad and seen an article I’d written for the student paper discussed and shown live on air. I felt a bond with the presenters and so did other fans too. It seemed like we were a community of baseball lovers staying up late to indulge in our passion. Other mocked our devotion but we were proud of it. At times the show ceased to be a baseball programme and seemed more like a social gathering. You get your mates round, have a few of beers and watch the game. The presenters were everyone’s friends and the banter that flew around the studio and in the emails was something special.
Only having two games per week plus the World Series meant that most teams were rarely shown. Yes, the Marlins won the World Series during the first year of coverage (1997) but in the next 5 years we were on just once as far as I can recall – a 10-0 loss to Atlanta. Still, it was live baseball and it was better than nothing. We were next shown on September 24th 2003, our playoff clinching win over Philadelphia. With the way the scheduling worked out our games against the Giants weren’t on and had we lost Game 6 to the Cubs it would’ve been Game 6 of the Red Sox/Yankees series instead. As it was, I got to see the Marlins play in the playoffs, a pleasure that I thought fate would conspire to deny me. The World Series was magical, of course it was, but seeing them play live for a place in the World Series is a memory that’ll last a lifetime.
I know that should the Marlins ever make it back I can catch it all online but there’s no sense of occasion when you watch everyday. That Game 7 simply wouldn’t have had the drama for me if I’d watched Game 6. I don’t think I’d have looked forward to it in quite the same way. If baseball was back on British television I’d still watch the Marlins games on MLB.TV, except on Sunday and Wednesday nights because that show was the best thing on the box.
I hope the show comes back soon and I hope it stays on the same channel. New presenters, new format, new channel – well, that’d be fine, but we’d still long for the way it used to be. 12 great years of baseball coverage included some great moments, such as Cleveland coming from 14-0 behind after 7 innings to win 15-14, Boston hitting 4 home runs in a row against the Red Sox, Houston’s extra inning marathon that ended at 7:21 UK time plus all the classic World Series games. If that Houston game happened again now I’d log off, go to bed and watch the rest the following day (just like I did for the SD-COL playoff decider not long ago) but games on TV are different to those online. You felt you needed to keep watching. You couldn’t go to bed. You’d be letting down the presenters and all the other hardcore viewers who’d stuck it out. So what if the sun was already starting to rise, the show must go on and the fans must keep on watching.
Sadly, we can’t watch anymore. The sunshine this morning was lying to us – today was a very grey day indeed.