Posted by: Mike Cornelius | June 6, 2022

Brunch Ball In The Bronx

The Yankees and Tigers played baseball Sunday morning.  Despite the predictions of some, and perhaps the hopes of a few, the world did not end.

In the early days of this year’s delayed Spring Training, MLB announced a deal with NBCUniversal to air 18 regular season games both this year and next exclusively on the network’s Peacock streaming service.  Under the agreement, the games all start at either 11:30 a.m. or noon east coast time, and the contest in the Bronx was scheduled for the earlier first pitch.  The $30 million a year NBC is paying for the rights to this tiny fraction of MLB’s schedule barely moves the needle on the league’s $10 billion annual revenue stream.  The deal is important not for financial reasons, but because it represents an effort to broaden the sport’s media availability, as do similar agreements between MLB and the streaming services of Amazon and Apple. 

Whoever first said, “change is hard” was obviously a baseball fan.  For in the Great Game, change of any kind is greeted by some fans with the same enthusiasm as a warm beer in the bleachers on a steamy summer afternoon.  The curmudgeons are no less curmudgeonly when, as in this case, the “something new” is unrelated to the actual game played between the foul lines. 

The howls of protest that greeted news of MLB’s streaming deals came primarily from fans used to watching most of their favorite team’s games on that franchise’s local cable network.  These regional sports networks typically carry the bulk of a team’s schedule, save for games that are picked up as part of MLB’s national broadcast contracts.  In turn, those agreements have always been with major outlets such as ESPN or Fox Sports, networks almost certainly included in a subscriber’s monthly package of channels available through the cable box sitting near his or her flatscreen.  Still, even the minor inconvenience of searching for a different channel has been enough to draw the ire of some of the sport’s faithful.  And woe is the innocent who happens to be nearby if such a fan discovers that the availability of the desired contest is affected by local blackout rules. 

Imagine then, the response of this cohort of baseball aficionados upon learning in March that access to some games this season would require a separate subscription involving a technology unrelated to said cable box.  The bitterness that followed brought to mind the original outraged response by some to the designated hitter rule, anger that evolved into a stern resentment still harbored in a few quarters even as that innovation approaches its fiftieth anniversary.  The early start times for the games on Peacock, reportedly inspired by positive viewer response to MLB and NFL games broadcast from London on Sunday mornings, were but one more insult piled atop the grievous injury.

Kidding aside, fans whose commitment extends to wanting to be able to watch every contest of their team’s 162-game regular season schedule are to be celebrated.  But a constant and legitimate complaint is that MLB needs to do more to attract new fans, and the simple truth is that many potential viewers are no longer doing their viewing with a cable box serving as intermediary.  The league’s streaming deals are a small nod to that rapidly growing segment of fans, both current and potential.  Over the years On Sports and Life has offered plenty of criticism of MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s leadership, and future occasions to do so again are certain to come along.  It seems only fair to recognize when the league’s leadership gets something right.  Expanding the ways that baseball can be seen is the right thing to do, even if it does in a very small way inconvenience some.  After all, folks not able to stream Peacock or Apple TV+ or Amazon Prime can always listen to the game on the radio.  Long before cable boxes, fans across the country clung to the words of talented announcers whose voices brought the Great Game to life.

As for Sunday’s affair, the 11:30 start time made for a rather thin crowd when left-hander Jordan Montgomery took the hill for the Yankees.  But most of the empty seats filled up soon enough, with more than 38,000 enjoying a sunny and pleasant day at the Stadium.  Athletes in every sport are creatures of routine, ballplayers perhaps even more so as a means of navigating the grind of the longest season.  Media reports after the game had a few on both teams acknowledging that, just like those fans who weren’t quite ready on time, they had to make some adjustments.  But at the other end of the day, fans and players alike had the welcome bonus of free time on a weekend afternoon and evening.

That came after a back-and-forth tussle between New York and Detroit.  Montgomery has been cursed with a lack of run support in almost every one of his starts this year, and that unfortunate trend continued.  The rangy southpaw surrendered just two runs while pitching into the 7th, but the Yankees could only match that output against Tigers’ starter Rony Garcia, who was originally signed by New York as an international free agent in 2015, then claimed by Detroit in the 2019 Rule 5 Draft.

Those two New York tallies came in the 5th, after it appeared the inning was over when shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who had reached base on a single to right, was initially ruled out trying to steal second as the back half of a strike-‘em-out, throw-‘em-out double play.  But a replay review clearly showed he beat the tag.  Given new life, New York capitalized when Joey Gallo homered to deep right.  The Yankees then took the lead in the 7th on a bases loaded walk, only to fall behind half an inning later when erratic reliever Miguel Castro yielded a pair.  New York then rallied again in the bottom of the frame, with Anthony Rizzo doing most of the work.  The first baseman was hit by a pitch to lead off.  He then stole second and advanced to third when the throw bounced into center field.  Rizzo then charged home on a slow chopper by Gleyber Torres, sliding in safely as third baseman Harold Castro’s throw went to the backstop.

The 4-4 tie pushed the game into extra innings, and after Yankees reliever Michael King set the Tigers down in order in the top of the 10th, Aaron Judge took up his position as the designated runner at second base in the bottom of the inning.  Rizzo’s infield single moved Judge up 90 feet, and Josh Donaldson’s long fly ball to the left field warning track easily sent him home without even a courtesy throw.  The comeback victory was New York’s sixth walk-off win of the season, giving the Yankees the best record in the majors with exactly one-third of the schedule complete.  Though there is still very far to go, at least some of the happy fans heading for the exits did so thinking this just might be a special year in the Bronx.  Of course, even more than baseball in the morning, for the hopes of Yankee haters that would surely be the end of the world.

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