Saturday, August 05, 2006

Late-Breaking News: Not even a week has passed since I promised that I'd quit writing about the Nationals for the rest of the season, but a major development calls for me to acknowledge its significance. This might be interesting only to cable subscribers in the D.C. area, but it's practically earthshaking news for us: Comcast has ended its vendetta against the Orioles' owner Peter Angelos, and agreed to carry the Nationals' games on its cable systems.

This is a complicated situation, but bear with me. When MLB came begging at Angelos' door, pleading for him to allow the league to move the Expos to Washington, Angelos extracted a big pound of flesh. Holding out the possibility of suing to block the team's move to D.C., Angelos blackmailed the league into agreeing to give him the rights to most of the Nationals' TV broadcasts. He pays a fee to the Nationals, to be sure, but well below the market value. Worse, the Nationals have no say in the deal -- they can't control their own TV coverage.

Angelos created the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network to televise Nationals games, with the intention of moving Orioles games to MASN in few years. Comcast Cable has a local channel called Comcast SportsNet, which had a contract with the Orioles to broadcast most of their games. In response to Angelos' announced plans to move Orioles games to MASN, Comcast sued practically everyone, and the company refused to carry MASN broadcasts on its cable systems. This meant that almost all cable subscribers in the region could not see Nationals games on TV (except for the handful of games aired on broadcast channels). And it had to be devastating to the Nationals' plans to promote the new franchise -- to generate fan loyalty and interest in the new franchise.

This idiocy reached truly unimpressive heights, when a Nationals game in Anaheim, against the Angels, scheduled for national ESPN broadcast, was blacked out here to protect MASN's exclusivity, even though the cable systems carrying ESPN did not carry MASN in the first place. The game was probably the most exciting win for the Nationals all year, but very few Nationals fans got to see it (only DirectTV subscribers). I weighed in on the matter in a letter to the editor, published in the Washington Post, after the ESPN Angels' game fiasco. (The Washington Post, June 23, 2005, A26).

So, it is with some delight, tempered by nearly two years of being soaked by this corporate pissing match, that I am proud to convey the news that Comcast has agreed to start televising Nationals' games, beginning in September. Seriously -- they're not that bad -- that outfield can really hit (Soriano, of course, but Church is a new man since his recall, and Kearns is now comfortable -- these two developments may be more than mere coincidence). The infield has a strong group of hitters, too, with Rookie-of-the-Year favorite Ryan Zimmerman, the unflappable Nick Johnson, Felipe Lopez, and Marlon Anderson. If only the Nationals could find some TV announcers to approach the quality of their outstanding (best in baseball) radio tandem, the cable broadcasts would really be something to anticipate.

Other Matters: Obviously, The Fisch Fry is still being cranked out this weekend. Didn't go to New York. Didn't see Chase Utley's streak end. So what can the Fisch Fry faithful expect this weekend? Definitely, a report on the MLS All-Stars vs. Chelsea FC; maybe the much-promised essay on Soccer and Life, the Universe and Everything; and, I hope to debut a new feature, a chronicle of my crazy, upstairs neighbor, starting with this night's misadventures. The working title of this new feature? "Diary of a Mad Neighbor" -- or, possibly, "The Man Who Smelled Too Much" -- or, even, "The Man Whose Nose Drove Him Crazy." I am also mulling over some combination of these two possible titles: "The Stupidest Story Ever Told" and "The Worst Neighbor Ever." I am open to suggestions for the title of this feature.

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