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Tonight’s Game: A Tripleheader

9/30/2005 8:00 PM Eastern

Watching baseball every night via Major League Baseball’s superb “Extra Innings” package leads a viewer to conclude that every home in America is shopping for a new car. Or truck, SUV or minivan.

That may be an exaggeration. But you would hardly know it from the tons of commercials. Moreover, virtually every opportunity has a sponsor: the “Call to the Bullpen” is brought to you by Cingular Wireless on Turner South; Ford presents the “Play of the Game” on the Kansas City Royals’ RSTN, and so on.

Now in its fifth year, Extra Innings, available through In Demand, DirecTV Inc. and Dish Network, costs less than a buck a day: $169 for the entire 2005 regular season, giving out-of-market fans up to 60 games per week. And there’s been plenty to see this season, as MLB has enjoyed a banner year on the field.

Extra Innings provides the ultimate “reality programming” fix for baseball junkies. If there’s a no-hitter going in Houston or you want to find out first-hand about “magic numbers” for multiple teams in a pennant race, you don’t need to wait for ESPN’s Baseball Tonight.

Each regional net, though, must deal with objectivity versus “homerism” issues.

FSN Rocky Mountain announcers Drew Goodman and George Frazier feel the enormous contract for the Colorado Rockies’ Todd Helton is justified, even though most unbiased baseball observers would argue the former batting champ’s deal prevents the budget-conscious club from emerging from the cellar.

The lack of enthusiasm for an opponent’s sterling play is also bewildering. On a mid-June night on FSN Bay Area, the Oakland announcers barely note a pair of back-to-back spectacular defensive plays by the visiting Phils. A third finally merited acknowledgement.

But someone else noticed: Of the four A’s-Phils highlights shown on ESPN’s SportsCenter, the first three were the defensive gems.

FSN Bay Area announcers could be excused for their exuberance when slugger Barry Bonds finally made his season debut on Sept. 12 and led a brief Giants’ resurgence.

The quality and chemistry of on-air talent should be the strength of any RSN, yet it’s surprising that some teams don’t gel. That’s not the case in New England, where the insight and objectivity of Don Orsillo and former Sox second baseman Jerry Remy make them an entertaining listen, with NESN cutting to shots of the tandem several times per game.

Homerism and announcer-team shortcomings aside, the package also suffers from what some skippers are accused of giving their starting pitchers: the quick hook.

Extra Innings doesn’t carry the networks’ pre- or post-game shows and game coverage sometimes ends in mid-sentence of a wrap-up. Alas, if a viewer wanted to see a replay Johnny Damon’s running catch to end a wild 10-9 Boston win over Cleveland on FSN Ohio, he’d have to find it on SportsCenter.

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