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"Next on 'Inside the Canadian Football League, Western Division, Nightly'!!!!"

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Fittingly, much attention is focused on MASN these days. The nearly superfluous network, blood monied with forty pieces of Angelosian silver, prevailed in its war of viewer attrition against equally slimy Comcast. MASN made its way into the DC area mainstream last fall, and its integration into the broader Mid-Atlantic is progressing; it will appear on Comcast-Richmond sets, as part of the basic tier, by April. Overflow dates won't even present a problem---Comcast has agreed to air MASN2 and, as Nats320 confirmed, DirecTV will do the same. For good or ill, MASN is here to stay.

That's all well and good, but where does it leave Comcast SportsNet? I suppose we shouldn't cry for CSN, as it still owns the winter sports (Wizards, Caps) and is the exclusive home of Redskins coverage (with the exception of the John Riggins Show, which is simulcast on MASN). But the loss of the Orioles---not to mention the lack of an opportunity with the Nationals---leaves a gigantic hole in the middle of CSN's summer programming.

CSN's vice president and general manager, Rebecca O'Sullivan-Schulte, discussed this void in a recent Washington Times article. Needless to say, O'Sullivan-Schulte did not delve into specifics. She mentioned "plenty of stories and sports content to take care of," and the author of the article referenced CSN's solid studio work, implying more may be in store. In the past, CSN's non-O's summer programming has not exactly been inspiring. On days and evenings when the O's would be broadcast over-the-air, for instance, CSN was heavy on Canadian Football League rebroadcasts. I think I recall seeing darts. Yes, professional darts. That might be a fun diversion to take a gander at the Brickskeller or, where I live, Penny Lane Pub. But I'm not certain I'd watch televised darts even if I had pneumonia, four broken legs, and two dead remote control batteries.

Tell me again why the Mid-Atlantic needed another regional sports network?

Anyway, the Times article seems to foreclose the thought of live baseball on CSN, which would be a pity. Certainly, live Major League Baseball is impossible, thanks to MASN. But there might be a way for CSN to squeeze out some lemonade from some sour summertime lemons: minor league baseball.

The Nationals---as well as, to a lesser extent, the Orioles---are preaching patience, kids, "The Plan," Tomorrow's Stars . . . Today! and the like. In a very real sense, the attraction won't be at RFK this summer but at whatever it is they call the ballpark in Potomac; it won't be on WTWP but on Cool 95.9 FM in Hagerstown. CSN can get in on the ground floor of this stuff.

Now, I don't want to be willfully naive. Of the approximately two million fans who attend RFK during the 2007, the vast majority won't know or care what Chris Marrero is batting or where Colton Willems is pitching. They won't know Steven King from Stephen King, Stephen Englund from Robert Englund, or Colin Balester from the Senator of Malastare. (I had to look that one up . . . fortunately.) Yet, there's a dedicated segment of the fanbase that has not only bought into "The Plan," but endorsed and trusted it implicitly. They want to see the prospects play, to progress, to make their claim before they're a name, so to speak.

The Nationals and the Orioles---and, however you look at the whole baltiBLOW hate, CSN has an interest in catering to fans up and down the Mid-Atlantic---have several minor league affiliates in the general region: Prince William, Hagerstown, Aberdeen, Delmarva, Bowie, Harrisburg, Norfolk. There must be a way to show some of these teams without being excessive about it.

As it is, CN8, "The Comcast Network," has televised Eastern League games for several years. (Harrisburg and Bowie are league members.) I'm not sure if even one percent of Comcast subscribers know what CN8 is, other than that it's whatever occupies channel eight. We've had it in Richmond for a couple years, and it's weird, man. CN8 is like a shadow network operating out of somewhere in New Jersey. It has its own morning show, news shows, topic-driven talk shows, sports shows (Brian Mitchell and Andy Pollin seem to appear), and live sports. That's a lot of programming, but who watches it? Not me; I just flip right past. It's a strange thing---like Comcast is oblivious to the existence of The Today Show, Larry King, and ESPN.

Anyway, I see no reason why Comcast can't merely shift its Eastern League game of the week from that CN8 thing to CSN. Obviously, I see no big deal, but I'm some idiot blogger. And just because Comcast has an ownership stake in both channels might not mean anything; just Google up the various Fox SportsNets to get a gist of how convoluted these relationships can be. But if it can be done, it should be done: Put an Eastern League game or two on CSN per week. That's baseball.

What about the International League? What about the Carolina League? It's interesting to note CSS, a network created from a Comcast/Charter Communications partnership, televised a Thursday night minor league game of the week from June to August last season. Now, looking back at that schedule, most of the games catered to CSS's audience, which is based in the Southeast; about half the games involved Atlanta's affiliates, and the others involved teams like Jacksonville and Memphis. Nevertheless, I for one would not object if CSN ran some Richmond Braves games, and perhaps Comcast could endeavor to do something like this kind of thing for CSN.

There are all kinds of possibilities here, they don't necessitate 100 broadcasts a season (like CSN used to do with the O's, thereabouts). Throw in a few broadcasts from Norfolk (Triple-A affiliate for the O's), especially when Columbus (the Nats' affiliate) is in town. Toss in a few Richmond games. What about the Carolina League? Put on some Potomac and Frederick games. How about the Sally League? Hagerstown and Delmarva.

Heck, the Ripkens own the Aberdeen IronBirds, and Cal Ripken Jr. is a big-time Comcast spokesman. What about tossing in a few Aberdeen (O's) - Vermont (Nats) New York-Penn League games?

Just because CSN can't show Major League Baseball doesn't mean it can't show baseball. (And we haven't even mentioned college baseball yet.) We know somebody out there thinks minor league baseball on the tube is worthwhile---according to this press release all 72 home games for the new Lehigh Valley team of the International League will be televised in 2008. Sounds good to me. Remember: More Baseball = Good Thing.

* * * *

Lots of stuff has happened while I was away fine-tuning my own pitcher projection system. I might as well note them quickly:

  • Nick Johnson may be out till June, perhaps longer: Obviously not good news, eh? Among other things, Johnson provides what has to be considered the Nats' most dependable offensive skill. Zimmerman has obvious talent with the bat, but neither the average nor the power seems a sure thing at this point. Kearns has power, but I'd hardly say reliably so. No matter what, Johnson has his batting eye. Not even Guzman's out-making is as reliable. (Guzman might still be injured, after all.)

    Even in a bad season, Johnson would be capable of drawing walks and getting on base. I don't mean to go all "OBP is Life" on you, but having a walk machine on your squad is hardly ever a bad thing.

    In the meantime, there's Larry Broadway, Travis Lee, and recent minor league signee Dmitri Young. Although Young is fascinating and Lee brings a sweet glove, doesn't it seem sort of wasteful not to take Broadway for a whirl? I'm not saying to do anything rash or make any long-term decisions based on two months of regular play, but what's the point of carrying the guy on the 40-man roster if you're not going to play him when the starter goes down?

    The answer is simple: There is no point.

  • Nats sign Ron Belliard: Remember the first couple seasons of Night Court, when they had a habit of casting as the wise-ass female bailiff some old hag who had smoked herself nearly to death? First, it was Selma Diamond; then, it's some woman whose name I cannot recall (R.I.P.). Remember them?

    Well, I hope so, because they're dead.

    It wasn't until Marsha Warfield came along that the show's producers solidified that all-important secondary role, and in a way Belliard is our Marsha Warfield. Unlike Tony Womack, D'Angelo Jimenez, Jose Macias, and a minor league cast of thousands (Mel Dorta, Josh Wilson, Bernie Castro), Belliard can actually play the game at a big league level these days. I'm not precisely sure why Belliard had to condescend quite this much (big pay cut, World Champs to . . . uh, the Nats), but some of it probably had to do with it being a tight market for second sackers this offseason. Part of it also might have to do with some sort of extortion investigation, though I know nothing about that, so I won't comment further.

    Belliard can serve as an understudy at second and, one supposes, third. He's also Guzman insurance, in which case Felipe Lopez would slide back to short. Put him in the lineup instead of Cris-Cross, and I guarantee the team's offense would . . .

    . . . go up. (You thought I'd say jump, right?)

  • Nats sign Tony Batista: Great deal. He's got that awesome batting stance, and maybe I'll see him pop a homer or two when the Clippers pay a visit to The Diamond. This is just a fun little signing; there's no substance here. Given the current plan to give Kory Casto some spring action at third (so as to give him actual action during the spring), it's entirely possible Casto, not Batista, would get the call to replace Zimmerman in the horrific (and hopefully never-realized) even Zimm suffered a major injury.
  • Frank says go to hell: Well, not in so many words, I guess. The Lernastens invited him back for a Frank Robinson Day, and he declined. Fair enough. Some fans, sensing the dis, got indignant. Thom Loverro got indignanter. And, out of it all, Capitol Punishment emerged as a moderate voice. A long, strange trip it's been, indeed.

    I've written enough about Frobby, and there's not much to add. Most people around the Nat(m)osphere probably consider me a bit soft on the Frank subject. He managed one of my all-time favorite teams, the '89 O's, and it would take an awful lot to screw up that. I recall getting impatient with his managing as another of my all-time favorite teams, the '05 Nats, went down the tubes---and it was blindingly obvious he is not the man to lead this team to future success. I doubt there's a Jack McKeon Act in him, too. It's pretty much over. He won't leave, because it seems he can't. But he should. If he feels he is not appreciated enough, then perhaps he should allow people to appreciate him from a distance. I'd heartily recommend he work on that updated biography project I pimped last offseason.

    Bill James once advised Rich Gossage to "keep pitchin', Goose---you'll be retired a long time." The funny part of that advice is that it presupposes retirement at some point. That point really should be now for Frank. Sit back, relax, put your feet up, and play some golf, Frank. The O's will give you a real celebration some day, and so will the Reds. You've certainly earned it.

* * * *

One last note: The so-called "mainstream media" (code name: Real Journalists) are getting into the blogging business, and I couldn't be happier. I like it when the reporters write a bit less formally---not that journalism, with its one-sentence paragraphs, frequent sentence fragments, and liberal use of contractions, is a bastion of formal writing---and when they put a bit of personality into their work. The newspaper limits such relaxed standards, of course, but teh internets is perfect for it. I predict that by mid-March, Thom Loverro will be writing "teh." Do it, Thom! It's so liberating!

Anyway, Barry Svrluga of the Post is back after an Olympic year off from his award-winning* Nationals Journal blog from Viera (not to mention the Post's incomparable DC Sports Bog); Todd Jacobson of the upstart Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star remains a dutiful reporter-blogger; and now the Washington Times has gotten into the act with Nats Home Plate.

The Times, which in the past didn't even update its sports website until the late morning, has effected some sea changes in its baseball coverage. Loverro and reporters Mark Zuckerman and Tim Lemke update the "Chatter" blog quite regularly, and I confess I'm a bit surprised and delighted to discover Loverro is one heck of a blogger.

The best bloggers, I've found, are the ones who make you think. In a post on Wednesday, Loverro did just that. He commented, "The only pitchers you should sign to any deals more than two years are your own, the ones you know the best and have a history with." I'm not sure I agree; I'm not even sure that's a tenable strategy to maintain a competitive team. But it sure is interesting. It made me think. That's what the good bloggers do---with, you know, maybe a bit of laughter thrown in. And a sure-fire way to get teh laughter is to throw in a teh here and there. Teh!

At any rate, with the three publications referenced above---as well as the weekly mailbags prepared by Bill Ladson of MLB.com---it appears all the major outlets covering the Nats have committed to significant fanbase interaction. This is a wonderful development. As a blogger, I couldn't be happier. Welcome to the club. Unlike me, you actually know what you're talking about.