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MLB Opening Day on BBC 5 Live Sports Extra

by Matt Smith

Mlb5XtraHlMLB’s Opening Day is always a special occasion for baseball fans; the long winter days are waved away as seven months of baseball stretch out before our eyes.

However, Opening Day will will be more enjoyable than usual in 2011.  For the first time since 2008, a UK broadcaster will be bringing us live coverage as the season gets underway.  MLB returns to BBC 5 Live Sports Extra today with the Detroit Tigers facing the New York Yankees from 6 p.m.  Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia will be on the mound for what is set to be an exciting way to start the season.

A welcome return

It was on 4 July, Independence Day, last year that British baseball fans welcomed back the sport to a non-subscription service after an all-too-long absence.  As we watched the 2008 World Series on Five, little did we know that the channel was about to move away from the late-night North American sports coverage that had been one of its distinctive (many would say ‘few’) qualities. 

It wasn’t just the lack of free-to-air coverage, bringing newcomers to the sport, that made the loss of ‘Baseball on 5’ so disappointing.  The show had become a vital and fun way to bring the British baseball community together.  BBC 5 Live Sports Extra reunited that community last year and Josh Chetwynd, co-presenter on both shows, was as delighted as any fan.

“It was fantastic. Britain’s baseball audience is savvy and enthusiastic and, often, it feels like we’re all part of one family. Beyond the audience it was also wonderful to reunite on air with so many people I was lucky enough to get to work with or know from years past, such as Jonny Gould, Erik Janssen, David Lengel and Nat Coombs”.

The wonders of radio

Things aren’t quite the same as before, with the action now being brought to us in audio rather than visual form.  That doesn’t reduce the enjoyment though as baseball, like cricket, suits radio perfectly, as Josh explains: “I do believe baseball is a wonderfully descriptive game and great broadcasters who have excellent command of language can really make the game sing on the radio. Also, baseball lends itself in many ways to radio with it’s easy pacing.  On TV, people want more fireworks”.

One of the advantages with the radio show is that the team has a greater choice of games to broadcast, rather than simply following the ESPN schedule.  This also means that the commentary is provided by the announcers of one of the two teams involved, adding an extra element to the show.

“There tends to be a hometown bias that’s really fun coming from many of those broadcasters”, Josh notes. “Ron Santo, who sadly passed away this off season, was the best. You could really feel his pain every time his Cubs struggled. TV often lacks that populist feel”.

British baseball fans will be able to enjoy such commentary on a weekly basis this year.  Today’s Tigers-Yankees clash is followed on Sunday with a game between the Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers.  The focus moves to the National League on the following Sunday when the Phillies take on the Braves, before games between the Blue Jays and Red Sox, and the Yankees and Orioles, round out the month of April.  The current 6 p.m. start time means that the games are coming from the east coast (1 p.m. starts local time) initially, but other areas will be featured as the season progresses.

Hopes for 2011

There is much to look forward to in MLB this year and the 5 Live show is sure to reflect this.  After covering the second half of the 2010 season and the playoffs last year, the team are clearly excited to be back for a full season in 2011.

”As we’re starting from the beginning of the year this season rather than mid-season we really hope we can build some momentum with some regular features, numerous guests – fingers crossed – and the same combination of insightful analysis peppered with some good fun” said Josh.  “I know we really want the show to remain very interactive so hopefully we’ll continue to build on our efforts to get listeners involved, much as we tried to do on Five”.

And there should be plenty of stories for listeners to contact the show about.  ”I’m really geared up for a fantastic season” said Josh. “Clearly, everyone is tipping the Red Sox and the Phillies (with some hold-out Yankees fans). But I always love the unpredictability of the long season. The certainty of the spring always gives way to surprises by mid-summer and I can’t wait for the ride”.

Join Josh, Nat, Jonny and the rest of the team on the journey by tuning in to BBC 5 Live Sports Extra on DAB radio and Digital TV again this season.  The show’s Facebook page can be found here.

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RICHARD DUMUGHN March 31, 2011 - 9:26 pm

Yankees won 6-3. Whatever!

Gareth Pitman April 1, 2011 - 12:22 am

Great to have MLB back for the new season and I agree about the return of coverage on 5live. I have ESPN so watched the Yankees/Tigers game there, but during ad breaks switched to the radio coverage.

I too miss the Channel 5 programmes. The banter between Jonny Gould and Josh Chetwynd was legendary. I never did understand 5’s decision to ditch all of it’s American sports coverage, but it’s good to see “JC” back on 5live. He certainly knows his stuff.

From what I heard today it seems that the 5live coverage doesn’t patronise its audience and assumes knowledge of the game from its listeners. Far too easy for UK shows covering US sports to slip into generalities and “get to know the game” sections. Am looking forward to hearing more fromn JC and the crew and hearing the local broadcasts(especially the great John Sterling and his home run calls – “It is High, It is Far, it is Gone!” during Yankee games).

Great to have baseball back and I’ll definitely be listening to 5live around my ESPN viewing.


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