Whilst for the players and coaches the upcoming new season is heralded by reporting to Spring Training camps, for baseball fans the sign that the new season is on its way comes in the form of the MLB.TV subscription details being announced.
MLB.com published that information today and the headline is that itâ€™s basically the same package, for the same price, as in 2013.
Two subscriptions to choose from
Once again there are two different subscriptions.
MLB.TV Standard provides live and on-demand access to HD-quality viewing of every single game of the MLB season. The annual subscription cost is $110, which at the current conversion rate is around Â£67.40 (slightly less than this time last year).
MLB Premium gives you the same features as MLB.TV standard but with the ability to use MLB apps to use your MLB.TV subscription on a host of different devices. For this, plus the ability to select either the home or road feeds (useful if you find one of the commentary teams annoying), you pay an extra $20 and this works out at just under Â£80.The subscription includes the At Bat 14 app for Apple devices, Android devices and Windows Phone 8, which otherwise normally sets you back Â£9-Â£10, so youâ€™re effectively paying for the app by upgrading to Premium.
All games available
Itâ€™s worth stressing that whilst North American customers are blocked from watching local games (and â€˜localâ€™ is extremely widely defined in some areas) and various national TV games, we in the U.K. are not subject to these blackouts and can therefore watch any we care to enjoy. This includes all of the postseason games. Thatâ€™s an important point to note as this isnâ€™t mentioned prominently in the main MLB.com promotional materials due to it not applying to customers in North America.
Around 200 Spring Training games will also be available to watch, with the limitation here simply being that a lot of the Spring Training games are not broadcast on TV and therefore there is no feed to watch.
As well as watching the games, you can also listen to the home/radio feed. Normally you can buy a specific Gameday Audio subscription for approximately $20 that just provides the radio coverage, as well as in-game graphics, although details on that are generally released closer to the start of the season.
On which devices?
Going down the Premium route to be able to watch the games away from your PC monitor is a real plus, but itâ€™s worth keeping an eye out on which of the listed devices will be available for UK customers.
Over 70 comments were posted on last yearâ€™s article here about the MLB.TV subscription details and many came from fellow British baseball fans reporting issues and solutions to connecting up to various devices. Please do post a comment if youâ€™ve got any useful information and experience along those lines to help out.
The issue is normally down to whether the MLB app is available via the specific device, aside from the normal At Bat 14 app that will definitely be available on Apple devices, Android devices and Windows Phone 8.
In some cases it wonâ€™t be available in the UK, or you may need to find a workaround (such as changing the region settings on your Smart TV etc). There is a list on the MLB.com FAQs thatâ€™s worth consulting although probably stops short of confirming whether it will definitely be available on your exact Smart TV/DVD.
From my perspective, my solution a year ago was to buy a cheap Roku box. The LT version originally retailed at Â£50 but can be picked up for quite a bit less than this (for example, at time of writing you can buy one from PC World for Â£30) and the MLB app is available on this for UK residents.
That option has become even cheaper with Sky Nowâ€™s TV box. BSkyB bought a stake in Roku and their basic Sky Now TV Box is essentially a rebranded Roku LT available for just Â£10. Some apps are not available through the Sky Now TV Box that you can get through the standard Roku box, most notably Netflix, but the Sky Now TV complete channel list does include the MLB.TV app, so it should be fine for your baseball viewing.
There was some concern about the amount of baseball weâ€™d be able to watch on TV when ESPN America disappeared on 1 August last year and was replaced by the ESPN channel as part of the BT Sport package.
Thankfully there was little difference in the number of live baseball games on offer with some, including most of the World Series games, actually being broadcast on one of the two BT Sport channels, so there will still be a decent TV option for baseball fans if paying for a baseball-only subscription is not for you.
Thereâ€™s still no sign of any free-to-air coverage, unfortunately, although hopefully BBC Radio will be continuing their baseball coverage on 5 Live Sports Extra again this season.
A great way to follow the baseball season
I know I write this every year, but it really is true that if youâ€™re a baseball fan and havenâ€™t gone down the MLB.TV route before, take the plunge if you can and youâ€™ll soon wonder how you ever got by without it. Â£80 for the Premium subscription is not loose change and the value for money comes from how much baseball you want to watch, or are able to watch, over the course of the year.
If you only want to catch a couple of games per week then you might not feel the expense is worthwhile and, if the option is open to you, a BT Sports subscription might give you all the want.
However, if the want to watch plenty of baseball throughout the year, particularly dipping in and out of lots of games over the course of an evening, then MLB.TV is a great choice to consider.
From Spring Training to the World Series, you get eight months of live baseball and even at four games a week (based on an average of 4 weeks in a month), youâ€™ll get 256 games for your money at about 30p per game. And thatâ€™s before tacking on the on-demand games to get through the offseason.
My Premium subscription will be renewed automatically and I canâ€™t wait for the games to get underway so I can dive into the feast of baseball once again.