These are exciting times for baseball fans.Â The MLB regular season draws ever closer while the World Baseball Classic has reached its final stages.
Amid this backdrop, the week has been marked by an unlikely cricketing audition by a Major League slugger and further uncertainty in regards to baseball’s terrestrial TV presence during 2009.Â
It’s just not cricket
Earlier this week, we were treated to the bizarre sight of Manny Ramirez trying his hand at cricket.Â Delightfully decked out in cricketing gear (helmet, leg pads and – what Manny was most proud about – the all-important box), Ramirez faced some gentle bowling with a bemused smile on his face.
If I said that Manny had walked out on his new 2-year/$45m contract to take up a cricketing career, you might pause for a second and think: “well, I wouldn’t put it past him”.Â However, National League pitchers have not had their prayers answered.Â Ramirez was simply taking part in a promo stunt for DirecTV designed to raise the profile of the Indian Premier League (IPL).
Would Manny make much of a cricketer?Â His technique is a useful demonstration of the fact that batting in cricket and baseball are twoÂ very different disciplines.Â Certainly hand-eye coordination is important with both (as Manny points out himself), but a baseball swing has little else in common with most cricket shots.
“The power needed to hit that far [a 450 foot home run] comes from pivoting the hips. It’s more akin to a golf swing than a cricket shot, where opening the hips means you’ll play across the ball”.
Just as “James Hildreth simply couldn’t curb his desire to cover-drive, and Arul Suppiah played a string of lovely back-foot defensives with a vertical bat”, Manny found it difficult (admittedly after only a small amount of practice time) to turn his baseball-hitting instincts into an effective cricket technique.
Fielding is a key difference between the two games as well, another point explained in Bull’s article by Alan Smith, Great Britain’s General Manager.Â Even so, it’s safe to say that the defensively-challenged Ramirez would be hidden away at the third man position should he venture any further with cricket.Â He would certainly be good value when it comes to banter with the crowd on the boundary.
However, comparing the two sports is useful in reminding us just how much dedication it takes to make it to the top level of either.Â England star Kevin Pieterson has all the athletic ability to be a good baseball player, but he would struggle to get anywhere near the Majors if he took up the sport today.Â That’s no slight against KP, it’s simply due to the cricketing path he has taken in his life so far and the incredibly high standard he would be required to meet.
Ramirez is equally talented, but he has been playing baseball since he was a kid, putting in hour-upon-hour of practice for years before he made his Major League debut in 1993.Â The top players make the game look easy, so you can overlook the fact that even a fringe Major Leaguer is a very talented player on any overall scale of baseballing ability.
By the same token, Pieterson has taken his natural talent and worked for years to make him the cricketer he is today.Â There are no short cuts to the top of the sport, so Manny is unlikely to be square-cutting a bowler at Lords any time soon.
He’s also unlikely to be belting a home run at Lords either, although the idea of the Dodgers playing America’s National Pastime at the ‘home of cricket’ sounds like a good one to me.
‘Does anyone know who won?’
One comparison you can make between baseball and cricket is the ability of their respective leaders to mess things up.Â Few sports in the world can match cricket’s administrative ineptitude and that was highlighted on Friday by the farcical end to England’s One Day International match against the West Indies.Â ItÂ was a good five minutes after the players had come offÂ the field before anyone knew who hadÂ actuallyÂ won the game.
The affair called to mind game five of last year’s World Series, when most onlookers were unsure what was happening as the players finally ran for cover from the rain-lashed ballfield.Â Was the game over?Â Had the Phillies won the World Series?Â Few people, not even all of the players, were completely sure.
All things considered, baseball cannot quite match cricket in the ‘does anyone know what they’re doing?’ stakes.Â At least this was a rare occasionÂ in which England come out on the right side of a cricketing farce.
Will MLB be on British TV in ’09?
Just two weeks to go before the MLB opener between the Braves and the Phillies and we still do not know whether the game will be broadcast on terrestrial TV.
There is still no official news from Five about their plans for the 2009 season.Â AÂ restructuring exercise is taking place at the channel, in which “up to 87 positions out of a total workforce of 354 could be impacted”, which doesn’t give much cause for optimism that they will be willing to invest in late night sports.Â Unless a late deal can be reached with MLB International, Five’s eleven-year run of supporting the sport looks set to come to an end.
Hopes that the BBC could provide an alternative haven’t yet been supported by any concrete evidence either.Â However, they have kindly updated the baseball page on the BBC Sports website to include a link to our Baseball Basics for Brits series, as well as the National Baseball League stats on the GBBSA website.
It’s starting to look like our opening night excitement could beÂ tinged with sadnessÂ causedÂ by the sport disappearing fromÂ non-ESPN America subscriber’sÂ TV screens.Â Fingers crossed that the Sunset and Vine team are able to find a new home soon.