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Matt Smith is the editor and lead writer at BaseballGB. An Oakland A's fan, Matt has been obsessed with baseball since 1998 and started writing about the sport in 2006.

Weekly Hit Ground Ball: the All-Star Break

There’s been lots of MLB news for me to catch up on since I returned from my trip to Rotterdam.  British baseball fans received further information about the future of ESPN America, while Jonathan Sanchez’s no-hitter on Friday night was a great way to end the working week. 

The mid-season break gives us all a chance to take stock, ready for the second half of a season that looks set to produce some exciting pennant races. 

All-Star rosters released

This year’s All-Star starting rosters were released last Sunday ahead of the game this coming Tuesday night.

The American League team infield is given over to the AL East.  Mark Teixeira won the closely contested battle of the four first-base choices (beating out Kevin Youkilis, Justin Morneau and Miguel Cabrera), while Red Sox Nation made sure Dustin Pedroia would be starting at second base ahead of arguably more deserving candidates in Aaron Hill and Ian Kinsler (the latter somehow didn’t even make the extended roster).  That does mean we will once again enjoy the fun sight of Pedroia working with Derek Jeter up the middle. 

If Kinsler’s omission was an unpleasant surprise for Rangers fans, Josh Hamilton’s start in the outfield was a welcome one.  He has made the lineup despite missing a considerable amount of the 2009 season so far and his performances have been less than spectacular when he has been on the field.  His astonishing Home Run Derby exhibition at Yankee Stadium last year has clearly left a lasting impression on the voters.  My selection for centre field, Torii Hunter, was listed in the extended roster but has had to withdraw due to injury, so the Rangers benefit yet again with Nelson Cruz (Mark’s pick) heading to St Louis instead.

The starting lineup for the Senior Circuit mirrored my selections in all positions except for catcher, where Yadier Molina got the home town nod ahead of Brian McCann.  The curse of the All-Star centre field has struck the Mets’ Carlos Beltran as well and his roster spot has gone to Jayson Werth.

MLB.com are certainly generous when it comes to allowing fans to get involved in the All-Star selection process.  Not only could you vote twenty-five times for the starting players, there was also an opportunity to add a final player to each roster.  The Tigers and the Phillies came up with a successful joint-marketing plan, called ‘Bran Torino’, to win those final spots for Brandon Inge and Shane Victorino. 

All that’s left now is for the two managers, Charlie Manuel and Joe Maddon, to select who their starting pitchers will be.  Management of the pitching staff has been a key topic at All-Star games in the recent past, although it’s not so much who was pitching at the start that has made the headlines but who has nearly had to pitch at the end. 

And we can’t let this game pass without bemoaning the demise of Five’s coverage once again.  Jonny and Josh must be feeling pretty disappointed right now, knowing that in previous years they have been at the big event, giving us British fans a real sense of the atmosphere and the occasion.  Not for the first time, and far from the last, their absence will be keenly felt by many.

ESPN America’s future becomes clear

With Five not showing the All-Star game, your choices are limited to MLB.com or ESPN America.  If you have access to the latter then this will be one of the final good opportunities to make the most of the channel. 

News reports this week confirmed that ESPN’s new sports channel, built around their recently acquired Premier League rights, will include North American sports content.  Nobody knew quite how ESPN’s plans would affect ESPN America’s output in the UK, but a story on the Sky News website has clarified matters:

“From 3 August, the new channel [‘ESPN'] will offer top-flight football alongside international sports and a wide-range of premium US sports previously provided on ESPN America, which will be integrated in the UK into the new channel”.

So, ESPN America in its current form will no longer be shown in the UK, although it will continue to serve the rest of its territories in Europe and beyond. 

The biggest disappointment will be felt by Sky subscribers who suddenly found ESPN America was available via the News and Events package in the immediate aftermath of Setanta Sports’ demise.  However, that deal looked too good to be true and was really just a bonus until ESPN had sorted out their new strategy.

Instead, Sky subscribers will need to pay £12 per month to get the new channel, or an additional £9 per month if they already subscribe to the Sky Sports package.  Full details for Virgin Media customers have not yet been released. 

The new channel will make MLB games available in HD to British viewers for the first time, although the major question now centres on how much air time will be given to the North American sports.  All eyes will be on the channel’s broadcasting schedule when it becomes available, with fingers crossed that MLB coverage in the UK is not reduced even further.

Random thoughts and observations

  • The trading deadline isn’t too far away, but there doesn’t appear to be much happening. The main trade of recent days saw the Braves and Mets swap outfielders who had fallen out of favour: Jeff Francoeur and Ryan Church. When those two teams are willing to work together, you shouldn’t hold out much hope that any of the players involved are going to make an impact.
  • Will the Blue Jays find a trade partner for Roy Halladay?  They’ve got to be asking for a substantial package and it’s not clear whether anyone will meet their demands.  ‘Doc’ will be a big boost to any team’s play-off chances if he does land with a new team before the deadline.
  • Manny Ramirez tied with Mickey Mantle on the all-time home run list on Friday by hitting his 536th career round-tripper, but even Joe Torre noted that Manny’s numbers will now always be tainted with suspicion.
  • As rumours swirl about the film adaptation of Moneyball being canned, A’s fans are more interested in the team’s current predicament.  Outfielder Travis Buck continues to be messed around, called up from the Minors and then sent back down again almost straight away this week, and manager Bob Geren continues to impress nobody with his in-game decisions and his unhelpful utterances to the media.
  • Recommended reading for the week: ESPN’s Peter Gammons has written an excellent piece on MLB teams signing international players, such as Cuba’s Arolbis Chapman.

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3 Responses to “Weekly Hit Ground Ball: the All-Star Break”

  1. Joe Cooter #

    I’m sorry to hear about what is going on with ESPN, however given the Fact that Mickey Mouse is in charge of the operation I am not surprised. If they are going to be showing American content, it would not surprise me if some of you get offend by their “morning shows” Especially Mike and Mike in the Morning, where the hosts constantly pick on the producer, who is an Englishman btw, about his drinking habits.

    The other thing I should warn you about is Tommy Smyth who covers both horse racing and Football for NESPN, (as a Yankee fan we call it the New England Sports and Programing Network, but that’s another story) Smyth’s catch phase when a player scores a goal is to say the player, “put it right in the old onion bag.” Which seems annoying to some. Anyrate just thought I’d forwarn you about ESPN’s programing. Take care.

    July 12, 2009 at 1:30 pm Reply
  2. Tim #

    Given the cliches, sickly hyperbole and repetition most football commentators in the UK are prone to, I would be willing to give “old onion bag” a chance, if only for a laugh. But I can understand how the lack of variation would get grating.

    July 13, 2009 at 12:59 pm Reply
  3. Joe Cooter #

    Since NESPN is broadcasting American Sports, I have to warn you about their college basketball telecasts, especially when they have Dick Vitale broadcasting. ESPn has nicknamed him Dickie V, because of his passion for the game, but it is more like he’s Dookie V because he has a bias towards the Atlantic Coast Confrence and the University of North Carolina and Duke University.

    July 13, 2009 at 11:09 pm Reply

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