It’s World Series time, with the nation’s sporting attention turned to Major League Baseball’s two best teams.
Too bad for Fox that those clubs are the Philadelphia Phillies and the Tampa Bay Rays.
No, the network guys would have preferred the more intriguing major market matchup posed by the defending champion Boston Red Sox and the National League’s late-bloomers, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Manny Ramirez, in Dodger Blue, back in Fenway. How would Red Sox Nation have responded? And Joe Torre, the respected nemesis in Yankee pinstripes, coming to Boston in a Dodger uniform? Oh, the drama.
But, no, the Phils and the Rays are playing in the game’s ultimate series. They deserve to be there, too.
Philadelphia has such ability up the middle, with former MVP Jimmy Rollins at short, newly muscled slugger Chase Utley at second and the Flyin’ Hawaiian, Shane Victorino, in center. First baseman Ryan Howard, another past MVP, rivals Manny as a must-watch at-bat. Cole Hamels is a terrific twirler. They’re all led by Charlie Manuel, the good ol’ West Virginia baseball man who just lost his mom. Ya gutta luv ‘em, as they might say in Philly.
Tampa Bay is simply the non-Olympic sports story of the year, putting together a last-to-first burst to rival the Amazins’ (’69 Mets) themselves. The former Devil Rays, who lost the Devil in their name and suddenly played like angels, are no fluke (sorry), either. Matt Garza, James Shields and Scott Kazmir can fling from the hill with anyone. Power-hitting third baseman Evan Longoria, one letter off from the Desperate Housewife Eva Longoria (Parker, as in Tony), is a season removed from Fall League baseball in Scottsdale. And the most compelling Ray has his own Arizona connection; centerfielder B.J. Upton, brother of the D’Backs Justin, has returned from mid-season malaise and a benching to approach records for post-season home runs and effortless, gliding catches, respectively.
So it’ll be good baseball. If you can stay up late enough to watch.
Fox has scheduled the seven World Series games, two of which are on weekends, to begin at 8 p.m. Eastern. That’s 5 p.m. in Arizona, not too late for most fans … unless we have some of the contests like Tampa Bay-Boston, who played a 4:08 nine-inning game and a 5:27 11-inning contest. Even on the West Coast, a four-hour weekday baseball game is pushing it for kids. A four-hour World Series game starting at 8 p.m. on a weekday in the East? Out of the question for youngsters.
Baseball used to understand its need to groom the next generation of fans. World Series would begin on a Saturday, with four games on weekend days, not nights. You could see Bob Gibson stare down Tiger hitters, or Brooks Robinson stab a hot shot off the bat of Johnny Bench, or the A’s Gene Tenace stun the Reds with long home runs, all in broad daylight.
Championship basketball and football games, measured in length, don’t start so late. Why baseball, then? Couple the admittedly appealing uncertainty of baseball’s duration with a late start, and you’ll have to sit down with a night-time cup of Joe (and, no, not DiMaggio) if you’re determined to see it through.
And yet we’ll do it. To heck with productivity on the Eastern Seaboard; Phils-Rays is going to be great baseball. Pardon the bleary eyes the next morning.