This diary is an attempt to put together all the various ways to follow Cubs games when one isn't at home in Chicago. After spending almost a decade of my life away from Chicago, i've researched most of the options for doing this. I'm going to list them first, and then give the advantages/disadvantages of each one. The goal is for this to be a complete list of options, so if I'm forgetting anything, please let me know in the comments - any egregious omissions or errors will be corrected (with due credit going to those catching my mistakes, of course). Anywho, here's the list:
Game threads and message boards (BCB, TCR, and NSBB)
Online Gamecasts (cbs.sportsline.com, ESPN.com, MLB.com, etc.)
Night-time AM radio (WGN)
Internet radio (MLB Gameday Audio)
Satellite Radio (XM)
Internet Video Streams (MLB.TV)
Place-shifted TV (Slingbox/Orb)
Standard Cable Channels (WGN, TBS, ESPN, FOX, etc.)
Premium Cable Service (MLB Extra Innings)
Now i'll give the options, strengths, weaknesses, and best use of each of these methods...
Game threads and message boards
Options: TCR's parachat, BCB's game threads, and NSBB's game threads. The Cub Reporter's Parachat service is a chat room, and as such is my personal recommendation because in a chat room you don't have to keep pressing the refresh button.
Strengths: These are all free if you already have internet service, and you shouldn't need high speed cable to use these. Furthermore, you get better descriptions of events from people on the boards then you do through the gamecasts that deliver text based play-by-play. Finally, it adds to the sense of community one has as a Cubs fan.
Weaknesses: Lack of detail. You have to count on others to post what is happening, and even then it is almost impossible for them to rival the level of pitch-by-pitch detail delivered by the gamecasts
Best use: This is not a great primary option for following the game. However, it is a great secondary option - one you can couple with almost any of the other above options to increase the enjoyment you get from following the Cubs.
Options: CBS Sportsline, ESPN, Fox Sports, CNN/SI, MLB.com, and Yahoo!. I'm sure I missed a few, but i think those are the biggies. I personally use CBS sportsline, but that's mostly because that where my fantasy league is hosted and thus the interface with fantasy info is slicker for me there.
Strengths: Detail. A lot of detail. Many of these sites give pitch-by-pitch updates to the game without a need to refresh your browser. Furthermore, many of them allow you easy access to important strategic information such as relevant splits, hit charts, pitch counts, and pitch charts. This is another method that can be used to enhance the experience of any of the others. I have one open for nearly every single Cubs game i'm near a computer for, if for no other reason to track the pitch count for the starting pitchers that day.
Weaknesses: No audio, no video, no heart. This one is all data.
Best use: Combine with other mediums to get important stats as they are updated live.
Options: WGN @ night
Strengths: "Chicago Cubs radio is on the Air!" You get to hear Pat and Ron announce the game. Need i say more?
Weaknesses: This only works at night, and this option has limited range. I've gotten WGN broadcasts as far east as southern Pennsylvania. Worse yet, when you get nighttime reception, its still an extremely poor quality audio signal.
Best use: When you're in the car and can't afford XM satellite radio.
Options: XM Radio is the only one. Sirius carries games from the NFL, NBA, and NHL, but not MLB.
Strengths: Once again, you get, "Chicago Cubs radio is on the Air!" With XM Radio, you also can pick up another broadcast of the game in case you prefer another announcing duo to Pat and Ron, or in case you want to listen in Spanish. XM Radio is also very portable. In fact, you can even get a portable XM player that allows the ultimate in Cubs broadcast portability.
Weaknesses: $$$$$ The cost is high - not only do you have to buy a player (entry cost ~$50), but you also have to pay a monthly fee for service. This can cost as little as $10 if you're willing to buy a 5-year plan, or as much as $12.95 if you want to pay for a year's worth of service.
Best use: This is by far the best option if you'll be in your car a lot during games. It also works if you don't have high speed internet service, can't afford the steep price of the MLB Extra Innings Package, and still want audio broadcasts of the game. The best use, in general, is for people who are already considering purchasing a satellite radio and prefer MLB audio to NFL and NBA, and NHL audio. Correction: DmL points out below that XM has NHL games. For the record, you can find XM's sports lineup here, and you can find Sirius's sports lineup here.
Options: MLB's Gameday Audio is the only one, due to broadcasting rights.
Strengths: "Chicago Cubs radio is on the Air!" Once again, you can listen to any broadcast of the game, including those in Spanish. Finally, this option is inexpensive: the cost is $14.95 for the entire season, and you get every single game. It's a fantastic deal i usually purchase for times when i'm on an internet connection too slow for video streaming.
Gameday Audio. I don't think you'll need high speed internet for this to work properly, but i'd recommended you have it if you plan on streaming games often.
Weaknesses: This option isn't as portable as Sirius, as you have to have a computer with an internet connection to make this work. Also, no video.
Best use: If you're going to be at a computer during most of the games, this is the most cost effective way to listen to them. Its better to get the internet video feeds, if you can afford them.
Options: Slingbox, and Orb. There may be others out there, but those are the two i'm currently aware of.
Strengths: This is, far and away, the most cost-effective way to watch the Cubs from out of town (but there IS a big catch, so read on). For a reasonably priced up-front investment, you can purchase either a TV-card for a computer or a Slingbox, and then send it to a friend/family member that lives in the Chicagoland area and receives all the Cubs games through their basic cable service. This helpful being would have to connect either their computer or the slingbox to both the internet and their cable. Once this is done, the computer/slingbox acts as a server for their cable TV service you can log onto to stream their incoming cable signal live. Here's the best part: there's no monthly fee! All that's required is the up front investment in a TV tuner or slingbox.
Weaknesses: There's a small weakness in that you need a friend in Chicago, but here's the big catch: the legality of this is uncertain. While there have been no challenges to Slingbox itself to date, MLB may have a problem with you watching Cubs games from your friend's cable service. It could potentially be construed as "redistribution of telecasts without the express written consent of the Chicago Cubs and Major League Baseball." I can't speak to the legality of this method, so anyone who uses it does so at their own risk. Furthermore, realize that its your generous friend that would be at risk here for the broadcast redistribution.
Best use: If you are going to be near a computer often, and can't afford the premium video quality offered by MLB Extra Innings, this is the best, and most cost-effective way to watch the Cubs from out of town.
Internet Video Feed
Strengths: For a very competitive price, you get video and audio of almost every single MLB game. This comes in over the internet, so you can watch from home, on the road, or even from work (if allowed). I've been using this method for years. My job requires me to be at a computer a lot, so i will usually have the Cubs game on in a small window (~25% of the screen) while i do work in other windows. This service works anywhere in the world that you can get an internet connection, and is actually better for some outside the U.S. as the blackout rules don't apply to people in some countries.
Weaknesses: The video quality is decent, but nowhere near that of TV. Also, there are some blackout rules that you should look into before ordering this service - for example, you won't be able to get Cubs games with this service if you live in one of these zip codes. Additionally, when nationally televised games are on FOX or ESPN, all MLB.TV games are blacked out. However, most of the blacked out games are ones you'll be able to catch on cable, so if you have cable and MLB.TV you'll catch almost all of them.
Best use: If you don't want to take the legal risk of place-shifted TV, and can't afford MLB Extra Innings, this is the way to go. Additionally, if (like me) you spend a lot of time at a computer and away from a TV, then this is a great option.
Standard TV/Cable Channels
Options: FOX, WGN, ESPN, ESPN2, TBS, regional cable sports channel (i.e. Fox Sports Net, NESN, etc.)
Strenghts: The Cubs on TV! Also, its free if you're already subscribed to cable.
Weaknesses: You're subject to the scheduling whims of Major League Baseball and its TV deals, which many times make no sense at all. Also, many cable packages don't include WGN unless you upgrade to their digital package, which increases the cost.
Premium Cable Subscription
Options: MLB Extra Innings
Strengths: All the MLB games, all year long, on your television. Simply put, its by far the best option if cost is not an option.
Weaknesses: The cost. Its not egregiously expensive, but it is the most expensive option out there. You can get it for as little as $160 if you buy the package when its on special.
Best use: If you will be home for most of the Cubs games, and you can afford the price, this is the best way to go.