The Cubs turned up for the first of what will surely be several appearances on ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball" showcase last night. I thought I'd take a look at how they treated our team and also what differentiates a network telecast from what we normally get on a local Cubs telecast.
Most noticeable is that ESPN features a three-person broadcast team with Dan Shulman, Jessica Mendoza and Aaron Boone. Although this inevitably leads to more chatter in the booth, I didn't find them objectionable. They played it pretty down-the-middle, although unfortunately there weren't many Cub highlights in the 1-0 San Francisco victory.
In the intros, Boone noted that the Cub resembled a typical American League East squad in the way they work counts and stress on-base percentage. It didn't take long -- before the first pitch -- for Shulman to mention the Cubs were trying to "break the curse" and bring home their first title in "over a century."
Mendoza called Dexter Fowler "one of the best leadoff hitters in all of baseball'' and said Ben Zobrist best represents what the Cubs are "all about'' with his approach at the plate.
The network showed a good graphic breaking down how the Cubs have put together their roster under Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer.
Another major difference in the show was the in-game interviews with players, something we never see on local telecasts. Jake Arrieta was the first and Joe Maddon the second of two interviews with Cubs personalities (Maddon with Buster Olney was on tape and very brief). The Arrieta interview provided some interesting insight, when he talked about how the Cub pitchers help each other out, and about how quickly the young core of the team has developed. Maddon only answered two questions from Olney so it seemed barely worth the trouble.
One tedious bit was Mendoza and Boone sampling the local food from Ike's during the fifth inning. Each also had their featured segments: Mendoza with the "Mendoza Line" spotlighting local SF flavor and Boone with his "Boone Doggle'' in which he imitates a select player (in this case, former Giant star Will Clark).
There weren't as many sponsor related intrusions as on a regular Cubs radio game; the whole thing was sponsored by Taco Bell, and there were several promos for an upcoming Disney reboot of "Alice Through the Looking Glass."
When Javier Baez was called out on a bunt attempt for sliding outside the baseline in the eighth inning, Boone quickly labeled it a bad call.
In the ninth Shulman said, "So much can happen but wouldn't this be a fun playoff series." When it was over he said, "What a fun ballgame here in San Francisco tonight." (Maybe it was for Giants fans, not so much for us.) Shulman made note of the Cubs dropping seven of their last 11 contests.
At the conclusion, ESPN signed off quickly and sent it to SportsCenter. There were no postgame interviews with any player of the game or with the manager as we are accustomed to on local telecasts.
Note: The Cubs will be on ESPN again on Tuesday night from St. Louis, although that game will be on a non-exclusive basis. Chicago-market viewers, and those with MLB.tv or Extra Innings, can still watch the usual Len & JD broadcast. Outside the Chicago and St. Louis markets the ESPN broadcast will feature announcers Jon Sciambi, Rick Sutcliffe, Doug Glanville and Raúl Ibañez.