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A few thoughts about Marquee Sports Network’s 2021 spring training coverage

They are doing a very good job during an ongoing pandemic.

Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The last year has been challenging not only for baseball, but for everyone, as you surely know.

While we are coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are not completely out of the woods yet. Major League Baseball has issued another 100-plus page Operations Manual setting up rules for everything from roster sizes to travel to how many people can be in ballparks in various “tiers.” You saw, no doubt, what happened to Pedro Strop and two members of the Cleveland Indians when they broke MLB protocols a couple of weeks ago.

All of this also applies to the Cubs’ TV channel, Marquee Sports Network. They launched in February 2020, just weeks before the pandemic shut baseball, and everything else, down. That created a difficult environment for them to broadcast games when the 2020 season finally began.

This year, when spring training schedules were changed just two weeks before they were scheduled to begin, Marquee scheduled telecasts of the 14 Cubs home games at Sloan Park, but no away games.

Why? The answer is simple, according to Marquee general manager Mike McCarthy: “There’s only one reason. It’s the pandemic. That’s it. There’s no lack of awareness of what Cubs spring training games mean to the fanbase.”

McCarthy noted that the 14 games being covered by Marquee “compare quite favorably” to other teams. To my knowledge, the only teams carrying all their spring games are the Dodgers and Angels. There are travel restrictions which, for now, have Marquee on-air talent doing games from their Chicago studios calling games off monitors, though they might move to Wrigley Field once the ballpark is ready for occupancy.

“We had aspirations of experimenting on the web,” McCarthy told me, “but we got ensnared in some complications there.” He cited “safety of our employees in a pandemic” as his top priority.

“To travel to these one-off sites and to mount security in every one of those locations where we’re not in any control would have been challenging and probably almost impossible,” McCarthy added. “So we’re proud of the coverage we are offering, but we’re being very careful about it in a pandemic.”

McCarthy said their goal is to bring as many games as possible, safely, while following the MLB guidelines and protocols. Those protocols do affect the crews they hire to be in Sloan Park, having “as small a number of people” as possible for game coverage. He added, “There are a lot of people involved in keeping things safe — league, team, stadium.”

Today, I can bring you news that Marquee is adding one spring away game to its remaining coverage. They’ll televise the game against the Texas Rangers at Surprise, Sunday, March 28 at 2:05 p.m. CT.

So, of the 13 remaining spring games, Marquee will televise eight. In addition, the following away games will be live on MLB Network via the opponent’s TV channel: Thursday, March 18 vs. the Indians at Goodyear and Monday, March 22 vs. the Angels at Tempe. The game Wednesday, March 24 against the Mariners at Peoria, which starts at 8:40 p.m. CT, will be on MLB Network on a delay of a little over an hour, starting at 10 p.m. CT.

That leaves just two remaining spring games with no TV: March 19 vs. the A’s and March 27 vs. the Reds. Both will have audio available online from the Cubs’ opponent.

Once the regular season begins, Boog Sciambi and Jim Deshaies will be broadcasting road games from Wrigley Field, until MLB deems it safe for broadcasters to travel.

I commend Mike McCarthy and Marquee for doing as much as they’re doing this spring in what is still very much a pandemic situation.

Lastly, the network is going to add Beth Mowins to its coverage of the next two home games. Beth will be introduced as part of Wednesday evening’s broadcast which will be called by Pat Hughes, and then she will call all of Saturday afternoon’s home game against the Rockies. Pat will call Sunday’s game against the Reds, and Boog will return for coverage the rest of next week.