Afternoon baseball. Back in the day, when baseball was still America's pastime, afternoon baseball was the rule, not the exception.
In the 1970s, Curt Flood, Andy Messersmith, Marvin Miller and the era of free agency drove the need for ever-increasing revenues. Baseball's ownership determined the best way to drive revenue was to move the vast majority of games to prime time, seeking the almighty advertising dollar at the expense of a generation (or two) of young fans—who would no longer be able to watch games in consideration of early-morning wake-up calls and school attendance.
But owners made the fateful (fatal?) decision they needed to abandon afternoon baseball as a means to compete in a new age driven by frantic player movement and burgeoning regional cable sports networks.
Gone are the days of afternoon ballgames and Curt Gowdy, replaced by ESPN's Sunday night coverage and schleps like Joe Morgan (has there ever been a WORSE announcer in the history of baseball?). Is it any wonder that football has supplanted baseball as the game most people consider to be the national pastime (okay, there are a LOT of reasons for this, but that is a discussion for some other day)?
But over the last two days, Red Sox Nation has enjoyed a flashback to baseball's glorious past. As for me, I have spent the last two afternoons listening to the games on the radio... and while I prefer to WATCH ballgames on television, I have enjoyed listening to the dulcet tone of Joe Castiglione's play-by-play.
The last two afternoons have evoked memories of listening to games on WRKO sitting on the front porch with my neighbor and best friend, Mike Marino—crossing my fingers in the hopes that Carl Yastrzemski would get the big hit in the late innings of a tight contest.
There is something magical about listening to the game on the radio and using your imagination to capture what is transpiring on the diamond, especially when the game is broadcast by someone like Castiglione.
Of course the Red Sox have enjoyed their afternoon experience over the last couple of days, as well, but for very different reasons. In back-to-back games at Progressive Field (Cleveland) and Comerica Park (Detroit), the offense has scored two touchdowns while routing the AL Central opponents.
On Wednesday it was a 14-2 demolition of the high-flying Indians; yesterday it was a 14-1 (rain-shortened) drubbing of the Tigers. Most current baseball players were born after the era of day-baseball had passed, so the midday contests cannot possibly evoke a sense of nostalgia for them...but midweek day games are agreeing with them at this point of the season.
It all started with Dustin Pedroia's home run in the first inning of Wednesday's game...10 minutes later it was 7-0 before the Tribe ever got to bat for the first time. The game seemed over almost before it had begun, but it proved to be important nonetheless. It was highlighted by the continuing improvement of Carl Crawford and punctuated by the ongoing coming-out party being enjoyed by Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
It may also have marked an end to the struggles of lefty Jon Lester (6 IP, 0 ER, 3 H, 1 BB, 7 K), who has had an atypical season thus far (brilliant in April and pedestrian in May).
Yesterday was more of the same...sort of. The Sox didn't score seven runs in the first inning, but jumped out to a 7-0 lead after 2.5 innings. Crawford continued to hit the cover off the baseball (he is 14-for-his-last-32, and is now hitting .333 in May). Big Papi had two more hits, to raise his batting average to .309 for the season (where are all the pundits who were proclaiming his demise a year ago?).
Newly-promoted Josh Reddick had three hits and three RBI. And Alfredo Aceves (6 IP, 1 ER, 5 H, 2 BB, 6 K) continued to show why I predicted he would prove to be the best "unheralded" signing of the offseason (props to Theo and Company for believing in the guy).
And all the while, I listened to Castiglione describe Ellsbury's bomb into the right field grandstands, Crawford's race around the bases on his pair of triples, and the daring deeds of Reddick and Drew Sutton.
Day baseball on the radio...welcome back, old friend!