Williamsport exposure a home run

Commentary

It’s hard to argue that a regular season baseball game five months from now ranks as must-see TV, but Cardinals-Pirates on Aug. 20 will not be just another baseball game.

The MLB Little League Classic will be played at BB&T Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field, home of the Class-A Williamsport Crosscutters of the NY-Penn League.

The game will at 7 p.m. as a special edition of “Sunday Night Baseball” on ESPN. The network’s team of Dan Shulman, analysts Aaron Boone and Jessica Mendoza and reporter Tim Kurkjian will provide commentary.

All of that makes the game special. While games on TV often look homogenized, there’s little chance that will be the case in the ballpark (the second-oldest in the minors) whose capacity has been pared down to about 2,500 the past few years.

With the Little League World Series in Williamsport at that time, the Cardinals-Pirates matchup will serve as another piece of an ongoing celebration of baseball with a small-town feel. Expect those who get into the stadium that night to either be employed by ESPN, associated closely with Little League and the World Series, or people whom ESPN and Little League want to have in the ballpark. Tickets will not be sold to the public.

In that way, it will be a made-for-TV event, but it will still be something special with a Pennsylvania feel. Plus, the ballpark itself has character and history that could make it as much a part of the story that night as the game itself.

Overall, it could be something fun. Certainly not just another game in the 162-game schedule. And, certainly, something worth watching.

Greeny watch

As ESPN gets closer every day to reworking “Mike & Mike,” its longstanding morning drive radio show, it’s also closer to finding a different platform for Mike Greenberg.

Among the latest rumored options is a morning TV pairing of Greenberg with Katie Nolan, whom ESPN hopes to lure from Fox Sports.

To me, it seems like Greenberg needs someone with a bit more gravitas to enhance his likability. That’s something that gets lost with Greenberg working with Mike Golic, because they play off each well.

In general, Greenberg hardly comes across as a man of the people. His self-deprecating approach works, but that’s mostly because of the interaction with Golic. That changes significantly if Greenberg’s next gig becomes more TV focused and if his partner is younger.

While national media critics and Fox Sports officials like Nolan, she has not played regularly in front of big audiences. Plus, there’s a line between appealing upstart and attitude-heavy provocateur.

Nolan has more than a year remaining with Fox Sports, though, so that could be a challenge in adding her — especially with ESPN set to cut several on-air types in the coming months for budget reasons.

Tournament topper

After this weekend’s games, the NCAA Tournament will be down to the Sweet 16, and even though we’re a week way from the Final Four being set, it’s almost certain this year’s national championship game on April 3 will draw better ratings than last season’s game.

That’s because this season’s game, as well as the two national semifinals on April 1, will air on CBS.

Last year North Carolina-Villanova game — a compelling matchup that was competitive until the end and featured a last-second game-winning shot — aired on TBS. And, even with team-specific complementary broadcasts on TNT and truTV, the game drew just 17.8 million viewers.

That was down from the 28.3 million who watched Duke-Wisconsin the year before on CBS.

Why? Because network TV gets to more homes than its cable counterparts. That’s also an important distinction to keep in mind as you consume sports on TV and as you watch how TV sports relationships and rights play out in the next few months and years.

Tuner tidbits

n End-of-season kudos to the play-by-play talents who bring Penn State winter sports to radio listeners. No matter the sport, listeners are served well. Along with Steve Jones on men’s basketball, the group includes Brian Tripp on ice hockey, Jerry Fisher on women’s basketball and Jeff Byers on wrestling.

n Sports Illustrated’s recent swimsuit issue is annually its most profitable edition of the year. Not long after the magazine’s release, though, SI’s parent company recently announced the venerable sports magazine would publish just 38 issues this year. That’s down from 45 in a typical year.

Sampsell can be reached at stevesampsell@gmail.com.

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