The Rundown Lite: Cubs Open Spring Season, Odd Programming Choices, Len Kasper’s First Sox HR Call, Beat Writers Can’t Catch

The Cubs play their first game of the Cactus League slate Monday afternoon and in a wonderful twist, it actually feels like spring across most of the Midwest. It’s not supposed to get out of the 30’s today, but the sun will be shining and these might be the coolest temps for at least the next week. That’s something to celebrate.

Those of you missing Michael Canter can fear not, his absence today is due to a work emergency and isn’t health-related. It’s a little last-minute, though, so please excuse the format change.

In typical spring training fashion, the lineup card David Ross released Sunday features only about half regulars. Only the first four in the order — Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras, Joc Pederson, and Javier Baez — are full-time starters, with David Bote set to play at least a semi-regular role. The remaining group of Cameron Maybin, Ildemaro Vargas, Ian Miller, and P.J. Higgins might produce an eventual roster member or two, but we’ll have to wait on that.

This should go without saying, but since initial feedback to yesterday’s release of the lineup prompted a lot of people to ask where certain players were I’ll say it anyway: This means nothing when it comes to the other regulars not named. Expect Tuesday’s lineup to feature Kris Bryant, Jason Heyward, Ian Happ, and Nico Hoerner as the Cubs play their Sloan Park opener.

The ballpark will be at 25% capacity, which marks the first time Cubs fans have gotten to see their team play from inside the park in nearly a year. Everything was shut down on March 12, 2020, and only the rooftops were open once the season restarted in Chicago. What’s going to be greater: The number of people who cry when they walk in or the number of fans who get hammered drunk to celebrate? I’ll go with the former.

My trip to Mesa is less than a week away at this point and though I may not shed a tear in my beer, I’ll probably get a little misty. It’ll be a little weird to see the place not packed to the gills, but that should drastically improve the cell and wifi service, which means I can upload pics and video more quickly. That might be important given the broadcast situation.

Marquee notes

Monday’s game will not be broadcast by any Chicago outlets, but you can tune to Marquee at gametime for a replay of an ACC women’s college basketball game. Because that makes sense. While I understand the difficulty in filling 24 hours a day with content from a single team, I believe the folks at Marquee Sports Network are making a tremendous mistake by failing to capitalize on the buzz of spring training.

You may recall that Marquee launched last season on the day of the Cubs’ first game, which was perfect timing during what was otherwise a very rocky maiden voyage. Carriage arrangements were still pending at that time, the app couldn’t authenticate with several providers, and even fans who had access to Marquee didn’t know where to find it on their channel guides.

Since then, we’ve seen Comcast come on board and Hulu drop off, all while Sinclair Broadcast Group, the Cubs’ partner on the network, flailed under the crushing debt resulting from its heavy investment in regional sports networks. Bad timing is part of the reason the Cubs aren’t seeing wheelbarrows of cash dumped into payroll, as both their decisions with Marquee and the entire RSN industry have led to a much lower revenue flow than was initially predicted.

Compare that to the Dodgers, whose biggest flaw with the launch of SportsNet LA the Cubs’ business operations team was adamant about avoiding. Thing is, Marquee’s saturation across the team’s broadcast market isn’t great and the Cubs aren’t pulling in anywhere near the $334 million guaranteed to the Dodgers over an $8.35 billion deal that runs for 25 years.

Given the changes to the broadcast environment since the RSN bubble burst, it would seem Marquee’s only hope is for MLB to lift its territorial restrictions. Allowing the Cubs to sell their games to anyone in or out of market via an over-the-top service is the golden goose and Sinclair already has a few eggs incubating. That brings us back to the programming decisions, which leave a lot to be desired.

Today’s game won’t be shown on Marquee at all, which may simply be a result of COVID-19 protocols in Arizona. The network will only carry games from Sloan Park, so maybe it’s a health thing or a matter of other ballparks not being set up well for remote broadcasts. In any case, you’d think Marquee could have a studio show that follows the game live via updates or something.

At the very least, the station could focus on baseball for the day. Instead, the block from 11am-5:30pm features exactly zero minutes of programming dedicated to the 2021 Cubs season. In fact, the only segment focused at all on the Cubs or even baseball in general is a 90-minute show called “2020: Season at a Distance.” Prior to that are three 30-minute Chris and Tell episodes in which host Chris Myers talks with former Bear Ron Rivera, former Bear Jim McMahon, and 76ers coach Doc Rivers.

Following the SaaD show is a replay of the Florida State vs. Wake Forest women’s game, then there’s a documentary about a pair of high school basketball games played in Chicago in the 60’s. So there will be more time dedicated to basketball than baseball on the Cubs’ own network at the very time the Cubs will be playing their first spring game.

Marquee catches a lot of crap for stuff that’s beyond its control, but the folks in charge must all have to wear kevlar shoes due to the number of times they’ve shot themselves in the feet.

Cubs news and notes

  • Jed Hoyer again discussed the possibility of working out extensions with some of the core players on the roster, saying “people want to be here, and that’s a great thing.”
  • The Cubs agreed to terms with 19 non-arbitration-eligible players Sunday, a mere formality in the preseason process.
  • Competition for the second base job has been taking place since camp opened, but now it begins in earnest. It really feels like the Cubs want Hoerner to win it. Or maybe it’s better to say they want him not to lose it.

Odds and Sods

David Ross had to clean up some poor communication between beat writers Russell Dorsey and Gordon Wittenmyer after neither made a play on a foul ball during Sunday’s practice

Len Kasper’s officially gone

The hiring has been official for a while now, but Kasper’s first home run call as a member of the White Sox radio crew just seems odd.

That’s it, folks, gotta cut it off for various reasons. Take care and let’s get Canter back ASAP. Oh, last note: Consider signing up for Midway Minute, a free daily newsletter (subscriptions available for more content) published by our friend Kevin Kaduk.

Back to top button