It was Opening Day, and not everything in Nats Land is going to be perfect just yet. The team showed some improvement Thursday at Nationals Park, especially on defense. That sixth inning — with Jayson Werth’s rolling grab in right, Danny Espinosa throwing to a stretching Adam LaRoche, and Ryan Zimmerman doing his usual scoop-and-throw to end the inning — was a thing of beauty, allowing Livan Hernandez to get out of the inning on just five pitches.
The excitement was sometimes hard to sense, however, in MASN’s telecast. The always reliable Bob Carpenter is back as play-by-play man, but the most colorful of color men, Rob Dibble, is long gone, replaced by F.P. Santangelo.
That’s an unenviable task for Santangelo. Dibble was nothing if not . . . interesting. At times he was bombastic, and he was always opinionated and seldom dull. He was also controversial: He was fired for criticizing future of the franchise Stephen Strasburg for being soft, essentially, because of Strasburg’s arm injuries. When Strasburg was found to need Tommy John surgery, Dibble was shown the door.
So the Nats and MASN were looking go in a different direction, and they did. But so far, Carpenter and Santangelo seem too similar. A broadcast team is not unlike a married couple: It’s going to take them some time to get into a groove. They’ve been together for five spring training telecasts, plus Thursday’s opener, so it’s a work in progress.
Dibble was a master at working stories about his playing career into telecasts, even when they weren’t germane to the moment. It was hard to tell Thursday that Santangelo had ever played major league ball. There has to be a happy medium there.
There were more silences in Thursday’s telecast than Nats fans might remember from years past, but that is not always a bad thing. Announcers can sometimes let the action on the field speak for itself and let the TV audience hear the murmuring of the crowd, the pop of the ball in the glove. But the easy give-and-take relationship isn’t there yet, not by a long shot. At times it seemed Carpenter almost had to interview Santangelo to get him to contribute to the conversation.
Santangelo talks faster than Carpenter and has a habit of letting his voice drop at the end of his sentences; at times I strained to hear what he was saying. But that’s easily fixed. It’s a baseball game; you’ve got time to slow down and make your point.
But like any couple, what these two need more than anything is time — time to get to know each other’s ebbs and flows on the air, time to get to know each other off the air as well. That, more than anything, will lead to a more comfortable interplay on the air. Luckily, they have 161 more of these. Give it time.