Game 3 start time no afternoon delight for Nationals fans

October 8, 2012

Game 3 of the Washington Nationals’ division series against the St. Louis Cardinals will begin shortly after 1 p.m. Wednesday and will be telecast exclusively on MLB Network, Major League Baseball announced Monday.

Both developments were quickly met by howls of outrage by some Nats fans, who argued their top-seeded team deserved better during the city’s first major league playoff appearance in 79 years.

“It’s the worst-case scenario,” said John Quinn, who had already purchased tickets for Wednesday’s game and immediately e-mailed his supervisor about taking a half-day. “Some of us actually have to work. It’s really upsetting. This is the first time we’ve had playoff baseball since 1933, and to get the 1 o’clock start time and the MLB Network just seems really unfair.”

Wednesday’s game will be just the second playoff game shown exclusively on MLB Network; Sunday’s game between the Oakland Athletics and Detroit Tigers was the highest-rated game in the network’s four-year history. The channel has 70 million subscribers, and is available on the cable or satellite systems of close to 100 million households.

But some casual viewers may discover that they don’t have the proper subscription package to receive the network. For RCN’s D.C. Metro subscribers, the MLB Network is part of the provider’s “Premiere” package. On the Web site for Comcast (now Xfinity), the MLB Network is listed as part of the Digital Premier and Digital Preferred packages, but not the Digital Starter package, which includes more than 80 channels.

According to Web site for Northern Virginia’s Cox cable system, subscribers need either an HD package or the “Bonus Pak,” which also includes stations such as the Military Channel and Nick Jr. Verizon Fios’s basic “Local Digital” package in Montgomery County also does not include the station.

The early-afternoon start time wasn’t surprising for Wednesday, when the A’s-Tigers will be in the Western time zone if Oakland avoids a sweep Tuesday night and the popular New York Yankees virtually locked into a prime-time slot.

“I’m a grad student: I can’t afford the MLB Network; I can hardly afford cable,” said Jocelyn Dorfman, an Arlington native now studying sports psychology at the University of North Texas. “I understand the Yankees are a bigger deal. They’re a bigger market; they’ve got a bigger fan base. But the Nats are a first-place team; they’ve got the best record in baseball. They deserve more respect. Apparently TV doesn’t care about that.”

The MLB Network will broadcast two division series games annually through 2021. The station created a Web site, www.FindMLBNetwork.com, to help viewers who are unsure whether they already subscribe or could potentially upgrade. Still, fans rushed to alter their work schedules or take hastily scheduled leave after Monday’s announcement.

“I have 24 hours to try to convince my boss that I’m a fantastic employee and deserve a half-day with basically no notice,” joked Brittany Gropp, 22, from the District. “Since I don’t remember any playoff baseball in my life, this is something I’ve been looking forward to pretty much all season. Now I might not get to go, and it’s not because I don’t have tickets. That’s what’s frustrating.”

Other fans had already given notice that they might be unavailable Wednesday. Fairfax county math teacher and longtime Nats fan Brian Oliver, 41, was hoping for a late-afternoon start, but now it’s time for a substitute. “This is their first time in the playoffs,” he said. “I’m okay with using a personal day for that.”

Dan Steinberg writes about all things DC sports at the DC Sports Bog.
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