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Opinion

Baseball’s there for the watchin’ — even on rainy days

This year our spring break coincided with the opening weekend of the Major League Baseball season, and although our driving path took us near three big league cities (Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.), none of those teams was home as we passed through.

That’s probably just as well given my wife isn’t nearly as crazy about baseball as two of our four sons, and given the weather we experienced throughout almost the entire trip, planning for a day at the park would’ve just led to soggy, frigid disappointment (and a collection of souvenir parkas). Plus we’re already booked for a Cubs game in St. Louis later this summer, and although I’m only taking the three oldest and sitting in the cheap seats, it’s still an expensive proposition.

We also were traveling at just the wrong time for stadium tours, a sometimes overlooked option that usually delivers a much better overall experience than only watching a game, and almost always for much less capital investment. Many teams offer tours all season long, with different costs and itineraries based on whether the team is playing at home, and aside from obvious rules about where photography is and isn’t allowed, they tend to be remarkably family friendly opportunities.

Along those same lines is catching a game at minor or independent league stadiums. Times sports reporters have done a good job profiling many such opportunities available within a reasonable drive from this area, but for the truly adventurous fan there are literally hundreds of options worth exploring.

All that said, when the weather is locally lousy but big league games are being played in sunny cities across the continent (or under cover of a retractable roof), sometimes it’s hard to resist the siren call of the couch. The older I get the less likely I am to be drawn in by a spring training contest, but it took all of 30 seconds to be enraptured in the Giants-Dodgers game on ESPN Sunday night.

MLB makes this almost too easy for fans in the season’s opening days, between expanded coverage on national broadcast partners and free trials for the cable and satellite packages that deliver every game to your home, far more hours of baseball than any one person could watch. (Knowing that math does not dissuade me from my dream of one day having a room with 15 monitors just in case all 30 teams happen to be playing at the same time.)

Eventually the wall-to-wall access falls back behind the paywall. But even once the season is onto its regular grind, there’s still the ESPN and Fox packages as well as the MLB Network.

This year the league will stream a handful of games on Facebook. And since it’s so challenging to keep up with all the options, the league dedicated space on its website to promote the upcoming schedule of national broadcasts: mlb.mlb.com/mlb/official_info/broadcasts/national.jsp.

Just like any part of the baseball season, everything is subject to change, but already there are nearly 200 games listed, and the website lets users sort by date and network and includes a filter to see only one team’s game at a time.

The first Facebook game is today’s 12:10 p.m. Phillies-Mets game (weather permitting) in New York. The Reds and Pirates are on MLBN both Thursday and Friday, the Brewers and Cubs are the national Saturday game on Fox and ESPN delivers the Mets and Nationals Sunday night and the Yankees at Red Sox on Tuesday.

Give the league credit for trying new ways to make watching games easier. Obviously there has to be balance with the lucrative broadcasting rights deals that fund the enormous wealth engine, but for all the whining about pace of play initiatives or how long the games last the most important thing is just making the content available through as many platforms as possible.

Especially in these early months, kids just want to see great players in action. And at my house, at least, they’d rather be outside pitching and batting, which is the actual best way to grow the future fan base. But with our current lousy Illinois weather, a game on TV is the next best thing.

Thankfully, options abound.

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