Thursday, 19 March 2015

A Definitive Guide: How to Follow MLB in the UK

As an avid baseball fan with more than ten years' experience, I've accumulated a wealth of knowledge on how best to follow the game from Britain. Whilst the halcyon days of Baseball on Five are sadly long gone, the exponential development of technology continues to make life easier for MLB fans in the UK. The Internet's growth has made available a variety of previously unattainable outlets, from instant news and game archives to podcasts and magazine subscriptions, enabling British fans to be more connected than ever. 

Accordingly, with the new season less than three weeks away, here's my definitive guide to following America's National Pastime from our green and pleasant land.

MLB TV Premium
A subscription to MLB TV is absolutely imperative for anybody wishing to seriously follow baseball from Britain. Due to our exemption from controversial blackout restrictions, the Premium package, which costs about £110 per year or £20 per month after tax, grants British subscribers access to every single game from the regular season and playoffs. With more than 2,000 games on the schedule, this is without doubt the greatest bargain I find each year. 

With MLB TV Premium, users can watch or listen live to any game, or watch full repeats from the archives at their own convenience. One is able to fast-forward and rewind game footage; select from either the home or away team broadcasters; and view interactive statistics in real time.

Free access to MLB At Bat is also included within the price. In addition to providing a concise dashboard of news and highlights from around the league, this wonderful app also makes it easy to use MLB TV, and experience live game action, on a variety of connected devices, such as iPads, iPhones, and Now TV boxes. 

My good friend Matt Smith over at Baseball GB has tremendous knowledge about how best to utilise MLB TV through a variety of platforms, and I highly recommend taking some time to trawl through his intriguing site, particularly this discussion on MLB TV for the upcoming season.

BT Sport
For British baseball fans, waiting on BT Sport to finalise their MLB plans is an annual struggle. A general lack of information and communication makes for near constant uncertainty throughout the offseason, with fans typically worried that this may finally be the year that baseball disappears from our TVs for good. 

However, after some digging, I've been able to confirm that, despite a lack of Spring Training coverage, BT is still committed to MLB, and will broadcast regularly throughout the regular season, beginning on April 5th, Opening Day.

At this point, the regularity of games shown live on BT, and the fate of Baseball Tonight, which the station carried for a number of years, is still rather unclear. I'm sure some kind of schedule or framework will eventually be released, or else a weekly glance at the TV listings should suffice. As ever, we can only wait patiently and see what materialises.

Ultimately, as awkward as BT can be with its baseball coverage, we should be thankful. After all, they're pretty much the only ones willing to accommodate the game on our TV screens at this point. They provide a noble service, and we must never forget that.

As social media continues its inexorable encroachment into our daily lives, it similarly provides new opportunities for British baseball fans to feel closer to the action than ever before. By following a series of MLB-related accounts, or even creating a Twitter list full of baseball news, we're now more able to have our finger on the pulse. The instant nature of social media helps chip away at the time difference just that little bit more.

Baseball is undoubtedly gifted with the finest press corps of any sport. The men and women chosen to cover the game do a marvellous job, delivering news in a timely fashion yet also showing themselves to be fabulous writers. Twitter flattens barriers to their content, and allows British fans prompt access to a wealth of news despite residing an ocean away.

In terms of tailoring your Twitter feed to enrich the process of following baseball from Britain, I would recommend following the official accounts of each MLB team, plus at least one beat writer from each club. Furthermore, in staying up-to-date with the fast-moving world of baseball, it's crucial that you follow the major national news-breakers, such as Ken Rosenthal, Buster Olney, Jon Heyman, Joel Sherman and Jon Paul Morosi.

Social media helps us shrink the global landscape of news. For British baseball fans, that is an opportunity too great to turn down.

TuneIn Radio
We also live in a golden age for podcasting and do-it-yourself radio shows. Baseball lends itself very well to the oral format, which has led to a sharp spike in the volume of quality audio output. In this regard, the TuneIn Radio app, free to download to a variety of platforms, is a brilliant facilitator, allowing people to listen to radio and podcast content from around the world.

The app allows users to bookmark a variety of their favourite stations and podcasts, which makes finding new content much easier. In addition to the major networks such as ESPN, you will want to add the local radio stations from the city of your favourite MLB teams, thus providing you with a neat way to hear the news and views straight from the horse's mouth. The various talk radio phone-ins are always entertaining, and help provide an accurate sense of how the natives feel about their team.

Personally, I spend a lot of time listening to baseball podcasts. There is something quite addictive about the format. In my opinion, the best podcast from the US market is undoubtedly Buster Olney's Baseball Tonight, but Effectively Wild from Baseball Prospectus is also very good, in addition to the work of Jonah Keri, Keith Olbermann and Baseball America.

I've also been very impressed by the recent growth of homegrown baseball podcasting here in Britain. Americarnage is of course the premier North American sports podcast geared towards a British audience, but I'm absolutely delighted that my good friends Nat Coombs and Josh Chetwynd have teamed up to form an MLB-centric offshoot, World Serious Baseball, that will be a brilliant addition to the landscape. 

Elsewhere, Steven Edwards and Ollie Connolly do a fine job over at First Take UK and Call to the Bullpen, whilst the boys over at Bases Loaded EU are well worth a listen.

Ultimately, there is now no shortage of quality and original audio available to British baseball fans. In this regard, the TuneIn Radio app is a great enabler.

Each year, as technology evolves and borders come crashing down, it becomes easier to follow Major League Baseball from a foreign country. Here in Britain, we still sorely miss the beguiling intimacy of Baseball on Five, but our MLB-watching prospects continue to improve. As outlined above, we now have widespread access to live games, archived highlights, televisual broadcasts, instantaneous news and American radio. Five or ten years ago, that level of baseball coverage was the stuff of fantasy for British fans. Now, it's very much reality, and we're all the better for it.

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