If you’re a veteran of getting various out-of-town sports packages (Monday morning is a bit early for the jokes that would normally go here) you’ve probably been annoyed by what goes on during commercial breaks. DirecTV would just show you your market’s commercials, but if you go through the streaming package for MLB and NHL (and I assume NBA League Pass too but feel free to correct me), you basically get streaming specific ads no matter which game you’re watching. And it’s always the same three ads, so by the middle of May you’re about ready to Elvis your TV when trying to watch the Twins or whatever. And when those three ads were finished, it was the same filler graphic, almost certainly with mind-crushingly annoying music accompanying it, as the service waited for the broadcast to kick back in.
This year, MLB.TV seems to be trying something else, and as shocking as it may be to read, it’s fantastic. Instead of the same frozen graphic to fill in between the streaming ads and the return of the game, MLB.TV is running these 30-second “Baseball Zen” fillers. They are slow motion shots of various baseball things. Two of them feature Shohei Ohtani, one being him delivering a fastball in slow motion or another which follows him from thwacking a homer at the plate and then as he jogs down to and around first base, marveling at his work.
But there are others. One just shows a groundskeeper watering the infield for 30 seconds. They bounce between something on the field or something ancillary to the game, all in slow motion with no music, a baseball diamond superimposed over it, where the basepaths slowly fill in to show you the time until the broadcast returns. It’s like a countdown screen.
And it captures the feeling of baseball so perfectly. One of the game’s greatest attractions is its relaxing nature, an ethereal quality that settles in for the summer on a day-to-day basis. As I mentioned about the baseball nap, baseball is there mostly as a backdrop for the spring and summer months, more a setting than the center of attention. You can’t watch a game from the stands on a lovely June or July evening or afternoon — the way the field gleams and the city you’re in spreads out beyond the outfield wall — and not feel at peace. Baseball Zen attempts to capture that, even for half a minute. Every half-inning, you’re put back into that mindset, which is certainly a fitting readjustment from scrolling Twitter.
But it also captures the grace and skill of the game. It would be harder to look cooler than Ohtani’s swing in slow motion, and the confident (if not deservedly arrogant) way he ambles down to first when he knows he’s sent yet another baseball into the great wide open beyond the wall. There is a swagger to it that’s only heightened by seeing it in slow motion with no additives. It’s boiled down to its essence.
Same with his fastball. There is a fury there, but seeing it in slow motion reminds us how it’s packed into the overall pastiche (what the fuck do I sound like?). There are amazing things happening on a baseball field hundreds of times a game, and they all combine to essentially relax us.
Not only is this, as small of a gesture as it is, an actual attempt by baseball to try and highlight what makes it unique and special, but it’s also marketing some of its biggest stars by showcasing them in a way that makes them look undeniably cool. It’s not much, just during commercial breaks on a service that only the hardcore will subscribe to. But it’s something.
And it’s miles better than the annoying music and jingles that turned every baseball fan into a cult member once an inning for an entire season. Let’s celebrate when they get something right for once.