Can’t imagine even a viewer with an intense rooting interest for a particular team would pass up the opportunity to hear the esteemed Bill Raftery call his first Final Four at the age of 73.
Raftery, who will be accompanied by play-by-play voice Jim Nantz and newcomer Grant Hill on TBS’s semifinal broadcasts Saturday and CBS’s championship coverage Monday, is the rare broadcaster who transcends fandom.
His humor and enthusiasm are especially endearing, and the only complaint relative to his high-profile role is that such an opportunity didn’t come his way sooner.
But that myopic segment of fans that prefers their basketball broadcasts served with a main course of homerism favoring their beloved team will have options beyond Raftery, Nantz, and Hill, at least in the semifinals.
For the second year, Turner Sports will offer team-specific broadcasts on TNT and truTV airing parallel to the national broadcast. Titled “Team Stream Presented by Bleacher Report,” they will be tailored to the schools participating in each game.
For the 6 p.m matchup between Duke and Michigan State, TNT will carry the Blue Devil version, while the Spartan-centric broadcast will air on truTV. For the Kentucky-Wisconsin nightcap, the TNT broadcast will focus on the Wildcats, while the Badgers get the truTV treatment.
The most interesting aspect of the Team Stream broadcasts is the collection of analysts, all of whom should be familiar to fans of a certain generation from their playing days: Alaa Abdelnaby (Duke), Mateen Cleaves (Michigan State), Rex Chapman (Kentucky), and Mike Kelley (Wisconsin).
Of course, as analysts, one could add all of their best attributes together and as a whole they wouldn’t match the appeal of Raftery. I’ll stick with the conventional broadcast, thanks.
Former Red Sox infielder Alex Cora, who has contributed as a studio analyst to ESPN’s baseball coverage the past two years, has signed a contract extension to remain at the network.
His role is a distinctive one. Not only will he continue to serve as analyst on “Baseball Tonight,’’ but the bilingual 13-season major league veteran also will have a significant role on ESPN Deportes’s baseball coverage.
“It’s a big plus for me to be part of the Deportes platform,’’ said Cora. “For me being a Latino and being able to be on the domestic side of it makes me happy about what I have accomplished. And being in front of the Latino community on Deportes is something I’m proud of.”
Whether there has been a conscious effort to add diversity to baseball studio programming in recent years or whether it’s the natural effect of searching for interesting personalities, the undeniable result has been the welcome addition of more diverse voices, most notably breakout star Pedro Martinez on TBS’s postseason coverage the past two Octobers.
“It’s a great thing,’’ said Cora. “I have an accent. I’m not afraid of it. That’s the biggest part of it. You want to be perfect, but I understand that sometimes I’m going to mess up. You can’t be afraid to do it, even on the biggest platform in sports.
“The way the game has gone, it’s an international game; basketball is like this too now. It’s a great decision by whoever runs the business to have people with different voices and different backgrounds. Not everybody sees the game the same way.”
Azinger is blunt
During a conference call Thursday advancing ESPN’s coverage of the first two rounds of the Masters next week, analyst Paul Azinger offered some compelling and blunt comments regarding the need to recalibrate expectations for Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
“I think Tiger and Phil, what we are looking for now are flashes of brilliance,’’ said Azinger, who will be part of ESPN’s coverage next Thursday and Friday, with CBS carrying the final two rounds over the weekend. “We are looking for reminders of what used to be, not of who they are now.
“Phil has not had a top-10 in almost two years, or one top-10, and that’s not like Phil.
“We all know the plight of Tiger Woods. Sadly, for whatever reason, Tiger sacrificed a winning swing at the altar of a perfect swing and he may have sacrificed a winning body at the altar of a perfect body, and it’s been hard to watch that undoing. But that’s what we’ve seen.”
In other words, it’s time to stop waiting for Woods’s comeback and turn our attention to ascending standouts such as Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth.
A Sox lineup change?
Gary Striewski appeared to quickly develop a following in his first season as the primary in-game reporter on NESN’s Red Sox broadcasts last season. So reports from industry sources in recent days that NESN was planning to bump him from the gig in part because some in Red Sox management were not happy with his approach came as a surprise. So where does he actually stand? According to NESN spokesman Gary Roy, Striewski will remain in the role beginning with the season-opening road trip to Philadelphia and New York, but because of his responsibilities as the host of “NESN Clubhouse” and “NESN Next Producer” (which premieres Monday), he will be pinch-hit for from time to time during the season by Elle Duncan and Adam Pellerin. Stay tuned.