We got hooked up for high-definition television at the start of the year, and it's pretty cool. At the moment, our provider (Cox Cable) has about 15-20 channels, mostly covering films, sports and documentaries. Baseball looks good in HD, and films do too, but it's documentaries that really come across very nicely. Okay, "nicely" might be the wrong word: was watching a Discovery Channel program on polar bears the other day, and it had footage of a bear attacking and dismantling a two-ton bull walrus. Blood and gobbets of flesh everywhere. In high-definition...
There is not, as yet, much programming specifically for HD, but the MOJO channel (formerly known as InHD) leads the way. It's kind of a more upscale version of Spike TV, featuring guy films like Get Carter - the original, not the crappy Stallone remake - live music performances and so forth. Perhaps our favorite show is the sublime Three Sheets, in which Zane Lamprey visits foreign countries to discover their drinking cultures. This inevitably involves him getting very, very drunk on the local brew (the more exotic the better - I think brussel sprout liqueur was about the worst), then the next morning trying the local hangover cure, which is often worse than the disease. It's a) very funny, and b) would make for the most lethal drinking game since Withnail and I. Fortunately, episodes are only 30 minutes long.
Anyway, enough digression. The reason I write is that, tomorrow night at 7pm starts The Show, a six-part series about minor-league players trying to make it to the majors. It's of particular interest here, since it focuses on six members of the 2006 Tucson Sidewinders: Carlos Quentin, Chris Young, Dustin Nippert, Casey Daigle, Brian Barden and Bill Murphy, and follows them through the season. That alone means you are probably on your way out the door, to ensure you have all the necessary equipment to see this show. If not, I'll want to know why you call yourself a Diamondback fan.
Having seen the first episode, it seems like it'll give us a chance to see a bit more of the player's personalities. It's really difficult to sense what, say, Carlos Quentin is like because all we get are small soundbites in the media, and most of the time, these seem like they are carefully chosen to convey no personality at all. I'm not picking on Q here; I think there's an MLB training course designed to force all the young players to speak that way. It's only veterans like Clark, Byrnes and Hudson, whom you can actually identify by their words, with the others ordered to speak in team-oriented cliches. The show certainly seems a lot less formal and more candid: Carlos Quentin was the 'star' of the first part in that regard.
What it will also do is help refresh our perception of the players as people, with feelings and emotions, rather than over-paid robots. We're all guilty of letting rip on a player for one thing or another - Brandon Medders would be the recipient this evening, I imagine, for colliding with our best hitter and knocking him unconscious. But they're human too, and it looks like that side will come across enormously well in this series. As an example, there was a section with Casey Daigle - who has been much-maligned here - and his wife Jenny Finch, talking about which of them was the best pitcher. That kind of thing adds an often-forgotten dimension to the box-score.
The progam is narrated by Joe Mantegna, who's famous for being a baseball fan - he appeared in Chasing October, which I reviewed back in March, and also was one of the writers of Bleacher Bums, among the best plays about watching baseball. So we'll forgive him for being a Cubs fan: after all, he's suffered enough already. :-) The visual style is occasionally somewhat distracting, though the makers can be forgiven for wanting to jazz up what is, basically, a bunch of guys swinging bats and yakking away.
I also hope they don't go too much for the suspense angle, because we already know what happens here. The Tucson Sidewinders win it all, Quentin and Young get their call-ups, etc. I trust I'm not spoiling this for anyone. This should instead be an insight into what makes minor-league baseball players tick, and what drives them, even in the knowledge that 90% of those in their situation never get to 'The Show'. Though at Triple-A, you are already dealing with the elite, and none of the six seem lacking in confidence. Actually, you could argue that going further levels down would give for a greater breadth of experience: there's no way any of these players are going to get cut, say.
It's difficult to say, on the basis of a single episode - and one which was mostly introduction - what will be the approach taken here. There's a lot of potential in the idea, and in a world where "reality shows" often seem far from any reality that interests me, it's great to see something like this. If you were even thinking vaguely about HD, it's worth going out and getting hooked up, purely for this (okay, this and the polar-bear splatter pics). But even if falls short of these lofty expectation, it'll still certainly be getting a season pass on our Tivo.
[The Show begins Wednesday, May 30th at 7pm (Arizona time) on MOJO, with repeats at 10pm that night, and thereafter. See the MOJO website for more information, including what looks like a full episode available online.]