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Original Issue

Diamonds In the Sky

This season on XM satellite radio you can listen to the broadcasts of every single major league baseball game, a technological marvel that marries Guglielmo Marconi (inventor of radio) to Bye Bye Balboni (slugger who struck out in nine straight plate appearances).

On any given night, anywhere in the U.S., you can flip from Harry Kalas calling a Phillies game to Herb Carneal calling a Twins game to Vin Scully calling a Dodgers game. And you'll discover that for every pitcher's delivery there's a signature play-by-play delivery. Reds announcer Marty Brennaman says, "He rocks and deals." Athletics announcer Bill King says, "The kick, the pitch." Indians announcer Tom Hamilton says, "He rocks and fires." You learn to identify these birds by the subtle differences in their calls.

XM subscribers get the home team's broadcast for all 2,430 big league games, replete with local commercials. Which is how I know that Twins catcher Joe Mauer drinks "Land O' Lakes milk in the Grip-N-Go bottle," while retired Twin Dan Gladden--reflecting different nutritional needs--prefers "Gluek's beer in the new quick-chill Alum-a-bottle." (Evidently, Minnesota is to bottling what Silicon Valley is to microchips: an industry innovator.)

The depraved listener, monitoring all 16 baseball channels, grows to anticipate and appreciate every sponsored shout-out. For the Cardinals, "This call to the bullpen is brought to you by Charter Telephone service." For the Devil Rays, "The starting lineups are delivered by UPS." And for the Reds, brilliantly, "The bottom of the fifth is brought to you by Old Forester bourbon." (Get it?) In Oakland, even the ominous legal disclaimer--demanding the "express written consent of Major League Baseball"--is sponsored by the law firm of Archer Norris.

This is Radio Free Stirrup, all baseball all the time, and it is highly addictive. I never heard Murrow during the Blitz. But I will hear Mulder facing Burnitz. That, too, exerts a powerful hold.

And so I can't switch channels when Red Sox announcers Joe Castiglione and Jerry Trupiano--inspired by the slow-footed Yankee Jason Giambi--begin a discursive discussion of the slowest Bosox of all time: They recall that after Tom Brunansky grounded into a 5-4-3 triple play against the Twins in 1990, shortstop Jody Reed did the very same thing four innings later. This reminds Castiglione of Joe Pignatano, who hit into a triple play in the final at bat of his career for the ridiculous '62 Mets.

Sometimes, everything comes together and an announcer works a sponsored shout-out into his delightful digression. The other night Rangers play-by-play man Eric Nadel, describing a fan's spectacular failure to catch a foul ball, reported, "The ball landed directly on top of his head. He is wearing a cap. He's now signaling that he's all right. He won't win the Good Hands Award."

It's all very voyeuristic, tuning in a Colorado Rockies game from 2,000 miles away to learn that "Todd Helton won't shop for diamonds anywhere but Fifth Avenue Designs in Cherry Creek." Turn on any team other than your own and, for nine innings, you occupy another life, full of strange suburbs ("Melanie Hudson of Upper Darby, you win a Phillies Fan Pack") and unfamiliar fast-food franchises (the Dodgers are sponsored by Del Taco).

With so many simultaneous games at your disposal, you frequently feel like an operator eavesdropping on a party line. When Mets announcer Howie Rose said, "I can't remember the last time I saw a team do defensive drills during the time allotted to batting practice" (as the Mets did one evening last week), I could remember. Diamondbacks announcer Greg Schulte, calling a game in Phoenix that very afternoon, had said, "Believe it or not, the Rockies took infield today. We don't see many major league teams do that."

But what really makes baseball on satellite radio so exciting, so XM-plary, are the voices. I had heard of Denny Matthews, who has called all 37 seasons in Kansas City Royals history. But I had never heard Matthews until last week, when I sat enrapt as he ridiculed someone's shabby umbrella: "If you try to bring that onto a golf course, you're immediately summoned to the pro shop and asked to leave the premises." Bob Uecker flies solo in the Brewers' booth, and he lets each game breathe like a Bordeaux, pausing for epic stretches of silence filled only by distant vendor cries. In doing so, Ueck proves the truth of what Mozart said: It's the silence between the notes that makes the music.

Speaking of wine and Mozart and things that age well, Vin Scully, at 77, remains nothing less than a national treasure, turning routine groundouts into sonic literature. The other night, when he described Dodgers shortstop Cesar Izturis spearing a ball by "falling to his left like a statue that's been pushed over," I sat in the dark a continent away and thanked providence that I live in this age of technological wonder. The glowing digital dial of my satellite radio read MLB ON XM. But I knew otherwise. This, really, was the Voice of America. ■

• If you have a comment for Steve Rushin, sent it to

Satellite radio gives you all baseball, all the time. I never heard Murrow during the Blitz. But I will hear Mulder facing Burnitz.


Simon Bruty