The best place in America to watch sports is anywhere in the Pacific time zone, a magical land in which major league baseball games begin at breakfast and every box score is in your morning paper and that scarlet letter--N, for night game--is seldom seen on the out-of-town scoreboard. (That board is always filled to near completion, like a crossword puzzle with one stubborn corner still unsolved.)
In the Pacific time zone Breakfast at Wimbledon is really a Very Late Dinner, Monday Night Football kicks off on Monday eveningand that ubiquitous five-word network disclaimer--"except on the West Coast"--means that 60 Minutes will always be seen at its regularly scheduled time.
And if you're lucky enough to live in Los Angeles, bereft of its own team, you get to see the nation's two best NFL games every single Sunday. "And you don't have to kill those three hours between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.," says Alan Kirschenbaum, a TV producer who moved to L.A. from New York City 17 years ago, "because the game is on at 10 a.m. When you wake up here, things are already happening."
Think East is Eden? Then you've never watched the PGA in your pj's. The Monday finale won by Phil Mickelson came on at 7 a.m. Pacific.
Last Thursday in San Francisco a bald sportswriter could sit down to breakfast at Lefty O'Doul's Restaurant & Cocktail Lounge and watch the Giants play the Reds in Cincinnati at 9:35 a.m. Whether you like your eggs Over Easley (in honor of Damion) or Sonny Side Up (for Mr. Siebert), breakfast baseball is a beautiful thing, and the dismal Giants, who lose more games before 10 a.m. than most teams do all day, were down two runs before the city's stores had opened for business.
The loss was officially in the books before noon. But by then the Phillies and the Nationals were in the sixth inning of the first game of a doubleheader in Philadelphia, as seen on satellite at the Fourth Street Bar & Deli. This was followed, at 5 p.m., by the Cardinals and the Diamondbacks in St. Louis on ESPN. Out here a man can watch a seamless front of games roll in across the continent, from East to West, like weather's opposite.
Moving from Cincinnati to Reno turned my uncle Pat Boyle into a clairvoyant. "I know the nine o'clock news at six o'clock," he marvels.
In the Pacific time zone, nobody complains that the World Series is on too late, because any kid can stay up till 9:30 p.m. The dark side of this phenomenon: More than one West Coast wife, pot roast in hand, has been steamrollered by a husband sprinting in from the garage to turn on the 6 p.m. start of Monday Night Football.
As those network starting times suggest, the East Coast media bias is a very real thing. "If we have one complaint, it's that the East Coast sleeps through our NCAA basketball games," says C.W. Nevius, a former sports columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle who now writes about the Bay Area for that newspaper. "Nobody back there is staying up past 11 to see how good Santa Clara is against Pepperdine."
Nevius is among the relative few who remember that Dodgers pitcher Jerry Reuss no-hit the Giants at Candlestick Park in 1980, a game that ended perilously close to his paper's 10:30 p.m. deadline. By the time it made the Eastern dailies, Reuss's no-no was a two-day-old note. "I'm not even sure many people in San Francisco heard about it," says Nevius. "If a no-hitter falls in the forest and nobody hears it in the Midwest, did it actually happen?"
Such indifference is not entirelybad. Though Barry Bonds and Kobe Bryant would surely argue otherwise, the Pacific time zone can provide a low-profile haven for embattled athletes, a kind of Federal Fitness Protection Program. And so last Friday the Royals took an 18-game losing streak to the relative hideout of Oakland, where they were even overshadowed locally, by the dubious (if not doobie-less) behavior of Raiders receiver Randy Moss.
Last Saturday the Fox baseball Game of the Week--the Giants against the Cardinals--came on at 10:20 a.m. Pacific time. (Pancakebatter up!) But breakfast baseball is taken for granted by too many Giants fans. Certainly they were difficult to find in diners, enjoying the game while eating Eggs (Bruce) Benedict. I did spot a man in a brand-new Giants sweatshirt. But he turned out to be a Scandinavian tourist who hadn't packed properly for San Francisco's frigid August.
"As a tourist," explains Nevius, "you can either buy a Giants sweatshirt or one that says ALCATRAZ SWIM TEAM. There are only two choices."
I, alas, am one of those tourists, doomed to live in the Eastern time zone. On returning home to New England and my 9 p.m. kickoffs, I felt instantly nostalgic for a golden age, a bygone era: a time three hours earlier than it is right now.
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In the Pacific time zone, nobody complains that the World Series is on too late, because any kid can stay up till 9:30 p.m.