Ricky Frankoff, a baseball fan in Apex, still appreciates the chance that he and his sons got to witness history on Sept. 6, 1995, when Cal Ripken Jr. of the Baltimore Orioles broke Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games played. ESPN televised the game.
Then Frankoff thinks about watching baseball on TV today and goes cold.
"What if this had been Cal Ripken's record-breaking year? I couldn't have shown my children that," he said. "That's not right."
Frankoff, like other Time Warner Cable subscribers, is stuck in a perpetual on-deck circle, awaiting his turn to tune in the Orioles and the Washington Nationals, the designated home teams for much of North Carolina. Until the cable company's fight against MASN ends, he can't.
Not even the extra $169 he spent to get the MLB Extra Innings package of games from Time Warner this season allowed him to see the Orioles beat the New York Yankees 10-5 on Monday in the season-opening game for both teams. MASN -- the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network -- owns the rights to the Orioles and the Nationals, so ESPN's telecast was blacked out.
MASN will televise a combined 322 Orioles and Nationals games this season, including 210 in high definition. Dish Network and DirecTV satellite viewers can watch the games. So can the customers of five smaller cable outfits in North Carolina.
Two arbitrators and the Federal Communications Commission media bureau chief already have ruled in favor of MASN, saying the cable company discriminated against the regional sports network by not making its programming available on its basic digital service. TWC has insisted on putting MASN on a more expensive digital sports tier.
Despite its 0-3 record, Time Warner has appealed the most recent ruling to the full FCC, and there's no indication when that five-member body will deal with the issue. The FCC lists it as an "item on circulation," and it is not on the agenda for the commission's meeting today.
"The case is still in the appeals process, and we are awaiting a decision from the FCC," Time Warner Cable spokeswoman Melissa Buscher said Tuesday.
Todd Webster, a spokesman for MASN, doesn't foresee a reversal in Time Warner's favor.
"It's a rope-a-dope delay strategy that ends up hurting ... North Carolina sports fans," Webster said in a telephone interview regarding TWC's appeal. "I can't imagine, having lost three different times with three different judges, ... that a fourth outcome would be any different."
Major League Baseball has made a little noise about trying to solve the problem of the so-called outlying areas, like the Triangle, that don't get regular, live baseball. But in previous meetings, the owners have put off dealing with the TV territories.
MLB spokesman Pat Courtney said the issue is back on the agenda for the owners' meetings on May 20-21 in New York.
Meanwhile, fans like Frankoff can only hope a solution is found before they have to find solace in an old baseball saying: Wait 'til next year.
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