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MLB Network's "The Pen" Intrigues, Disappoints

DENVER - APRIL 10:  J.A. Happ #43 of the Philadelphia Phillies pitches in relief against the Colorado Rockies during MLB action on Opening Day at Coors Field on April 10, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies defeated the Phillies 10-3.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Rob McFaddenCorrespondent IJune 15, 2009

There is only so much you can learn about an athlete by watching a baseball game. Sure, you get a chance to break down their swing or critique their windup, but it's impossible to really get to know the person inside the uniform.

So as both a Phillies fan and a baseball fan, I was intrigued when I saw ads for the MLB Network's new show The Pen, which debuted Sunday night.

With former Phillies closer Mitch Williams narrating, the show takes a closer look at the men who make up the 2009 Philadelphia bullpen and what it's like to be a major leaguer.

The first show was interesting and covered a lot of ground. From the struggles of making the team in Spring Training to the distractions of being the defending champs, to losing beloved broadcaster Harry Kalas in April, there has been no shortage of story lines to begin the 2009 season.

In fact, my biggest complaint is that I felt the show's producers tried to do to much. You can't cram four months of life into one hour without leaving the viewers feeling like they just watched an extended highlight reel.

Rather then spend time on every player and every subject, the focus should have been narrowed.

For example, I didn't think enough time was spent on the battle between veteran Chan Ho Park and young lefty J.A. Happ for the final spot in the starting rotation.

This was the biggest preseason storyline and continued to be an issue when Park won the job but failed to perform. Happ has now taken over as a starter while Park has been moved to the bullpen.

The show covered the topic, but failed to involve the viewer emotionally, quickly cutting from event to event without pausing to let the tension sink in. A stressed out Happ was shown talking on the phone to someone (never identified) for all of 10 seconds. Park was only interviewed once, speaking about 10 words.

Cameras were allowed inside meetings between Phillies staff and management as they discussed who to keep and who to send to the minors. Instead of cutting to all the relevant quotes, these scenes should have been allowed to play out naturally.

It's a slow, difficult process to complete a 25-man roster. It should take longer than 60 seconds to show how the conclusions were reached.

I did like that newcomer Jack Taschner's situation was fleshed out. The Giants traded Taschner to Philadelphia late in Spring Training and it was the first move of his baseball career. Adding to the difficulty of leaving the only organization he had known was the stress on his family.

The scene showing Taschner holding his infant daughter while his wife talked about how tough it was to leave home represented the inside look into a ballplayer's life that I was expecting to see in The Pen.

Taschner's situation remains up in the air, as his performance to this point has been less than stellar. Plus the Phillies may no longer have a need for another left-hander now that setup man J.C. Romero has returned to the club.  

This is the kind of story I want to know more about.

Unfortunately, the majority of the show was not nearly as personal.  Right-hander Clay Condrey received significant airtime, but other than his success on the mound and the fact that he's from Texas, I learned nothing about him.

The segment dealing with the passing of the legendary Kalas did hit close to home. However, that may have been due to the memories it brought back rather than what I was seeing. The reality is that Harry Kalas was a part of my life much longer than he was for any of the Phillies' relievers.

I have no doubt that Chad Durbin, who was interviewed, was truly sad to see the great man go. But he only met Harry last year. I had known Kalas, through my TV and radio, for my entire life.

The bottom line is that after the show was over, I felt I hadn't really learned anything or experienced anything new. Other than Taschner, little to no time was spent on the backgrounds of the players—not even closer Brad Lidge, easily the highest-profile player of the group.

Hopefully The Pen corrects these issues in future episodes, especially with Lidge and Scott Eyre on the disabled list.

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