So we crawl through the unofficial midpoint of the baseball season, forced to watch Peyton Manning host ESPY’s. Still, we had a Home Run Derby Champion, a winner at the All-Star Game—which rightfully doesn’t matter anymore—and a number of plot twists and questions that, for this guy, make this second half of the season, the proverbial “dog days of summer,” much more compelling.

What happened to The Cubs? Is Aaron Judge the real deal? Are the Houston Astros more than an aberration? What about the Red Sox? Can this actually happen for a team becoming synonymous with “milquetoast”?

I was fortunate enough to catch up with ESPN’s anchor of Baseball Tonight, Needham-native, Karl Ravech to chat about baseball, the state of the game and, of course, the milquetoast.

For anyone who watched Monday night’s Homerun Derby—which Ravech called on ESPN—there is little denying that the Yankee’s right-fielder Aaron Judge, a legitimate triple-crown threat, made a thunderous introduction on the national stage.

“[Judge] is a legit young man,” Ravech said, having interviewed Judge before The Home Run Derby. “He is replacing Derek Jeter as the face of the Yankees.”

Ravech compared Judge to Tiger Woods and LeBron James. Admittedly, while I’m trying to find something to dislike about the 25 year-old Yankee slugger, who is being mentioned in the same sentence as Joe Dimaggio, I’m coming up empty, sans the pinstripes. He is the son of teachers and humble and polite with a personable smile.

As for the state of the game of baseball, which is said to be in decline for viewership and waning in interest among Millennials, Ravech isn’t buying it.

“[Baseball] is not [waning] when it comes to local television,” Ravech said, adding that Aaron Judge in causing a surge in the New York market. “The regional sports networks [i.e. NESN and YES] are taking the viewers away [from the national markets]. There’s still a massive interest in baseball. I just left the College World Series in Omaha, and this year the ratings are up. I think [baseball] will have its peaks and it will have its valleys, but I would probably invest long-term in baseball more than I would in some other sports. I feel comfortable and confident about the game moving forward.”

However, WEEI and The Boston Globe both confirmed that The Red Sox are down 20-percent in viewership this season, a head-scratching statistic for a first-place team.

As for the interest in the game, a common Achilles’ heal in current criticism, Ravech believes commissioner Rob Manfred is doing everything he can to appeal to a broader fan base.

“Whether it be a pitch clock like we saw in The Home Run Derby and minor league baseball, it will just become part of the fabric of the game,” Ravech said.

Maybe one of the most riveting stories in the first half of the season is the meteoric rise of the Houston Astros, who currently sit on a 16.5 game lead in the AL West, on pace to win a stunning 120 games.

“Houston reminds us a lot of the Cubs of last year, and the Red Sox a few years ago,” Ravech said. “I mean, [Houston] is just a little younger and a little better than anyone else right now.”

But the punctuation on the second half, according to Ravech, is which team becomes “The Super Team.”

“One of these teams, at least on paper, is going to make a deal where it seems they can’t lose,” said Ravech. “Becoming The Super Team does not guarantee you a World Series, but one of these teams—[be it] the Dodgers, the Astros, the Nationals, the Red Sox—is going to pick up somebody who addresses their weakness, or at least their perceived weakness.”

As far as the Red Sox making a real run at their fourth World Series of the new Millennium, Ravech, like most of us, believes it can’t be done without the $30 Million Man Dollar Man David Price (and his dog, Astro).

“I would never count out David Price,” Ravech said.

Regarding Price’s contentious relationship with the media, Ravech noted other Boston elites like David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez and Larry Bird, who braved such storms.

“Price is smart enough [to know] when he pitches and performs well, he’s fine,” Ravech said. “I would never count out David Price or believe that he isn’t going to be a very big and valuable part of this team.”

With the Red Sox and Yankees staring down a four-game series in Fenway this weekend, Ravech, rightfully, believes it’s more important for the Red Sox, who are “what you see”, having traded away the bulk of their farm for…Drew Pomeranz and Tyler Thornburg and Carson Smith and…umm.

Not like that hack Travis Shaw was any good. Suck it, Milwaukee.

If the Yankees take three out of four games, said Ravech, it puts some added pressure on the Yankees’ front office to make a move, who he believes has not embraced the club as a playoff team. Rather, Ravech said, the organization is looking long-term.

“[The Yankees] are really good, and I think they’ll hang around,” Ravech said. “To me, the series is more important to the Red Sox.”

Moving into the second half of the season, with the trading deadline looming, an already gone $20 million Panda and $30 million underperformer, I couldn’t agree more, Karl. I couldn’t agree more.

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Nathan Graziano lives in Manchester, New Hampshire. His most recent books include Hangover Breakfasts, a collection of short prose pieces (Bottle of Smoke Press in 2012), a novella titled Sort Some Sort of Ugly (Marginalia Publishing in 2013), and his new and selected poems titled My Next Bad Decision (Artistically Declined Press, 2014). A new collection of short fiction titled Almost Christmas will be released in 2017. For more information, visit his website: www.nathangraziano.com

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