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Streaming deal a huge leap forward for MLB, fans

DALLAS -- So you're in a meeting that's running late, and your local team is on the diamond, and you just want a peek.

This day is for you.

Your ace is rolling into the middle innings, and you didn't make it to the ballpark, and you're still a half-hour from home.

This day is for you, too.

Baseball got more accessible for millions of fans on Thursday when Commissioner Rob Manfred announced a three-year deal with FOX Sports in which 15 teams will allow in-market streaming of games on phones, tablets and other devices.

These 15 teams are the ones with games carried by FOX regional sports networks -- Angels, Braves, Brewers, Cardinals, D-backs, Indians, Marlins, Padres, Rangers, Rays, Reds, Royals, Tigers, Twins and Yankees -- and Manfred said baseball is negotiating with the carriers of the other 15 teams to try to complete similar agreements by Opening Day.

This announcement means that if you subscribe to your local FOX broadcasts of your team, you will be able to watch the games on your phone or tablet in that market. Previously, teams hadn't been allowed to stream their own games into their local market. This is one of those days when the world shifted a bit, when it got just a bit smaller and connected us to our local teams in ways we've never been connected before.

"I think this is a huge step forward for the industry," Manfred said at the conclusion of the quarterly Owners Meetings. "I think the media landscape is changing very, very rapidly. I think it's important for us to make sure that our content is available on as many platforms as possible in ways that fans may want to enjoy our games."

With millions of fans having more access to baseball than ever before, it's difficult to remember a time when we couldn't watch games on trains, planes and automobiles.

But until Thursday, the exception was that you were unable to watch your local team in its local market on your mobile device. Now one more wall is coming down with the plan that others will follow.

"We have begun and will continue conversations with the rights holders for the other 15 clubs in the hopes that the in-market streaming program will be comprehensive in the 2016 season," Manfred said.

"We worked really hard with FOX to make sure that, not only can we get an agreement, but we would get an agreement that was good in terms of providing games to our fans. Assuming you are a paid cable customer, you will be able to watch."

In Manfred's 10 months on the job, baseball has moved quickly in an assortment of areas, including youth initiatives, technology and simply making the game itself better. This move speaks to that track record, as it demonstrates an understanding of how viewing habits are evolving, most notably among young fans, and is directed toward serving that demographic. And it took negotiating intelligently and persistently with media partners to make it happen and stay ahead of the curve.

Manfred was also excited to announce that ESPN will carry seven games on the first two days (April 3-4) of the 2016 regular season and that the Marlins and Pirates will play two regular-season games in Puerto Rico in May.

Those games will serve as the focal point of the annual celebration of Roberto Clemente's remarkable life, but also to expand the reaches of the sport itself.

All of this is a reminder that this is the best time to be a baseball fan, that the sport has never been so accessible in so many ways.

If Andrew McCutchen makes a highlight-reel play in the third inning of a game in Cincinnati, we have it delivered into our hands within seconds. Thanks to Statcast™, we're able to track the speed he moved to track down the baseball and to better appreciate both the instincts and athleticism of this amazing athlete.

In other words, we can appreciate people like McCutchen in new and better ways. And now things have gotten even better. In case you were wondering, Opening Day is a mere 137 days away.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.