Braves' era on TBS coming to a close

WASHINGTON - There is no geographical reason for Mike Sorenson to be a lifelong Braves fan. He lives roughly 932 miles from Turner Field, in the tiny, rural town of Fredericksburg, Iowa.

Yet there he was earlier this year in Milwaukee, the closest National League city to home, decked out in his Braves gear while watching Atlanta play the Brewers.

"I've been watching them on TBS since 1980," said Sorenson, 35. "And that's really the only reason I'm a die-hard Braves fan."

Sorenson is part of the TBS generation, one that began in 1977 and will end in just two weeks. Only four games remain in a partnership that gave the Braves a national fan base, gave Ted Turner nightly programming on his new cable network and helped shape sports television history.

TBS will carry Atlanta's games at Washington on Saturday and Sunday, the Sept. 23 game against Milwaukee and the Sept. 30 season finale at Houston. After that, TBS will switch to a league-wide package in 2008, carrying the Braves only if their game is selected as the Sunday game of the week.

The Braves will be shown locally on WTBS, which will become Peachtree TV, and on regional cable networks FSN South and SportSouth. But the days of the Braves being beamed into living rooms across North America on a regular basis are just about over.

"It will be very difficult to say good-bye," said longtime broadcaster Skip Caray, who is tentatively scheduled to call the final TBS game along with his son, Chip. "I still get Christmas cards from people I've never met in my life that met me 32 years ago on cable."

Caray and Pete Van Wieren have been calling Braves games together since 1976. They have all but disappeared from TBS this year, with Van Wieren working solely on the team's radio network and Caray slated for just 10 games on TV. But in the beginning, it was their voices, along with that of Ernie Johnson Sr., that introduced the Braves to the rest of the nation. Turner had just bought the team and saw an opportunity to simultaneously help his TV and baseball businesses. The national broadcast made the Braves the only team to have most of their games televised around the country. It was also historic in that, at that time, the idea of putting most or all of a team's games on television - even just locally - was still new.

"It was the only game on every night," Van Wieren said. "We didn't try to make it a national telecast. We still kept it a local telecast. It just happened to be presented nationally. And Ted never tried to change us. He always wanted it to be just that."

The rest of baseball was not so enthusiastic at first. Other owners feared that fans in their markets would stay home and watch the Braves instead of paying to see their local teams in person.

SideBar: Braves at Nationals

' When: Today-Sunday

' Where: Washington

' Schedule:

' Today, 7:05 p.m. (SportSouth)

' Saturday, 7:05 p.m. (TBS)

' Sunday, 1:35 p.m. (TBS)