© 2008 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

06/05/08 11:30 AM ET

The future is now as Draft day arrives

Future stars take center stage for the first time today

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The weeks have bled into days, the days into hours and then it will be only minutes remaining before the 2008 First-Year Player Draft begins on Thursday. Tampa Bay remains on the clock, so when Commissioner Bud Selig announces which player the Rays have chosen with the first selection, the 2008 First-Year Player Draft will officially be under way and the long wait will be over.

The future of professional baseball will change once again, adjusting to the talents of whoever the Rays elect to make the top selection. There will be 29 other selections to follow in the first round before supplemental picks are made.

So it will go until each of the 30 teams has exhausted its supply of picks sometime late Friday afternoon. While none of the players chosen over the two-day span at The Milk House figures to make a major impact this season -- though it could happen -- the future of the game will forever be changed once the Commissioner announces that first selection.

It will simply be one part, albeit a big one, in what is expected to be two exciting days for Major League Baseball. The Draft, which was first conducted in 1965, has undergone several changes during the past four decades, morphing into what fans will witness on Thursday.

It will simply be one part, albeit a big one, in what is expected to be two exciting days for Major League Baseball. The Draft, which was first conducted in 1965, has undergone several changes during the last four decades, morphing into what fans will witness on Thursday. While it may not be the spectacle that the NFL and NBA drafts have become, baseball's First-Year Player Draft has come a long way since Rick Monday's name was called with the first-ever selection in 1965.

There won't be any need for telephones, telegraphs or messengers to get the word out about who will be chosen this season as there was in Monday's day. That's because MLB.com will be there to bring it to you live, once again broadcasting every pick of the Draft. Coverage begins at 2 p.m. ET, with a simulcast of ESPN2's national broadcast of the first round and compensation picks.

MLB.com will have exclusive coverage of the remaining rounds on Day 1 with live analysis from The Milk House by Draft expert Jonathan Mayo. Coverage will begin at 11:30 a.m. on Day 2 and continue through to the final pick. MLB.com's coverage will also feature two days of live video from Florida on BaseballChannel.TV.

In addition, MLB.com's live Draft Tracker will provide a searchable database of every Draft-eligible player that will feature biographical data, statistics, scouting reports and, in many cases, scouting video.

So who will be the first selection? Officials with knowledge of the situation said Thursday morning that Rays have decided on Georgia high school shortstop Tim Beckham.

What makes this event so exceptional is that the game's past will link with its future, giving the fans the ultimate baseball experience. Admission to The Milk House, the 70,000-square-foot facility at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex, is free. The doors open at 12:30, but seating is limited. All fans in attendance will receive a free raffle ticket upon entry to The Milk House, with the chance to win authentic MLB jerseys representing each of the 30 teams.

Those who do take advantage of this unique opportunity to attend the event will witness the historic Negro Leagues Player Draft prior to the First-Year Player Draft. Major League clubs will "draft" 30 surviving former Negro Leagues players, who will represent all the players who did not have the opportunity to play Major League Baseball. The special Negro Leagues Player Draft will begin at 1 p.m. and will also be broadcast live on MLB.com.

"Major League Baseball is thrilled to host this distinguished group," said Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB's executive vice president for baseball operations. "Our First-Year Player Draft represents the future, but we are pleased to take this opportunity to recognize this proud part of our game's past. Those who participated in the Negro Leagues helped pave the way and we are honored that several of them will join us at the Draft."

As for the First-Year Player Draft itself, each club will have a special representative at its table during the opening rounds of the selection process, helping to announce and welcome the latest would-be stars. There will be Hall of Famers, World Series heroes, Cy Young Award winners and sentimental favorites on hand at Disney World to help usher in baseball's newest era.

Headlining the list of team representatives will be Hall of Famers Al Kaline (Tigers), Billy Williams (Cubs) and Dave Winfield (Padres). Randy Jones, who won 92 career games and the 1976 Cy Young Award for San Diego, will also be on hand for the Padres, while former slugger Willie Horton will join Kaline as a Detroit rep.

The Hall of Famers provided some of the day's most special moments for the fans at last year's Draft and will do so again this year when they partake in an autograph session. Kaline, whose grandson, Colin, was selected in the 25th round last year, will sign autographs for fans between 2:30-2:55 p.m., followed by Williams (3:55-4:15) and Winfield (4:20-4:40).

"Major League Baseball and its clubs have assembled an outstanding collection of figures from our game to join us at the 2008 First-Year Player Draft," Solomon said. "Many of the representatives who will be on hand at our Draft have enjoyed lasting bonds with their clubs over the decades. Their participation is becoming a unique tradition at the Draft, allowing us to recognize our game's history as we celebrate the future."

And the future is now. Well, sort of. The only way to know is to tune in or show up and be part of the day's festivities.

Kevin T. Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.