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12/08/08 7:25 PM EST
MLB Network introduces on-air lineup
Unveiling of studios part of channel's Winter Meetings exposition
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
LAS VEGAS -- With the excitement of a first Spring Training game, the new MLB Network introduced part of its starting talent lineup on Monday at the Winter Meetings and showed off depictions of two state-of-the art studios that will be unveiled, beginning next week in tours of its Secaucus, N.J., location. The Network is scheduled to launch on Jan. 1 to a potential audience of 50 million basic cable homes, the largest such launch by far in history. It will offer live games, original programming, highlights, coverage of baseball events and classic games, beginning with a rare recording of Don Larsen's perfect game against the Dodgers in the 1956 World Series with Larsen and his Yankees catcher that day, Yogi Berra, both in studio to offer analysis. "We're planning to do eight hours a day," said Matt Vasgersian, who signed on as a studio host after seven years of television play-by-play for the San Diego Padres to host "MLB Tonight," the Network's signature show. "That's a very aggressive, very ambitious thing that we're all really looking forward to taking a big bite out of." Vasgersian is moving cross country from La Jolla to New Jersey to take his "Bruce Springsteen worship to a new level." But he certainly isn't the only one. Trenni Kusnierek and Hazel Mae both left their comfort zones in Milwaukee and Boston, respectively, to join the Network as reporters. Harold Reynolds, a familiar face around MLB.com, will take his rapid style and expertise as a former player from downtown Manhattan to just across the Hudson River. Reynolds joins other former players Joe Magrane, Dan Plesac and Al Leiter as studio analysts in what is being called an "All-Star lineup." Magrane, Plesac and Leiter were not on hand on Monday. "For me I'm just excited," Reynolds said. "I think for any baseball fan or anybody in the media, the first thing is that we're all fans of the game, even the players." Tony Petitti, the MLB Network's president and chief executive, and formerly of CBS Sports, said the Network may hire more talent prior to the launch, which is now just 23 days away. Petitti also said that there would be a symbiosis with its online partner, MLB.com, in areas of content, sales and merchandising. "We're both 24/7 operations," Petitti said. "I really view them as complementary businesses, so I think working together should be easy. We can come together operationally, driving baseball fans back [and forth] to both places." Studios 3 and 42 in Secaucus will be the literal home plates for in excess of 40 hours of creatively generated programming. The Babe Ruth studio, given the number worn by the "Sultan of Swat," will be equipped with a desk that rotates to offer a "new look" throughout the day of programming, Petitti said. It will also feature six distinct broadcast areas, including a stat center and balcony interview area. The ceiling is ringed by the backlit logos of all 30 Major League teams and is equipped with lighting to mirror the feel of day or night. Studio 42, which honors Jackie Robinson, is a replica of a ballfield, replete with a diamond, mound, padded wall and bleachers to seat a 175-person studio audience. The bases are 45 feet apart rather than the standard 90, and the mound is 30 feet from home plate rather than 60 feet, six inches. The mound is portable and can be moved further back for demonstrations. There's also an out-of-town scoreboard modeled after the one on the right-field bleacher fence in Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park that will be updated in real time. Don't be surprised after game coverage is complete to find Reynolds depicting the art of a key hit-and-run and bunt play, or Leiter, Magrane and Plesac doing what they all did best as players -- demonstrating the nuances of pitching off the studio mound. "Studio 42 is really something and really special for the game," Petitti said. "It's almost 10,000 square feet. It will allow guys like Harold and Al and Joe and Dan to get out and move around and do demonstrations, but we can also tape shows there. The Yogi and Don Larsen interview will take place in Studio 42." And so, let the real programming begin.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.