12/17/08 10:30 PM EST
50 things to know about MLB Network
State-of-the-art studios set to host veteran personalities on Jan. 1
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
They ran 300 miles of HD cable under the raised floors of the former MSNBC studio space in Secaucus, N.J., enough to reach from there to Pittsburgh, or to circle the bases at all 30 Major League ballparks 147 times. Viewers will marvel at the versatility, new concept and sheer expanse of the 15,200 combined square footage dedicated to Studio 3 and Studio 42.
MLB Network expects to broadcast about 1,400 live hours in its first year, and it will air 16 live World Baseball Classic games in March. After a one-hour introductory Hot Stove Show greets everyone at 6 p.m. ET on Jan. 1, the honor of first game to be shown goes to Don Larsen and his 1956 World Series perfect game for the Yankees. It will blow you away on New Year's Day.
That is not the official tagline, but, having taken a tour Wednesday of the studios and played catch with new MLB Network analyst and MLB.com talent Harold Reynolds on the half-scale diamond inside the facility's monstrous Studio 42, one can say it with utmost certainty.
Studio 42, named for Jackie Robinson, is about 10,000 square feet. Other talent -- including former Major League pitchers Al Leiter, Joe Magrane and Dan Plesac -- will join Reynolds in using the space for demo analysis. Let's say you're watching a Phillies-Rays World Series rematch and Cole Hamels picks off B.J. Upton at first, or Evan Longoria takes Hamels deep. The Network may have immediate analysis with Plesac or Magrane breaking down Hamels' move by throwing over to first on their field, or Leiter may throw at full speed with cameras capturing movement on the ball.
"We can put a live studio audience in here if we want," MLB Network CEO Tony Petitti said during the tour, showing the combined 173 seats of three mini-grandstand areas in the studio. "We can do taped or live interviews here. We can wheel a desk out here in the middle of the field for a show. We'll use this studio for a lot. With as much studio specialty work as we'll do, you need two places. This one has more baseball branding."
There are 45 feet between bases on the diamond, which is made of field turf, and the pitcher's mound is 30 feet from a home plate that can be moved back for more realistic demonstrations as needed. The out-of-town scoreboard over the makeshift home run wall in center is 25 feet in length. The scoreboard will be updated in real time. Video will be shown against portions of the brick facades at MLB Park, which represents the looks of ballparks like Camden Yards, Citizens Bank Park and Coors Field.
"We took it from a lot of sensibilities," Petitti said, when asked what ballpark influences went into the MLB Park construction. "It's kind of 'The old is new.'"
"To be able to have a studio like that and do demos is just incredible," Reynolds said. "[On Tuesday], I took grounders, I showed footwork, how to grip the ball, how to throw it across the diamond. Tony and I played catch there. Honestly, you come to work and your CEO is a former college baseball player who wants to play catch with you. We were just talking ideas while throwing it. That's what it's like here."
Studio 3 is named for Babe Ruth and it is a cross between Star Trek Enterprise and Times Square. There are lights and futuristic elements to look at everywhere. There are 62 video displays throughout Studio 3, all native HD. The largest single Sharp LCD video monitor there is 108 inches. The rear projection screen there is 210 square feet (30 feet by seven feet). There are 30 backlit logos ringing the ceiling, representing each of the 30 teams, and each is digital video.
Some of the coolest things about Studio 3 are the touch screen for talent (similar to that used by networks during the last presidential election voting updates) and real-time baseball cards. These are large vertical video boards with the visage of today's players, and the information under them is data-fed.
"The information kind of lives in the set," Petitti said. "We're going to be on the air that much, and we asked, 'How can it look fresh?' The idea was [to have] as much flexibility as possible and connect people to the feel of the game and be reactive every single day."
There are 1,200 combined light fixtures throughout the two studios. There will be 26 live regular-season games during the 2009 regular season, and that is in addition to MLB.TV and the capability of watching every live out-of-market game over your computer during the season. Being a fan gets better and better.
The first unquestioned "must-see TV" on the MLB Network will be at 2 p.m. ET on Jan. 12, when baseball fans can watch the 2009 Hall of Fame Induction Announcement. Rickey Henderson is a first-ballot lock, and Joe Gordon has already been granted posthumous inclusion via the Veterans Committee. Will there be more than those two inductees? You'll have to tune in to find out.
There are 25 rooms in the facility just to cut highlights. The Network is close to 165 employees after a hiring frenzy since midsummer. Matt Vasgersian will be studio host. Trenni Kusnierek (Brewers) and Hazel Mae (Red Sox) left club-specific regional networks to become the first reporters, and they were going through a rehearsal during Wednesday's tour.
"I think there's pressure for my job," Kusnierek said. "Hazel and I both came from regional sports networks. If you're in this sport, that's what you want. We've been here for weeks. It's not like you are covering hockey and you come in here and start. We talk baseball sitting in the office all week. It's going to feel like you're sitting with friends talking baseball. On the train home at night, we're talking baseball."
MLB Network will air "30 teams in 30 days" -- featuring special reports on all 30 clubs during Spring Training. Prime 9 will be a regular show focusing on top-nine lists of any baseball category whatsoever. Petitti said the Network will need to go through its cycle at the outset and then evaluate programming as it evolves, responding to what viewers like. He said it will take "six to eight years to digitize all of baseball's archives," as history is an important component. But only a part.
"We will be complementary to the way fans watch their local team," Petitti said. "If you watch the Red Sox or Yankees on your local network, for example, we provide the national perspective. Every game has ebbs and flows. We're always going to be there."
It will exceed any other cable TV launch by approximately 20 million homes. It will be distributed across 43 cable and satellite systems on expanded digital basic cable or the equivalent. It will be available on major systems, including Comcast, Cox, Direct TV, Time Warner, Charter, Cablevision and Verizon FiOS. As of Dec. 1, there were 43 multiple system operators carrying the MLB Network. "If you have digital cable," Petitti said, "you're going to get the Network."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.