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01/02/09 3:26 PM EST

Fans, critics weigh in on Network debut

MLB Network was launched on Thursday night, and the reaction to the first two shows was fast and furious. Fans liked the first 60-minute edition of "Hot Stove," and they loved the digitized kinescope of Don Larsen's perfect game in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series replete with commercials from the original broadcast.

"Round-the-clock baseball, baby!" blogged thehappyyoungster. "When will I sleep? When will I eat? Will I ever leave the house? OMG!"

"THANKS for getting MLB back on TV," wrote Don Buchholz of Chesapeake, Va. "I was almost going through withdrawal symptoms and you guys start it off with a replay of a classic, Don Larsen's [perfect game] during the '56 Series. ... AWESOME. I was in the third grade at the time and didn't make it home soon enough to watch that one or any part of it as it didn't last long enough."

"I loved the opening of the network. Congratulations," wrote Jere Hochman. "I'm one of those who remember the 'Game of the Week' and couldn't wait to watch. My first World Series as a kid -- Cards vs. Yankees in 1964!" 

"This is the best show on TV," wrote another commenter. "Can't wait 'till the season starts to see how you cover the games/highlights. Love seeing the old video and can't wait to see '60s games. Thank you MLB, you have made my day."

A number of media outlets, including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Sports Business Journal, USA Today, Newsday, Reuters and The Associated Press had heralded the coming of the Network.

Foxsports.com called it "A Perfect Start for MLB TV" and Neil Best of Newsday wrote extensively on Friday morning about the long-expected launch.

"So how'd it go? Fine," he said. "The costly, high-tech main studio in Secaucus, N.J., was pretty, if a tad busy. Screens flickered constantly behind panelists such as Harold Reynolds, Al Leiter and Barry Larkin.

"But the real test of its usefulness will come in April, when it originates from the studio up to seven or eight hours a night, offering updates from around baseball, including live look-ins."

Tim Lemke, blogging in the Washington Times on Friday, wrote, "The Network hit a grand slam with its re-broadcast of Don Larsen's perfect game from the 1956 World Series."

Dylan Sharek of Bleacher Report wrote on Thursday night after watching the Yankee right-hander's perfecto against the Brooklyn Dodgers: "My girlfriend has competition. It's called the MLB Network. I've tried my hardest to learn as much as I can about baseball's past through long and meandering searches ... but nothing can replace watching something in its entirety and experiencing it with your own eyes and ears. Today, I watched Mickey Mantle hit a home run in the context of an entire baseball game. It was absolutely one of the most electrifying moments of my life."

Mantle, who won the Triple Crown in the American League as a 24-year-old during the 1956 season, was one of the most electrifying players of his era.

On Oct. 8, 1956, the switch-hitter, batting left-handed, smacked a two-out, fourth-inning homer off Dodgers starter Sal "The Barber" Maglie. In the top of the fifth, he saved Larsen's bacon by sprinting into what was called "Death Valley" -- left-center in the original Yankee Stadium -- to make a one-handed snare of a liner drilled by Brooklyn's Gil Hodges.

"Tonight, I saw Hall of Famers in their prime take their hacks just like I watch Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez take theirs," Sharek wrote. "I learned that baseball, no matter how much I may hate the economics behind it, has not changed one bit. It is still nine guys going out on the world's most perfectly designed playing field playing the world's most beautiful, intricate game.

"Right now, this channel is showcasing baseball in the way it should be. Simply. Here's to a great 2009 and all the baseball that comes with it."

The fledgling Network was supposed to be available to a potential record audience of 50 million basic cable homes across the nation, but some writers complained that their cable providers were either seeking an additional charge to view it or were not making it available at all.

Pete Dougherty, the television critic for the Albany Times-Union, blogged that the debut could not be viewed on Time Warner in that area, although, "DirecTV subscribers were able to see the beginning, which consisted of Commissioner Bud Selig introducing the Network, followed by a 10-minute collection of clips from baseball's history (too long, if you ask me). 'Hot Stove' followed, and Studio 42 (named in honor of Jackie Robinson) is impressive. Too bad there aren't any games to see it in real action."

Executives of the Network wanted to assure all fans that they are looking into the problems with the intent of quickly solving them. Fans should understand that Comcast Corp., Time Warner, Cox Communications, Inc. and DirecTV are one-third partners in the Network, with Major League Baseball owning the rest. The Dish Network is not a partner, and as of now won't show the Network.

"MLB Network successfully launched on Jan. 1 in approximately 50 million homes," an MLB Network spokesman said on Friday. "It is carried by most major cable and telco providers, as well as DirecTV on digital basic or expanded basic. As has been widely reported, MLB Network is not carried on a specialized sports tier, but does require customers to subscribe to digital basic cable or the equivalent. Fans can consult the channel locator on MLBNetwork.com to see where it is available in their zip code, and should call their cable, satellite or telco provider if they have further questions."

Marc Katz of the Dayton Daily News wrote that the Network was certainly available on Time Warner in southwestern Ohio.

"In the middle of the Rose Bowl on Thursday, Jan. 1, Major League Baseball launched its new Network by rebroadcasting Don Larsen's perfect 1956 World Series game," he said. "What a perfect way to begin the new year, especially with a game that took only two hours and six minutes to complete. Happy New Year."

Ken Schott, writing on Friday morning in his blog "Parting Schotts" that appears on the Web site of the dailygazette.com of Schenectady, N.Y., said many Time Warner subscribers in his area weren't so lucky.

"Not all Time Warner Cable subscribers were affected by the problems getting the debut of MLB Network on the air Thursday night," he wrote. "According to Peter Taubkin, vice president of government relations and public affairs for the Albany division of Time Warner Cable, the areas affected were Schenectady, Troy, Queensbury and Saratoga.

"[The] issue was a zoning conflict which temporarily limited the feed to the Albany area," Taubkin wrote in an e-mail this morning.

The Boston Business Journal reported on Friday morning that the Network is available in Boston via Comcast, noting that the "Hot Stove" news desk was anchored during Thursday night's debut by Hazel Mae, a former reporter for the New England Sports Network, which carries the Red Sox and Bruins hockey games and is owned by both teams.

"Given the year-round wealth of breaking news that really is unique to Major League Baseball, and the incredibly high interest in baseball here in New England, fans are sure to embrace MLB Network's in-depth programming," said Steve Hackley, senior vice president of Comcast's greater Boston region, in a news release.

Roger Catlin, who is the "TV Eye" for the Hartford Courant, was more to the point about MLB's partnership with the cable providers.

"Its debut Thursday was a historic one -- starting life in over 50 million households," Catlin wrote. "Usually, it takes longer to get such a stronghold, especially as fewer channels become available. But MLB is unique because it is a joint partnership between the league and cable companies, who have an instant stake in its success."

Ray Frager, the self-styled "Medium Well" of the Baltimore Sun, asked this question on Friday: "Is your pitching arm loose?" He then went on to explain that viewers in his area could watch the Network on Comcast, DirecTV and Verizon (not on Dish Network, though). Comcast subscribers need to have digital service.

Likewise David Barron, writing in the Houston Chronicle, had similar news for Comcast subscribers in his area.

"MLB Network launched Thursday night with more than 50 million households nationwide, making it the most widely distributed startup in cable history and easily outpacing the struggling NFL Network," he said. "It helps, of course, that MLB offered the cable companies equity in the channel, which the NFL refuses to do."

Rob Quinn, writing on Thursday night in the Tampa Bay Rays Examiner, said the Network was available in his area on Bright House Networks and DirecTV. But ... "If you have none of the above, then you are out of luck for the time being."

But the headline on Sharek's Bleacher Report entry seemed to say it all: "MLB Network: The Best $10 I Ever Spent."

"I do not know if MLB Network will continue to showcase classic footage," he wrote. "But for a $10 upgrade to the premium cable package, I watched something in 2009 that my father hasn't been able to watch in his 50 years as a baseball fan. That alone makes it worth every penny."

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.