It's 2009 at last, and that means the MLB Network is live in an estimated 50 million homes. It's the largest launch in cable network history, and we are liveblogging this New Year's Day all the way.
8:52 p.m. ET: It has been an unbelievable day for baseball fans, and the start of a new way of life. As Don Larsen puts the finishing touches on his perfect game being rebroadcast for the first time, it seems only fitting to finish it off with this e-mail that I just received from one representative fan. Verbatim:
THANKS for getting MLB back on TV 1 January 2009.
I was almost going through withdrawal symptoms and you guys start it off with a replay of a classic, Don Larsen's no-hitter during the '56 Series game.
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.
6:10 p.m.: It's finally here, with this message shown to everyone:
"Hello, I'm Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, and I would like to welcome you to the MLB Network, the ultimate television destination for baseball. Baseball holds a special place in the fabric of American culture. For more than a century, during both good times and periods of turmoil, fans have enjoyed our nation's pastime. Baseball has created a common bond among the generations and enduring memories for all of us throughout its long and distinguished history. I am proud to introduce you to MLB Network, which will give fans a new way to enjoy baseball. MLB Network will provide you with in-depth coverage, live games, unique programming, and unprecedented access to Major League Baseball. With more than 150,000 hours of archival footage from MLB Productions, MLB Network will show you the greatest moments in baseball history. I would like to thank you our fans for your continued support and for tuning in to be part of this historic day for Major League Baseball. Welcome to MLB Network."
It was kind of spine-tingling when a boyish-looking Ted Williams was shown hitting in the batting cage just as Selig began to talk about "more than 150,000 hours of archival footage."
First player likeness ever to appear on MLB Network: Babe Ruth, winking.
First fans to be shown: Phillies fans waving white towels during the 2008 postseason.
After the Commissioner's welcome, Victor Rojas -- the former Rangers broadcaster and one of three MLB Network hosts -- appears on air "from Studio 3, named of course after Babe Ruth. We're all dedicated to bringing the national pastime to you full-time." Then that is followed by a truly memorable game of around-the-horn. Rojas hands off to Harold Reynolds, who welcomes you to Studio 42 "in honor of Jackie Robinson, here with Al Leiter, Barry Larkin and a cast of other analysts." Then it goes to on-air reporter Hazel Mae (previously a Red Sox reporter) who says: "I'm here at the update desk, where we'll be bringing you all the scores and highlights throughout the year." Then over to on-air reporter Trenni Kusnierek, who says, "Thanks, Hazel, I'm here at the Stat Center, where we'll be able to bring you all the updates live..." Then she introduces a "special guest," and into Studio 3 walks Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, the catalyst of the reigning World Series champions, who says: "I'd like to introduce you to MLB Network, where the national pastime goes full-time."
That leads into the first program, the regular one-hour "Hot Stove" show, which is under way now. At the top of the hour, it will be time for Don Larsen's 1956 perfect game, the only one in World Series history. You will want to watch it, because it never has been broadcast to a viewing audience in 52 years. Its charming commercials represent a different era, and it will feel unique. After the game, Bob Costas, Larsen and catcher Yogi Berra will be talking about it in the studio.
It's here. The MLB Network is live.
5:22 p.m.: Jimmy Rollins is in the house. The shortstop of the reigning World Series champs from Philadelphia is standing at second base on the half-scale infield of Studio 42 with host Victor Rojas and analyst Harold Reynolds. They are taping a segment you will see on the "Hot Stove" show in the first hour of the network's existence. Reynolds asks Rollins what he thought of Cole Hamels calling the Mets "choke artists" -- a big deal in the New York press after it was uttered.
"At first I said, 'Oh my goodness, this dude has lost his mind.'" Watch the show and see what else the Phillies' outspoken veteran leadoff man has to say.
You're going to see Al Leiter, Barry Larkin with Reynolds and Rollins after that. You are going to be in love with the Studio 42 field at MLB Park. Trust us.
You're going to catch up with Josh Hamilton, too. Be sure to watch Leiter's interview with him on Hamilton's long road back to the Majors and what happened in 2008.
The Rose Bowl is scoreless with 12:35 to go in the first quarter. No. 8 Penn State vs. No. 5 USC. Sports fans are going to be going back and forth with their remotes between that game and this milestone moment in broadcasting history. Whatever you do, just don't miss the first pitch when Commissioner Bud Selig introduces this new world.
4:30 p.m.: "Lots of anticipation in the control room as the countdown clock just passed 90 minutes," our MLB Network insider says. "Plenty left to do as 6 o'clock approaches, but there's a general feeling in the air that the hard work and preparation has paid off, and everyone's ready to finally start making television."
On the set of fabulous Studio 3 are host Greg Amsinger, analyst Harold Reynolds and baseball insiders Jon Heyman and Tom Verducci. The makeup person is applying her touch to Heyman, the longtime baseball writer at Newsday and now Sports Illustrated. Someone notices a tag inside Reynolds' plum-colored suit that says: "Specially tailored for Harold Reynolds." They are all chatting amongst themselves and Reynolds tells Verducci: "This is going to be a monster." They are eager to complete this segment of the "Hot Stove" taping, a discussion of 2008 postseason award winners, in time to see the Rose Bowl kickoff at approximately 5 p.m. The taping will be part of the 6-7 p.m. hour, preceding the greatly awaited rebroadcast of Don Larsen's 1956 World Series perfect game -- the first time it has been televised to the public since it happened 52 years ago.
It is only an hour and a half until the Next Big Thing in the national pastime. Commissioner Bud Selig will come on the air and say hello to everyone. It will be time to play ball. You can sense the electricity around the Secaucus, N.J., studios.
3:30 p.m.: Just reached Harold Reynolds on the set between rehearsals for tonight's debut. "I'm excited, man. Today is hands-down one of the highlights of my broadcasting career, without a doubt." Reynolds connected with a generation of fans as an analyst on ESPN's "Baseball Tonight" and has been our MLB.com analyst the past couple of seasons, and now he is totally in his element with a chance to go seriously in-depth with his colleagues. It's an incredible lineup of analysts, and they're ready.
Not sure which is the stranger confluence: Hitting the "Last" button on your remote to go from college bowl games to baseball, or watching NBC's live broadcast of Red Wings vs. Blackhawks on ice at Wrigley Field. Fans at the Friendly Confines love it. Fans will also love mixing Opening Night programming on MLB Network with Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech in the FedEx Orange Bowl later tonight.
Many questions about MLB Network are being asked in the comments below and in comments on our main launch preview article. Keep them coming because network officials are reading the comments as well. One of the common questions being asked is whether it will be offered in Canada. Here is the official response: "Currently MLB Network is not distributed in Canada. We are looking forward to our launch in the United States on Jan. 1, 2009 and we hope to be able to expand the distribution of the Network to baseball fans in Canada and other international markets in the future."
Can't say it often enough: See the Channel Locator on mlbnetwork.com and enter your ZIP code so you'll know exactly where the remote needs to be before 6 p.m. ET. You don't want to miss the first pitch from Commissioner Bud Selig. After all, this is baseball history, but it's also TV history -- the largest network launch ever.
Of all those testimonials by baseball people in the taped video that has been running as a placeholder on the MLB Network channel, this is the most succinct and best one: "It's the next step," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said.
It's official: Dora has stopped crying. SpongeBob SquarePants, too. While everyone is thrilled that the MLB Network is launching, millions of Time Warner Cable customers also are happy because that cable giant just reached a last-second agreement with Viacom. Dora and other animated characters had been on major ads in tears because of the dispute, which had caused Time Warner to threaten to remove many Viacom programs over a proposed fee increase. It resulted in much arguing about whether many people really watch their shows, anyway. I'm just glad that's settled because people will now be watching MLB Network. Probably Dora, too.
1:13 p.m.: Everyone is talking about this launch, or it seems like that if you casually look around. It is relevant to everyone who roots for baseball to be front and center forever, so here are just some of today's placements worth mentioning:
Feature story in Time magazine. Two stories in today's New York Times, including an overview of the launch by Richard Sandomir and a piece about Don Larsen. Story in today's Los Angeles Times, and more info on its Web site, including channel listings. Bloomberg News and Reuters both produced stories in the last two days, which have been picked up extensively online, including sites such as Forbes.com and MSNBC.com. CableFAX Daily Q&A with Tony Petitti that ran on Tuesday, and another Q&A with him in the Raleigh News & Observer. Local stories from TV writers previewing MLB Network and providing channel listing details in Newsday, the Ventura County Star, Orange County Register, Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin, Albany Times-Union, Baltimore Sun, Schenectady Gazette, Boston Herald and Patriot-Ledger.
The Time article says that "the MLB Network's 50 million homes give it unprecedented scale. The other league-owned and operated sports channels still haven't hit baseball's numbers, and they've been around a lot longer. NBA TV, launched in 1999 but still relegated to the more expensive sports tier of cable channels, has only 15 million subscribers. The five-year-old NFL Network, which has waged mortal combat against cable operators for more favorable distribution terms, reaches just 42 million homes. The subscription revenue from the cable and satellite operators could keep MLB Network buoyant in a tough advertising market. In fact, most analysts are bullish about the channel." The article then quotes Derek Baine, a senior analyst at cable TV research firm SNL Kagan, who says: "We expect them to be profitable from day one."
And that's just "traditional" media. Not sure if it's even worth delineating anymore, but then there is also constant blogging going on, at MLBlogs.com and all over. Larry Shenk, who spent decades as head of PR for the Phillies and still is a VP there, previewed the network on his Phillies Insider MLBlog and noted that Jimmy Rollins will be a "Hot Stove" guest at 7 p.m. ET Friday. One blog called Mookie Ball just launched and this is the first topic. Author Jane Heller wrote on her Confessions of a She-Fan MLBlog that "life will never be the same." Julia's Rants mentions it as well in her preview of the year. If you are blogging about it, include your full URL in the comments below.
Georgia vs. Michigan State is just under way in the Capital One Bowl. It is a great day for football, a great day for baseball, a great day for everything. The remote will be very busy. There's even an NHL game right now at Wrigley Field, of all places. Just so you know how to keep switching back and forth, the Rose Bowl is at 5 p.m. and the Orange is at 8:30. Just make sure you don't miss the first pitch from Commissioner Bud Selig at exactly 6.
12:10 p.m.: This just in: The first words you hear in the history of the largest cable network launch ever will come out of the mouth of Commissioner Bud Selig. That is pretty appropriate, considering that this is yet another major act of baseball's growth (ie MLB.com, MLB Network, Wild Cards, Interleague Play) that happened under his watch. There will be more about this shortly, but you heard it here first.
They are going through some rehearsals for today's debut "Hot Stove" show, which is the first-hour program. Jon Heyman and Tom Verducci are going through the latest rumors with host Greg Amsinger in Studio 3 (named for Babe Ruth), while at the same time Harold Reynolds is going through some promos with Barry Larkin in Studio 42 (named for Jackie Robinson).
Everyone was in very good spirits this morning at the overhauled MSNBC studios in Secaucus, N.J. One insider said: "It's been a long time coming and everyone is doing their best to take a few moments and remember how historic this day is and reflect on how special it is for them to be a part of it."
On ESPN, so far the Big Ten looks good against South Carolina. But I doubt Penn State will have it as easy against Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl (5 p.m. ET) as Iowa is having right now against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. "Beauty Shop" is on the E! channel, and I'm a big Queen Latifah fan. "The Biggest Loser" is on Bravo right now, and watching that is really motivating as I sit here snacking while typing a liveblog. I'll run tomorrow.
10:41 a.m.: Just checked with the MLB Network crew, and CEO Tony Petitti is just finishing up his senior staff morning meeting.
9:30 a.m.: Seal is on "Regis & Kelly" right now, singing his cover of Sam Cooke's classic "A Change Is Gonna Come." It is on Seal's new CD, and upon finishing the singer tells the show hosts: "I was listening to that song recently and realized that it is even more profound now than it was when Sam Cooke recorded it." Indeed. It's 2009. A Change Is Gonna Come. Just ask everyone around you today.
For the first time, I use the Channel Locator on mlbnetwork.com to enter my zip code, which is 10023 in Manhattan. It says Time Warner Cable, my provider, will have it on channel 174. When I go there, I literally get goosebumps. I see things that I have seen in other form many times before: images of Willie Mays going back to make "The Catch"; Hank Aaron rounding the bases with two fans who came along for the ride; Jack Buck saying, "Is this really happening?"; Babe Ruth hitting No. 60 and fans rising in the background to watch it fly; and so on. But it feels different.
"The National Pastime Goes Full Time" is the video playing on that channel as a placeholder right now in anticipation of the MLB Network turning on its lights later tonight. There's Kerry Wood throwing his 20th strikeout in a game, wearing a Cubs hat; hard to believe that he (and Mark DeRosa) is now an Indian. There's Ichiro Suzuki breaking the single-season hits record with No. 258 again. There's Walter Johnson slinging a sidearm fastball, there's Nolan Ryan, there's Ryan Howard. There's Pete Rose hitting No. 4,192 to break Ty Cobb's record.
Here is what it feels like: That feeling when you are one of those offseason events like the Cardinals Winter Warm-up, or the Cubs Convention, when you are there in line waiting for that blessed autograph from a favorite player and they are playing highlight videos while you are in line, and you are just transfixed on what you love.
Some of the goosebumps are because of the interviews about the MLB Network. Bob Costas, who will join Don Larsen and Yogi Berra in the studio after Larsen's 1956 World Series perfect game is rebroadcast tonight, says: "Of all the four major sports in America, the one that is best suited to 24/7/365 on TV is baseball." Cal Ripken Jr. says: "When I want to learn about baseball, I'll be tuning in." Tony Gwynn: "I think it's huge for the game. There's gonna be something on there for everybody." Dan Plesac: "I think it's going to be everything for every different tier of fan -- players that are available, trades that might be made, free agent signings."
It is quite a tease. New Year's Day is now ramping up. Judge Judy is slaying an unsuspecting pair standing before her in court on CBS. Jessica is suing for a return of a loan, and she just gave one of them the evil eye. Rachel Ray has Jerry Springer sitting beside her on ABC, and they are judging performances in their own "Our Audience Has Talent" show. Two guys are roller dancing and they are really bad. It is painful to watch. We go back to 174 and Gary Mathews is scaling a wall to make a catch, and Ryan Howard is standing next to him later that season at first base, telling him, "How'd you make that catch? It was like breakdancing in the air." That was not painful to watch.
USC vs. Penn State in the Rose Bowl. It starts at 5 p.m., No. 5 against No. 6. That is what matters in the meantime while waiting for the MLB Network. It will be a New Year's Day to remember. The "Hot Stove" show will greet everyone at 6 p.m., and at 7 is Larsen. You have to be there by 5:59 p.m. because you don't want to miss the first pitch. In the meantime, my remote needs some new batteries; better get them now.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.