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MLB Network: Not Too Shabby

If you’ve lived under a rock the past few days, here’s the news: The MLB Network launched Thursday on cable (Comcast has it, as it owns a share of the network). In its first four days, it’s featured Jimmy Rollins, classic baseball, documentaries and hot-stove talk. So far, not bad.

Of course, the network itself is something to salivate about: 24/7 baseball on television. Hardcore fans like myself wait all night for “Baseball Tonight” to air, even if the show could use a complete reconstruction. So now that there’s a whole network devoted to the game, I’m keeping it on my TV almost all the time, just to keep updated. For casual fans, the network will provide opportunities to learn more about the game. All in all, it’s a victory no matter what.

Here’s what I’ve thought so far, from what I’ve seen:

  • I like “Hot Stove,” which will become “MLB Tonight” during the season. It seems less rockstar than “Baseball Tonight,” with more focus on the inner-workings of the game. This is mainly because of Jon Heyman and Tom Verducci. The former is SI.com’s respected insider, the latter is SI.com’s best pure writer (and one of the best writers out there, period). Heyman’s rundown of free agent talk was like reading MLBTradeRumors.com in five minutes. Great stuff.
  • Still, “Hot Stove” might suffer from its over-abundance of former players. I like Mitch Williams playing the John Kruk, “grizzled straight-shooter” role, and I like Harold Reynolds as the veteran analyst. Joe Magrane takes a more intelligensia role. Barry Larkin and Al Leiter gel well together. But I’d like more expert analysis. Adding one more expert might do the trick.
  • Living in New England for six years, I got a healthy dose of Hazel Mae. Yeah, she’s easy on the eyes, but she can be a tad grating. It hasn’t come out much so far, so that’s good. Hopefully she’ll hold back and let the other bouyant personalities around her handle the camaraderie.
  • Watching Don Larsen’s perfect game was pretty cool, and watching Yogi and Don talk about it was even cooler. But coolest of all? Bob Costas. I’ve always thought Costas was the best studio guy, and hopefully he’ll get more time at the Network.
  • The Larsen showing sheds light on another amazing thing: That the entire MLB library is wide open. I really, really hope they milk it for all its worth. Show a classic game every day.
  • At some point, I hope the Network dips into further original programming, but with the idea of enriching its fanbase. One of ESPN’s better show is “The Top 5 Reasons You Can’t Blame …” Hopefully the Network does something like this, investigating storylines throughout the years and using its footage to its advantage.
  • I also hope they don’t forget the minor leagues. One thing casual baseball fans usually lack is great knowledge of the minors, farm systems, etc. Maybe a weekly hour-long show devoted to prospects (with a guy like Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein) could get slotted in once we get closer to April.
  • When “MLB Tonight” premieres, they’ll show live look-ins because the network has installed a special camera in each stadium. Awesome.
  • Finally, and maybe I’m pandering, but I hope MLB Network thinks about incorporating fans into programming. And yes, I’m thinking about blogs. A weekly roundtable show? Video reports to “Hot Stove”? I don’t know, but open the network to the fans, and the fans will stay tuned.
  • Oh, and one more thing: I love seeing Carlos Ruiz hug Brad Lidge repeatedly.

So what do you all think? Like the network? What do you think it can do better? So far, I dig it.

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