If the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY is considered the Mecca of baseball, then the MLB Network in Secaucus, NJ should be looked at as the second coming. Launched in January of 2009, the Network has just begun it’s sixth season of not just broadcasting games and highlight shows, but bringing baseball into the 21st century. And the facility in which they do it all is one of the coolest places I’ve ever been. Greeted by a massive collage of today’s stars of the diamond, as well as a giant screen displaying MLB Network’s 12 hours of live weekday coverage, I couldn’t hide my smile as I began a tour of our national pastime's modern day home. The next thing that caught my attention was an entire wall of old baseball cards, that I sincerely wish I had as wallpaper when I was a kid, and maybe even now. This was only a warmup for what I was about to discover behind the scenes of baseball’s broadcasting nerve center.
Whisked through corridor after corridor of cool memorabilia and awesome photos, I found my way into Studio 3, named after Babe Ruth, which literally put my head on a swivel. 5,600 square feet, Studio 3 features 62 video displays, as well as 108 and 103 inch monitors. The single space offers six different broadcast areas, and is ringed by backlit logos of all 30 clubs. Yes, it’s candyland for sports heads. If that was cool, what I saw next made me rub my eyes in astonishment. Studio 42, yup, in honor of Jackie, is an entire replica stadium and field. We’re talking bleachers, real-time scoreboards, and even a field turf. Think the coolest wiffle ball game known to man. In between having my pleasure sensors tickled by the sights and sounds of the game, both past and present, I caught up with Matt Vasgersian, Al Leiter, and Harold Reynolds, who’ve been in Secaucus from the beginning, to talk Jeter’s last ride, how the MLB Network has changed the game, and the start of a new season.
Written by Adam Silvers (@silversurfer103)
What’s your favorite part of a new season?
Matt Vasgersian: The overall enthusiasm level. Once the season gets going, unfortunately like anything, you kind of take for granted that there are games being played. But yesterday, every swing and miss it seemed like, every base hit, people were reacting to it. Everyone was checking their fantasy league lineups, and everybody was wondering aloud whether they should lead with this or that on their show. It was cool. Everybody’s excited.
What’s the best, and most challenging, part of running a 24-hour network of just baseball?
MV: The most challenging part of it is that we’re in the Eastern time zone, and there are games that start after 10 p.m. eastern. Like last night, the end of that Oakland game, and I’m an Oakland fan, was awesome, and I couldn’t stay up for it. That kinda stinks. So I’m showing up today, and I’m looking at highlights on MLB.com, and I’m catching up the way a fan would. Which is fine, because that’s the only orientation that I really have to this job. I’m not an ex-player. A lot of people think, ‘gosh, what do you talk about when there are no games being played?’ Well, there’s plenty to talk about. We do a whole off-season where you’re never challenged for topics. The best part about it being a 24-hour network is that we do this everyday, all day, and there’s nothing that happens in baseball that gets past us. I’m lucky enough to get out of the building and do games, for FOX and with MLB Network, and I feel like today is prepping tomorrow. You never have to study anything the way you would if you were covering, say, an NFL schedule, where you spend your five days prior to that practice weekend studying. This just preps itself.
How have you seen the game evolve, both on and off the field, in your time in baseball?
Harold Reynolds: The economics has changed the game, clearly. And I think it’s affected it not just with the amount of money guys are making, or owners are making, but in protection of players, too. For example, Clayton Kershaw. If he’s not making 215 million dollars I don’t know if he’s on the disabled list right now. Guys not pitching deep in games. Different things like that have affected the way the game is played, and I understand the financial protection. If I had an investment in a lot of these players, I might do the same thing. As far as the game itself, I really think it’s changed because we’re over thinking, and we’re not letting players play. And that starts at little league. It annoys me when I see some coach calling somebody’s pitches, or even in college when the catcher sits there and he looks at the bench, and the coaches are calling every pitch. That doesn’t allow the players to evolve and have their freedom of who they are. I think that’s missing, particularly in the younger generations.
Yes, there have been ebbs and flows in it based on PED’s, and that’s real. But at the end, it’s still 60 feet, 6 inches. It’s how we perceive it now that’s changing.
MV: I don’t know that the game has evolved as much as the coverage has evolved. My first job in the big leagues was in ‘97 doing Brewers TV, and we were on this little teeny, tiny, bastard, stepchild cable outlet, we’ll call it. We did 80 games, I think we did half the schedule, and that wasn’t that long ago. That has changed. The immediacy of information has changed the way the game is being digested, now. We could talk all day about the world of sabermetrics, and how that’s changed the perception of baseball. And now the guy on the couch feels like he has just as good, if not better, intel into the game, than somebody who has access to every piece of videotape and every computer-generated breakdown of a set player. It’s empowering for fans to think that they know all that, and they do. So I don’t know that the game has changed in the way it’s played. Yes, there have been ebbs and flows in it based on PED’s, and that’s real. But at the end, it’s still 60 feet, 6 inches. It’s how we perceive it now that’s changing.
PED’s and baseball, thoughts?
HR: I think we’re finally getting a grip on it. I don’t think people really realized how big the problem was. The problem being how sophisticated players, the extent they were going to, to use it. I think Biogenesis has opened everybody’s eyes to it when a lot of that stuff became public. I don’t think other players realized they were going to that extent to do that. But I applaud the commissioner and Rob Manfred for going after Biogenesis, and some people didn’t agree with it, but it’s changed the landscape of the game to another level again.
What has the MLB Network done for the game over the last few years?
Al Leiter: Have you seen other places, in terms of how everybody’s improved since we’ve come in? Absolutely. We’ve helped make what a long season seems at times long and drawn out, to interesting, hopefully cool, but we’ve narrowed it to tonight. Something that never took place in baseball was, it’s April you go and watch your team, you kind of glaze over June, the All-Star game’s fun and the dog days of August, then you start getting into September. We have interesting baseball conversation, from super-smart sabermetric get the analytical computer people to you’re either the bug or the windshield. I think that spectrum is great because that’s our viewer, those are the fans. Some people may want to know at different levels, and interesting tidbits, so this place has created that relevancy. Absolutely.