TBS, your baseball fans.
Proper introductions are definitely in order, because this is a monumentally important time not only in the history of Turner Sports, but also in the day-to-day life of casual and hardcore fans around the game.
As a result of the seven-year deal with MLB that was announced at last year's All-Star festivities in Pittsburgh, TBS is going to be a key broadcast player going forward, starting now. It will televise any potential playoff tiebreaker games, all Division Series, and one of the League Championship Series, and in 2008, it will also televise 26 Sunday games during the regular season.
It all starts with the Selection Show, which will start at 4 p.m. ET -- or if the 1 p.m. game on TBS between the Braves and Marlins runs long, then immediately following the game. Host Ernie Johnson -- whose dad won a World Series ring with the Braves and later called Braves games for owner Ted Turner in the early "Superstation" days in the '70s -- will see his NBA studio cohorts Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith replaced in a new MLB setting by none other than 2007 Hall of Fame inductees Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn. Oh, yes. It's going to be something intriguingly different now.
"We are proud to extend the long-standing partnership with TBS and MLB and look forward to airing important MLB programming, leading off this Sunday with our coverage of the 2007 Major League Baseball All-Star Game Selection Show presented by Chevrolet and continuing on through our exclusive postseason coverage," said Jennifer Storms, senior vice president of Turner Sports Marketing and Programming. "The Selection Show gives us a great opportunity to introduce our new talent, Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn, to viewers as well as kick off our marketing and integrated partnerships with Major League Baseball and MLB.com, getting fans excited for the postseason on TBS."
Fans have been voting for starting position players, and this week of online-only balloting at MLB.com ended at 11:59 p.m. ET on Thursday. The online total will be combined with the offline ballots, including the millions of paper ballots punched at Major League and Minor League ballparks, and the votes tabulated and starters determined. All-Star managers Tony La Russa from the Cardinals and Jim Leyland from the Tigers, along with a player ballot and input from Major League Baseball, will determine all the remaining players except for the 32nd and final roster spots. La Russa and Leyland will provide those five candidates in each league, and all of those names will be revealed for fans who then will come to MLB.com and spend four days smashing their usual online records with the Monster All-Star Game Final Vote.
You've watched it on your cable for years. Maybe you watched Braves games regularly, maybe you even watched it for the comedies, maybe for the "Dinner and a Movie." But really: Has there ever been a more suspenseful TBS show? Considering that this is by far the largest All-Star fan balloting program of any sport, considering that you voted up to 25 times online and can't wait to find out whether Barry Bonds makes it to his home game and whether Ichiro or Manny Ramirez win the third starting outfield spot, considering the Final Vote nominees. ... you are about to meet TBS big time.
"We've had a long relationship with baseball through the Braves, and we just want to build on that relationship and take it to another level as far as the excitement, the drama, the storytelling," said Albert Vertino, producer for the Selection Show. "There's nothing like baseball in the fall. And now that we can be a part of that, it's something that we really value and are really excited to dig our teeth into. That's why this show is a cool kicking-off point, because it just gives people a taste of what's to come."
Today's show is all about the news you are waiting for, but there will be some new twists, including "Inside Trax" vignettes of mic'd players such as 2007 sensation Prince Fielder of the Brewers and other features, in conjunction with Major League Baseball Productions. One of the true highlights of this telecast, though, is likely to be a side of Ripken and Gwynn that most fans probably have never seen before. They are two icons now joined at baseball's hip by virtue of their first-ballot selections for next month's Cooperstown inductions; they've been selected to a combine 34 All-Star Games; they each played their whole career with the same team.
It's easy to picture these legends being a great studio act together. It's easy to picture them breaking down the All-Star rosters today and being an important part of your 2007 postseason routine. They'll be Hall of Famers at that point.
Ripken and Gwynn will be alongside someone who has seen TBS go from a local broadcast channel to a satellite provider for "America's Team" to a brand-new power on the MLB broadcast front.
"I'm pumped that we're back into this ballgame, and we've got a piece of the postseason and this show as well," said Johnson, who has spent the last 17 years with Turner Sports. "It's my first love, this sport, a game my dad played in the '50s and has a World Series ring to prove it. Having a chance to work with him in the mid-90s was the highlight of my career, for parts of four Braves seasons. Working with Charles and Kenny [on TNT's 'Inside the NBA'] was great, and this is really huge.
"It'll be great to work with these guys. I know Tony will hit everything I throw at him, and Cal will be at work every day."
That's your new studio crew for MLB on TBS. At some point during the Selection Show, look for Fielder wearing a microphone and being greeted by baserunners whenever they come visit him on first base. It will feel perfectly natural for this particular show, because it's time for everyone to get to know each other a little better.