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Dan Shaughnessy

It's live - but not lively

That's entertainment? Among the compelling dramas NESN will broadcast live from Fort Myers will be Red Sox conditioning drills such as this one. That's entertainment? Among the compelling dramas NESN will broadcast live from Fort Myers will be Red Sox conditioning drills such as this one. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
Email|Print| Text size + By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / February 16, 2008

FORT MYERS, Fla. - Seminal moments in television history?

There was the first appearance of the Beatles on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1964, the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969, and, of course, the final "M*A*S*H" episode, watched by 106 million viewers in 1983.

And now we have spring training brought to you live by NESN. Television history.

The Red Sox network today will broadcast the team's first workout for pitchers and catchers from 10 a.m. to noon. It will be replayed in condensed versions at 1:30, 4, and 11 p.m.

Wow. LIVE FROM FORT MYERS! MUST-SEE TV! . . . Curt Schilling leading the charge out of the clubhouse for the ceremonial single lap around the warning track . . . Doug Mirabelli belching . . . Pitchers standing on the mound, in line, running to cover first base as a coach hits fungoes to the right side . . . Tim Wakefield stretching while Don Orsillo and Tom Caron stretch to find words to fill the empty action.

"Stretching on stretching? There will be a lot of that," admitted Caron. "But nothing says spring training quite like seeing Tim Wakefield field a bunt for the first time."

Poor Announcer Boy and T.C. By noon today, they're going to wish they were doing live commentary of the annual Memorial Day parade in Groton, Mass. There would be so much more to talk about. They should bring back Dave Maynard to help.

Trust me when I tell you that you have not lived until you've seen a solid hour of PFP - pitchers' fielding practice. This promises to do for television what 38 Pitches did for the blogosphere.

"I think Red Sox fans have clamored for PFP for decades and I'm just happy to be part of this history now," said Caron.

When I was a kid, in the early days of America's space program, our teachers would gather us in the gym any time there was a rocket launch scheduled at Cape Canaveral. Mercury missions. Gemini missions. Alan Shepard, John Glenn, Gus Grissom. We'd gather every time an American was about to go into outer space. We'd sit on the floor and stare at the snowy screen of a black-and-white Zenith while Mrs. Roache continually adjusted the rabbit ears in a quest for better reception. Invariably, the launch would be put on hold because of technical problems and we'd sit for hours looking at a lonely rocket, wondering what Shepard was thinking as he sat in that tiny capsule.

That's what this is going to be like. Watching the Florida grass grow.

"Last year, we did half-hour shows that were taped," said NESN producer Mike Barry (disclaimer: the New York Times Co., which owns the Globe, owns 17 percent of the Red Sox, who own 80 percent of NESN). "From a production standpoint, this is much more exciting. We'll have two robotic cameras and four other cameras cutting around, getting the action from the different fields. It's similar to what the NFL Network did with coverage of training camps. I think it will be amazing."

Good luck to Orsillo and Caron (they will have some help from guests, of course, perhaps even some Globies). They can describe the noisy cement factory beyond the right-field wall of Field 2. They can announce the arrival of fan buses. There is no on-site parking for Sox fans at the minor league complex, so the NESN announcers can report every time another group of snowbirds - looking like work release inmates sent to pick up litter - unloads out by Edison Avenue.

It's extraordinary. Think the Florida Marlins' workouts are being carried on live television? For that matter, are the Marlins' regular-season games televised? Doubt any Florida stations cut in live when the Marlins' equipment truck heads to spring training.

It's Sox Saturation. Curt Gowdy must be rolling in his grave. Same with anyone who was around the Red Sox in the 1950s and early 1960s. Those were the days of fewer than 10,000 fans showing up for the home opener. The days when you could roll out of your dorm room in the third inning, walk to Fenway, and get into the bleachers for a buck. There were no Monster Seats, no lotteries, no waiting lists for ticket purchases. The idea of a spring training game being sold out was preposterous.

Now the Red Sox are more popular than Hannah Montana. They are more popular than free food. Their Nation has gone global and the Sox are going to televise spring training workouts.

"Seriously," said Caron. "If you're sitting at home and the windchill is minus-10 degrees outside, there's a nice feeling when you turn on your TV and see the palm trees swaying and ballplayers working out. It says something about the unique place the Red Sox have with Boston fans."

"I never thought about it until I came here," said manager Terry Francona. "It doesn't surprise me here. And people will really watch it because they care so much. It's a testament to how much people care about baseball in New England."

Set your TiVo. And it's not too early to order the NESN spring training box set ("Best of PFP").

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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