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Fox plans to be up to some new tricks

Back in the '70s, during the heyday of National Hockey League expansion, NBC sent a missionary named "Peter Puck" out over the airwaves. The animated personality explained the nuances of the game to the league's new markets. It was one of the industry ironies that the little fella turned out to have a longer run on "Hockey Night in Canada" than in the United States.

"Peter" isn't to be confused with the "glowing" puck that Fox introduced in the 1990s to less-than-glowing reviews.

But both are being reincarnated, in a fashion, for Fox's national baseball telecasts, starting with tonight's special presentation of the Red Sox and Yankees (Channel 25, 8 o'clock). The telecast is available in Fox widescreen on HD tiers.

"Scooter," a talking baseball, is one in a series of graphic enhancements Fox plans to roll out this season. Others include "Ball Tracer," a stroboscopic comet tail showing the path of a pitch to the catcher's glove (think the glowing puck).

BWTM (but wait there's more) is the language of the day:

* "Strike Zone" is Fox's version of the ESPN "K Zone." While ESPN uses its "dead centerfield" camera to frame the strike zone, Fox's frame of reference is farther to the right of the pitcher. The Fox version also shows pitch sequences with strikes in yellow and balls in white and can put a simulated pane of glass that shatters when a ball goes through the zone. It looks like the computerized scoring graphics at your local bowling alley.

* A "high home" camera from high behind home plate that will be used to trace the arc of a home run and measure the distance the ball traveled, and measure a runner's lead off first base, showing in different colors (green, yellow, red) how far off the base and into pickoff danger a runner is venturing.

Only the "Strike Zone" seems promising, at least for traditional (read: older) viewers. The graphics trend continues to be to meld the TV screen with that of a Web page, framing the picture with more graphics and edging closer to the Bloomberg News (animated Web page) look.

"Scooter is aimed at younger viewers -- the 10- to 12-year-olds -- to explain various pitches," said Fox sports chairman David Hill.

"It's a way of sugarcoating the information pill."

Scooter should have a familiar sound to that age group as he was "voiced" by Tom Kenny of "SpongeBob SquarePants." Kenny must have a compelling voice as Fox turned to a Nickelodeon (Viacom) talent instead of someone within the Fox family for corporate cross-promotion.

"If [Scooter] works, it's a demonstration of a new feature; if it doesn't, it's an experiment," said Hill.

Fox trot

Fox will do some cross-promotion with tonight's "Best Damn Sports Show Period" being taped at Fenway from 2-5 p.m. John Salley of that show and Max Kellerman of Fox boxing will be at the game and appear on FSN's "New England Sports Tonight" at 6:30 . . . Hill, whose background is in European TV, calls Yankees vs. Red Sox "one of the great sports rivalries on an international scope." . . . Fox Sports president Ed Goren says tonight's opening national telecast was a no-brainer. "Our opening tease tonight will refer to where we left off with the Sox and Yankees last fall and where we rejoin them today," he said . . . Fox won't do a formal pregame show. "First pitch will be within 10 minutes of when we come on the air at 8," said Hill . . . What about interviewing players and managers during a telecast as ESPN has done the past two Sunday nights? "Why not?" said Hill. "We interview NASCAR drivers moments before they're going 200 miles an hour on the track. More access during games was one thing that came out of our [TV partners] blue-ribbon baseball committee with commissioner [Bud] Selig." . . . One caveat with live interviews: the potential for off-color language. "We're a family show and invited into people's homes," said Hill. "I don't think families should be subjected to profanity or obscenities. We've given it a lot of thought at both the national and regional levels." . . . Fox named Pete Macheska, who has produced Major League Baseball and NFL for the network, as its lead baseball producer, replacing Mike Weisman, who left to produce "The Jane Pauley Show." . . . Fox spokesman Tim Buckman: "The glowing puck made its memorable debut on Jan. 20, 1996, at the NHL All-Star Game. That game generated a 4.1 rating, head and shoulders above all the others that have ever been televised. This February's [All-Star Game] registered a 1.8 rating." . . . Tomorrow night's Earthquakes-Revolution game (Channel 56, 7:30) will be simulcast on WEEI (850) with the call by Adrian Healey and Brad Feldman. The Revolution's Jay Heaps will share his video diary from training camp with CN8 viewers tonight on "Sports Pulse" at 10.

Lights out?

John Ruiz still has a lot of fans in this area. Whether that translates to a lot of buys [at $39.95] for tomorrow night's four-bout pay-per-view card remains to be seen. The heavyweight matchups are Ruiz-Fres Oquendo (WBA title) and Chris Byrd-Andrew Golota (IBF title). First bout is scheduled for 9 . . . Auto racing fans will find their way to Spike TV today (4-6 p.m.) and the Long Beach Grand Prix for what's left of Champ Car racing . . . The NFL and its TV partners get advance lumps of coal for scheduling a game on Christmas Eve (Fox) and Christmas Day (CBS). ESPN gets a half-lump for scheduling one on Christmas night . . . More nice planning: The NBA scheduled tomorrow's Game 1 of the Celtics-Pacers series (FSN, ESPN, 2 p.m.) against Sox-Yankees (NESN, 1 p.m.). Celtics coach John Carroll has a lengthy interview set to air during the FSN telecast. ABC/ESPN analyst Doc Rivers on the Celtics: "Their only hope is the pressure that's on the Pacers. [The Pacers have] struggled in the first round. The team that beat them last year was the Celtics [four games to two]. Other than that, I just don't see that happening again. It would be a great story, obviously, but I just don't see it right now." . . . Curt Schilling has done a two-part interview with Ken Rosenthal (The Sporting News) to air on Fox Sports Net's "Across America" Sunday night at 9 . . . Comcast's video "On Demand" offerings have expanded to include Bruins' playoff coverage and CN8's "Sports Pulse." . . . WWZN (1510) is beefing up its lineup tomorrow with "New England Hockey Journal" (10 a.m.-noon), leading to an abbreviated "Sportsline" with Rico Petrocelli and Wayne Soares from noon-1:30 p.m., and Celtics pregame before the 2 p.m. Celtics-Pacers playoff game. After the game, Eddie Andelman and Anthony Pepe will do a Celtics follow/Ruiz fight preview from Madison Square Garden until 8 p.m. 

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Yankees 4 10 1
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AL EAST STANDINGS
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