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SNY and YES get back to business

The cable networks of the New York Mets and Yankees made some news in March, for very different reasons.

SportsNet New York (SNY), which begins its sixth season as the Mets' primary TV outlet, has been the subject of sale speculation in the wake of the team's financial troubles. Team owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz were reportedly looking to sell a minority stake in SNY to raise cash. Wilpon's investments with convicted swindler Bernard Madoff have put a cloud over the team's finances.

The Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network (YES), meanwhile, was singled out in a Forbes Magazine article as the most successful regional sports network in the country. A big reason is their primary product: Yankee baseball. Forbes cited the club as being the sports world's most valuable franchise, with a worth of $1.6 billion.

The headlines about both networks will seem as old as last year's box scores once the season gets rolling. The Yankees' opener today against Detroit is on YES at 1 p.m., while SNY carries the Mets' debut Friday night at Florida at 7.

Both networks will carry more than 120 games of their marquee teams. Apart from those, there will be 24 Mets games on New York's WWOR, while the city's WPIX will have 21 Yankee games. Both teams will also have several games carried on Fox's Saturday broadcasts as well as on ESPN and the occasional appearance on MLB Network.

The News spoke with a couple of former crafty Mets left-handers who are now analysts for the networks. Bob Ojeda hosts Mets pre- and postgame shows on SNY, while Al Leiter is a color commentator on Yankees games on YES. Both said they had knocked their announcing rust off during spring training and were eager for the marathon season to get under way.

Ojeda, who was a teammate of new Bisons manager Tim Teufel on the 1986 Mets team that won the World Series, spent a few weeks at spring training in Port St. Lucie, Fla. He had a chance to see the Mets working under new manager Terry Collins and he found a more focused team than he sometimes saw last year when Jerry Manuel was the skipper.

"I don't want to say [Collins is] old school, but Terry likes traditional baseball, where the game isn't as complicated as some people make it," Ojeda said. "I think the players have responded really well to his approach."

Ojeda also said he doesn't think the Mets' financial perils will become a distraction in the clubhouse or the dugout. Mets management, he said, "showed up on Day One of spring training and got out in front of it, they told the players exactly where things stood. No one is hiding from it."

Maybe he's no Johnny Miller, but Ojeda isn't afraid to say what he thinks during a broadcast. When Mets reliever Francisco Rodriguez was arrested last August and charged with assaulting his girlfriend's father, Ojeda said on SNY:

"Has [Manuel] lost control of the clubhouse, or does he just have a rogue guy with a bad temper on his hands who likes to beat up old people?"

Ojeda said some players may get "ticked off" by his comments, but for the most part they respect his candor.

"I try to be fair," he said. "I'll never sit in the studio and say anything about a player that I would not say to his face.

"Having been a player and a coach, I appreciate [what the players go through]. I never set out to be harsh or try to make comments that say, 'Look how tough I am.' Nothing I say is based on arrogance, it's just about me trying to help viewers understand the game."

Leiter is beginning his sixth season as a Yankees analyst on YES. He said the network's ascent in the broadcast world does not surprise him.

"Mr. [George] Steinbrenner always wanted the Yankee network to look like, act like and be treated like a national network," Leiter said.

"A lot of regional broadcasts will have -- I'll pick a number -- 12 cameras, we'll have 23. Instead of five tape machines, we have 10 tape machines. I knew right from the start that they treat this like a network production."

Leiter talked a bit about the Yankees' rotation. He said it remains to be seen who emerges as the fifth starter.
"It's a battle of a couple of older guys. With [Bartolo] Colon, I think the concern there is what type of stamina will he have throughout the whole season. Freddy Garcia did a nice job, not a great job, but a nice job with the White Sox. And now with the whole Millwood signing I don't know what's going to happen there."

Another former Mets starter, Ron Darling, is one of the main voices of the Mets on SNY. Why are pitchers such a presence in the broadcast booth, Ojeda was asked.

"I think we have an understanding of the most important part of the game," Ojeda said. "I don't say that to be arrogant, but when you are a pitcher who doesn't throw it 100 mph, who has to figure things out -- and Al and I were both in that category -- you come to understand a lot about pitching and about hitting. And being in the National League, we both stood in that batter's box, so we have that unique ability to see the game from both sides of the ball."

e-mail: gconnors@buffnews.com

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