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YES turns 10: The network that runs on pinstripe power

The New York Yankees and their baseball broadcasts looked a lot different 10 years ago, when the YES Network was born.

The Yankee pitching staff that year included Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, Orlando Hernandez and David Wells. Robin Ventura was the third baseman. Jason Giambi, in his first year as a Yankee, hit 41 homers.

The team's primary TV broadcast partner the previous season had been MSG, where Al Trautwig and Ken Singleton called the games. Frank Messer, who called Yankee games alongside Phil Rizzuto and Bill White for generations, had died in November 2001, just a few months before YES' launch in March 2002.

The Yankees and the NBA's New Jersey Nets decided to merge their business operations to give them more leverage in negotiating broadcast deals for their teams. YES Network was a child of that merger, and it still carries Nets games, along with other sports such as Ivy League football and basketball, European soccer, New York Giants and Jets programs, and more. But the Yankees are the face of YES. The network's identity is built around the storied baseball franchise.

What has a decade of YES broadcasts brought forth to our screens?

YES has been an innovator, doing things its own way. For example, rather than a three-man TV booth -- as is used by the Mets and other teams -- the Yankees have a stable of announcers. Michael Kay and Ken Singleton alternate as play-by-play men, with analysis from David Cone, Jack Curry, John Flaherty, Al Leiter and Paul O'Neill.

Bob Raissman of the New York Daily News gave YES the nickname Yank Jazeera, for its pro-Yankees view of the baseball world. Perhaps the most famous example was the broadcast on Opening Day in 2005, when the Yankees played the Red Sox. The Red Sox celebrated their 2004 world championship in pregame ceremonies at Fenway Park, but the YES broadcast declined to display or even acknowledge the festivities. That was the broadcast equivalent to a fat pitch down the middle to critics of the network. (The corporation that owns the Yankees is one of several entities that have ownership stakes in YES. Goldman Sachs is another. However, like most teams, the Yankees exert a certain amount of control and influence over their TV broadcasts.)

Tracy Dolgin, YES president, told Newsday recently that he does not apologize for YES' Yankee-friendly tone.

"I use the word 'homer' proudly, as opposed to a journalist fearing that word," he said. "When you are watching a game, I'm very proud to say we're rooting for the home team on our air."

Baseball is a game of numbers, a decades-long accumulation of box scores and statistics. With that in mind, here are some numbers, famous dates and factoids from 10 years of the YES Network.

*YES made its debut on March 19, 2002. (They did NOT play "Video Killed the Radio Star.") Who was the first broadcaster to appear on the air? Fred Hickman, who came to YES from CNN. The network also televised a Yankees-Reds spring training game that evening.

*On the same day the network debuted it aired the first TV simulcast of a sports radio talk show, WFAN's "Mike and the Mad Dog" (now the Mike Francesa Show).

*The first words spoken on YES were read by the late Bob Sheppard, the legendary announcer at Yankee Stadium. He said: "Your attention please, ladies and gentlemen. You're watching YES Network, the home of champions."

*"Yankeeography" debuted on March 22, 2002. Derek Jeter was the subject of the first show.

*Marv Albert was named YES' Nets play-by-play announcer in February 2005, bringing sportscasting's most famous "Yes!" man to his rightful home. He remained a Nets broadcaster through 2011.

*Future Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick appeared with the Harvard Crimson in a game against Columbia in November 2004.

*Jeremy Lin made his YES debut on Jan. 12, 2007, when the network aired Harvard's 77-71 win over Dartmouth. Lin has 12 points.

*"Glee" actress Jenna Ushkowitz hosted "Yankees on Deck" in 2006. Hillary Duff appeared in 10 episodes of the show in 2004.

*The network's first HD telecast was on July 1, 2004, a game in which Jeter made a famous dive into the third base stands for a foul ball against the Red Sox.

*Future NBA stars LeBron James, Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo were among the high school players featured in YES-televised games.

*YES was the first regional sports network with an official dedicated YouTube channel, which it launched in June 2007.

*The network's 14 million subscribers are believed to be the most of any regional sports network in the country.

*YES employs 22 cameras for games in which the Yanks play the Red Sox or the Mets. That is on par with the number used by national networks for the league championship series.

email: gconnors@buffnews.com