The Washington Times - March 30, 2008, 11:31AM

\ The sports network has the exclusive rights to show the game live nationwide, and officials believe that it marks the first time Sunday Night Baseball has broadcast an opening game live from a brand-new ballpark. \


\ ESPN will have about 80 workers on hand and at least 16 cameras throughout the ballpark. The network plans to open its coverage with a shot of the Capitol Dome. \

\ “This will be seen worldwide on all of our platforms,” said Tim Scanlan, ESPN’s vice president of event production, in an interview this morning. “In terms of taking the Nationals brand and putting out there, this is a pretty smart move by baseball.”\

\ It was, of course, touch and go as to whether ESPN would even get to televise this game. Scanlan said the network and baseball identified the first game at Nationals Park as a potential opener early on, but the ongoing construction of the ballpark created uncertainty. \

\ “Because of the new park, we knew that was a guaranteed story going in,” Scanlan said. “The conversation with baseball started real early. The big issue was whether they’d be able to finish the stadium in time.” \

\ Production crews were invited to the ballpark in February to scout locations. Crews arrived Friday for the game and watched MASN’s coverage of last night’s exhibition game to get a sense of how the game could look on television. \

\ “As of Friday we were confident from a video standpoint we were getting everything from our cameras,” said Tom Archer, coordinating producer for Sunday Night Baseball. \

\ The stadium will obviously be the main storyline during tonight’s broadcast. Archer said the network plans to show many shots of the Presidents Club, featuring photos of various heads of state throwing out the first pitch at old Senators games. President Bush, who is throwing out the first pitch tonight, has been invited into the booth to speak with announcers Jon Miller and Joe Morgan during the third inning. \

\ “He’s a baseball fan,” Archer said. “I’d love to give him a little bit of time off. The guy works hard. If he can come up and exhale and enjoy, then good on us for giving him the night off, especially since he’s leaving for the NATO summit at 7 a.m. the next morning.”\

\ Archer and Scanlan, who have been to virtually every ballpark in the country, said they have yet to get a sense of where the ballpark ranks among other stadiums in the country. But Archer said he believes the ballpark has an open feel, particularly around the concourses, that puts it at least on part with the other baseball-only facilities built over the last two decades. \

\ “The advent of the open concourse is one of the best things they’ve ever done to a ballpark,” Archer said. “The fact that all the new ones share that trait almost puts them all on the same plane. Every one has an interesting aspect to them, but they feel more baseball. Once we watch the game tonight, I’ll have a better sense of what I think from a television perspective.”\

\ Peter Gammons, who will serve as a sideline reporter for tonight’s game, said “this is a great ballpark. It’s just astounding.” He said the construction of Nationals Park serves as a reminder of the impact of Camden Yards, which he said triggered a trend in retro-style parks that is the most significant thing to happen to baseball since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. \