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Baseball site benches some online fans

Major League Baseball's Web unit acknowledges "minor glitches" in some opening-day broadcasts that caused some fans to be shut out of games.

MLB.com can attest to the fact that batting a thousand on opening day is a rare feat.

Major League Baseball's Web division confirmed Tuesday that it experienced "minor glitches" in some of its live online broadcasts Monday--the 2002 season's opening day--causing some fans to be shut out of games. An MLB.com representative said the glitches stemmed from an "enormous amount of traffic" as subscribers poured into the site and as many other baseball fans tried to subscribe.

"When you've got that kind of volume coming in, to have those types of glitches is not difficult to understand," MLB.com spokesman Jim Gallagher said.

The traffic surge prompted the league to open up its site free of charge shortly after 12 p.m., Gallagher said. He attributed the surge to an influx of New York Yankees fans who were unable to watch the team's match-up against the Baltimore Orioles due to a contract dispute between the Yankees' YES network and New York area cable company Cablevision Systems.

The baseball league is no stranger to opening-day misplays. Last year, MLB.com went completely under on the first day of the season, when throngs of fans tried to listen to the site's live Web streams. Although this year wasn't error-free, Gallagher said the outages were less widespread than 2001.

MLB.com charges $14.95 a season for full access to all audio broadcasts during the season. Baseball fans can also listen to games by subscribing to RealNetworks' RealOne streaming-media service, which offers games from MLB.com and the National Basketball Association, among others.

Major League Baseball has embraced the Internet as a new broadcast medium through which it can exert control. Last year, the league centralized all Web site production for its teams, and it has prevented local radio affiliates, as well as content aggregators such as Yahoo, from broadcasting live games without first subscribing to MLB.com.

The league also plans to broadcast live games via streaming video, which could plant the seeds of future conflicts with major broadcast networks, which shell out millions of dollars a year for exclusive rights.