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OC Register: For MLB broadcasters, road games in 2020 could be out of the park

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The Angels were playing the A’s in Oakland on the afternoon of June 8, 2008. The score was tied 3-3 in the 12th inning when something happened to forever sear a benign Sunday game in the memory of Jose Mota.

Mota was sitting in the KWKW (1330-AM) radio studio in Hollywood. That season, the Angels’ Spanish-language broadcasters did not travel with the team to road games. Mota was grounded. He followed the game with one eye on a television monitor. His computer screen showed MLB’s Gameday feed. His ears were tuned to the sound of the crowd. Suddenly the monitor cut out – and the Coliseum erupted in a roar.

“Something great has happened for the A’s,” Mota announced, blindly, by his own recollection. “Mark Ellis appears to be the hero.”

Ten seconds later, Mota said, the Gameday feed revealed what the English-language radio and television audiences already knew.

“… and it’s a grand slam for Mark Ellis!”

Twelve years later, Mota remembers that moment, which amounts to a remote broadcaster’s worst nightmare. Now, with the Covid-19 outbreak postponing the 2020 season and forcing baseball to improvise on myriad levels, teams are expected to ground their broadcast teams for road games again.

That decision hasn’t been made final. Neither have many of the essential terms of a new season – when it will begin, when it will end, or if it can be played at all. For now, broadcasters are bracing for a season in which “life on the road” means commuting to a ballpark or a television studio when their team is out of town.

Angels broadcaster Jose Mota has some experience calling games from remote locations, and may need to draw on that his summer. (SCNG file photo by Mark Rightmire)

The Angels’ broadcasters are preparing to call away games from a remote studio; Fox Sports has studio locations in Los Angeles and San Diego. The Dodgers haven’t decided whether their broadcasters will call games from Spectrum SportsNet LA’s studio in El Segundo or from an otherwise empty Dodger Stadium.

Major League Baseball and the MLB Players’ Association are currently negotiating the terms of a potential 2020 season. The final terms are expected to prohibit fans from attending games in person, as a precaution against spreading the novel coronavirus.

In the spirit of safety, other measures could change the television experience for fans. Dugout reporters and pre- and post-game shows, for instance, might be reserved for home games only. Production crews might stay home as well, a common practice for Angels games on Fox Sports West in spring training. SportsNet LA assigns a smaller production truck with all the necessary crew to the Dodgers’ spring training games compared to its regular season broadcasts.

For many announcers and fans, remote broadcasting is nothing new. From 1997-2001, Mota called nationally televised games in Spanish from the Fox studio on Pico Blvd. in Century City. He’s also called World Series games and a Super Bowl in Spanish off a remote monitor. ESPN’s Jon Sciambi has been broadcasting live Korea Baseball Organization games off a remote monitor for weeks.

“The toughest thing is, you don’t have a view of the field,” Mota recalled of his experience calling games remotely for Fox. “You’ve got to make (the broadcast) as flowing as possible.”

These are relatively minor restrictions for a veteran broadcaster. Still, some clubs have been quicker than others to embrace the full-on travel ban for its broadcasters – a precaution the league discussed with teams weeks ago.

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