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OC Register: Hoornstra: How baseball broadcasting will be different in 2020

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To consume baseball in 2020, chances are you won’t be able to sit inside a ballpark. That’s true if you’re a fan and, sometimes, it’s true if you’re a broadcaster.

Major League Baseball games will feature different sounds, like artificial crowd noise. They will look slightly different from what you’re accustomed to seeing on TV. The substance of the broadcasters’ banter will be different. The hope, among the men and women who broadcast the games, is that fans will enjoy the product just the same. After months of behind-the-scenes bickering, it wasn’t always clear there would be a product to enjoy.

Now that the mini-season is here, I wanted to take a closer look at what to expect when you tune in to a baseball game in 2020. I reached out to one local television broadcaster, one radio broadcaster, and one television producer. The job has changed for each of them, and not necessarily the way you think.

The TV analyst: Mark Gubicza

While the Angels played an exhibition game in San Diego on Monday, Gubicza was in Angel Stadium – sort of. He was sitting in a trailer in the parking lot behind the bullpens. Play-by-play partner Victor Rojas was in there too, “a minimum of 13 to 15 feet apart,” Gubicza said. A portable restroom sat outside.

The ad hoc studio will be Gubicza’s home for the Angels’ 30 road games this season.

“It’s a pretty good-sized trailer,” he said. “The sound is good. It’s a soundproof truck, no sound is filtering in from the ballpark. It’s different but we got acclimated pretty quick.”

A Fox Sports West production team occupied a separate trailer nearby, with a producer, director and staff inside. Most of the conversation between the two units is done by text or phone, Gubicza said, “even if they’re feet away.” The group is able to control every element of the broadcast with one notable exception: the cameras.

With ballpark access severely restricted, only the home team’s crew and equipment will be allowed inside. That has consequences. If you’re the kind of viewer who enjoys a long look inside the Angels’ dugout, for example, don’t hold your breath. Fox Sports San Diego employed the nine camera operators for Monday’s game. At least their visuals weren’t entirely focused on the Padres.

“What you’re seeing is teamwork between the home and road camera crews, and the directors,” Gubicza said. “It’s almost like we’re treating it like a national broadcast. That’s probably the best way to explain it. It’s not leaning one side or the other. We have the phone numbers of every play-by-play and color analyst we’re working with. It’s teamwork all the way through.”

Camera time between the teams figures to be equitable whether the Angels are home or away. At least at home, Gubicza and Rojas will be in their normal booth on the third floor of Angel Stadium. There won’t be any fans in the stands, which creates an additional question: how do you dramatize every moment on the field when the fans aren’t there to help?

“A lot of TV is about the crowd reactions, and you don’t talk as much,” he said. “I remember learning that from Vin Scully and others. … Often the best things we show on TV are the fans’ reactions, good or bad. It’s our job now to explain it even more, so the people at home, they get it.”

Almost like radio.

The radio play-by-play guy: Terry Smith

Terry Smith’s first job out of college found him doing play-by-play for the Double-A Jacksonville Suns. The Suns didn’t have the budget to send Smith to road games, so one day their general manager approached Smith with an idea: “He said, why don’t you try re-creating them?”

The experiment lasted about 20 games. Broadcasting from a radio studio, Smith played fake crowd noise in the background. When a batter made contact, Smith tapped a piece of wood on his table. Each broadcast began about an hour after the actual first pitch. A local sports writer would recap the play-by-play three innings at a time. This was 1978, so communication options were limited.

“Sometimes calling the sports writer, the number was busy,” Smith recalled. “We were saying just to stall our broadcast because we didn’t have the fourth, fifth or sixth inning. In that case we’d make something up: ‘looks like the pitcher has a finger blister!’ ‘The manager is going out to talk.’ We were acting like the weather was getting bad, even though it could have been clear as a bell.”

Calling this season won’t be nearly as challenging. Smith, Mark Langston and producer Jorge Sevilla will sit in the 830-AM studios adjoining Angel Stadium. Each of them will have two television monitors. One will carry the game. The other will display four feeds on one screen: the home and away bullpens, the scoreboard (balls, strikes, outs, line score), and the high home camera aimed at the field from behind home plate. That’s the most important one.

“That allows us to see all nine fielders, the baserunners, the home plate area, a pitcher on the mound, base coaches,” Smith said.

Seeing all those things on a screen one-quarter of the size of the large screen isn’t ideal. Neither is the inability to see the field during commercial breaks. Mid-inning pitching changes, defensive replacements, and other changes won’t be revealed until the game feed returns. For every broadcaster, being able to mingle with players and coaches is off-limits. Those interactions often yield tidbits that a broadcaster can weave into the ample down time during a baseball game.

Otherwise, Smith had little reason to complain. He won’t need to slap his table with a baseball bat.

“The best compliment you can receive is, ‘You can’t tell the difference,’ and we’ve heard that internally and externally,” he said. “We’re not trying to deceive anyone. The first two games, we’ve told our listeners ‘although the game’s at Petco Park, we’re in our AM-830 studios at the Big A, watching off monitors.’ ”

The television producer: Mike Levy

If calling the games sounds like a unique challenge, trying pulling it all together from a production studio. That’s the task facing Mike Levy, who will produce the Dodgers’ broadcasts for SportsNet LA.

“The biggest difference will be that nobody’s going to be traveling,” Levy said. “All our announcers – Joe (Davis), Orel (Hershiser) and Alanna (Rizzo), plus Pepe (Yñiguez) and Fernando (Valenzuela) on the Spanish side, as well as the radio announcers, will call every game from Dodger Stadium, home and road.”

Coordinating the camerawork with opposing teams for the Dodgers’ away games required weeks’ worth of production calls, Levy said. The home team’s producers will tell Levy’s crew what camera angles to expect in advance. Levy’s team will do the same when the Dodgers play at home. Given the great need to coordinate with people working out-of-state half the time, it’s a minor miracle the broadcasts will not be delayed any longer than usual.

In a small way, the broadcasts might be better. Levy said SportsNet LA added two more robotically operated cameras to its stable for this season. Now he’ll have four robotically operated cameras, eight human-controlled cameras, and one RF (radio frequency) camera at his disposal for home games.

The schedule presents another production challenge: it’s short. Every game means a bit more than normal – 2.7 times more, to be exact. With no crowd shots to convey the heightened importance of high-leverage situations, what’s a producer to do?

“I have had that conversation with Joe and Orel and Alanna,” Levy said. “Will we need to create our own energy for this game? Because without fans, you don’t realize how much the big moments – tie game, bottom of the eighth, runner on third, Cody Bellinger’s up and you know the Dodger Stadium fans are going to rise to their feet. Joe just doesn’t talk. Vin did that. It’s a big moment. How do you create it?”

SportsNet LA will be carried on AT&T and DirecTV this season for the first time, bringing Dodger baseball to millions more homes following years of behind-the-scenes wrangling. The timing couldn’t be better, now that in-person viewing isn’t an option. It also means that the pressure is on, in a way it’s never been on before.

“I think it motivates us to re-create some of the way we do things, to think outside the box,” Levy said.

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I appreciate that it's a difficult job that just got more challenging.

it'll be a better product if gubi and victor will stop talking like there's an inside joke the viewers don't know about. last night they mentioned there have been changes to dodger stadium, and then proceeded not to tell anyone what those changes are - that's unacceptable. I don't think I heard any comments about the kids who are playing and the expectations for them on either team - lots of missing information that if provided, would make the broadcast a lot more interesting. instead we were given a lengthy discussion about gubi having a cutout behind home plate. Zzzzzzzzzzzz

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15 hours ago, AngelsWin.com said:

Otherwise, Smith had little reason to complain. He won’t need to slap his table with a baseball bat.

“The best compliment you can receive is, ‘You can’t tell the difference,’ and we’ve heard that internally and externally,” he said.

I don't think this is the compliment that you think it is, Terry.

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