ESPN Throws Out First Pitch on Sunday Night Baseball

ESPN made a big splash in the offseason with the blockbuster addition of Terry Francona to its Sunday Night Baseball booth. However, the arrival of the boisterous former Boston Red Sox manager is not the only change for Sunday Night Baseball this season: ESPN has also added a host of new production elements, including a second RF handheld camera, a second high-speed camera system, a battalion of GoPro miniature cameras, and possible use of “hot and cold zones” in its K Zone pitch-tracking system.

“I’ve been doing baseball a long time, and I haven’t felt a vibe like we have this year in quite a while,” says Jed Drake, SVP/executive producer, ESPN. “A lot of that has to do with the addition of Francona, but we’re also very excited about [the production side of things].”

RF, High-Speed Cameras Take Viewers Inside the Diamond
The two most apparent additions to ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball coverage, which will once again be wall-to-wall HD all season, are an RF handheld camera and NAC Hi-Motion ultra-slow-motion camera.

Sunday Night Baseball booth team: (from left) play-by-play man Dan Shulman, newcomer Terry Francona, and returning analyst Orel Hershiser

RF handhelds are no longer out of the ordinary for baseball coverage, capturing glimpses of fans in the stands and providing the viewer at home with a sense of being at the ballpark. However, ESPN aims to use its second wireless handheld to capture moments on the field, rather than exclusively in the stands.

“The second RF handheld is a big addition that we’ve been talking to MLB about for a while,” says Drake. “It provides a lot more access, and we experimented with it throughout spring training. [MLB] gives us a lot more access, and it feels bigger as a result. It helps us capture that on-field experience, and we’re hopeful that baseball will continue to work with us on that.”

Meanwhile, the twin fixed NAC high-speed cameras (positions will vary depending on the ballpark) will allow ESPN to capture the most minute of details in a game of inches.

“We all know that, in baseball, you get some shots with [ultra-slo-mo cameras] that are really dramatic and revealing in terms of close outs,” says Drake. “They also help greatly in the analysis of performance in terms of a hitter’s swing or a pitcher’s [windup and release]. We recognized that value, and I think that second camera will have a very pronounced effect on our coverage.”

GoPro Minis Go Pro
Throughout spring training, ESPN bumped up its use of GoPro miniature cameras, deploying them in conjunction with wireless mics for everything from Dustin Pedroia’s session in the batting cage to new Red Sox manager (and former Sunday Night Baseball analyst) Bobby Valentine’s morning bike ride in an effort to capture ENG footage that could be used during the telecast. This practice will continue as ESPN enters the regular season.

“We put them in some different places where you normally wouldn’t see a camera. We’ve all seen traditional shots in or around ballparks, but we can put these cameras in spots that give us some angles and perspective that we have never seen before,” says Drake. “These cameras create some opportunities that wouldn’t be possible with traditional cameras.”

K Zone Could Get Very Hot — and Cold
ESPN will carry over its overall MLB graphics package from last year but is currently tweaking its heralded K Zone pitch-tracking system in an effort to further incorporate a hitter’s “hot and cold zones.”

“That is very much a work in progress, and we will see how we fare there,” says Drake. “We are always experimenting and tinkering. It could become a regular in our coverage, but we are still experimenting.

“The endgame for us is whether the announcers truly buy into the concept,” he continues. “If they’re not buying it, then it’s not working, and we’re not going to spend a lot of time on it. But we showed them the hot and cold zones, and they’re very interested in it.”

In the Truck
Longtime Sunday Night Baseball producer Tom Archer will return alongside lead director Doug Holmes, who has a long history with Sunday Night Baseball but will take on a full-time role this year after serving on several high-profile ESPN shows in recent years (including a gig as the lead director for ESPN 3D).

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