ESPN Serves Up Grand MLB Finale With AL Wild Card Game
With the postseason tiebreaker puzzle finally settled, ESPN is now homed in on producing its lone postseason telecast: the American League Wild Card Game tonight. For the second consecutive year, the Wild Card Game will serve as the cap to ESPN’s MLB season, with three full hours of Astros-Yankees onsite pregame coverage from Yankee Stadium and the network’s full arsenal of production tools at its disposal.
“It’s a great pinnacle to our season in that it’s a one-game winner-take-all event. That’s as dramatic as it gets. It feels like a Game 7; it certainly serves as our Game 7 and a great exclamation point on our year,” says ESPN Coordinating Producer Phil Orlins. “We certainly threw all our bells and whistles at this game last year, but we have really progressed: for example, we were not there with live K-Zone on every pitch last year. With the added scrutiny on a game like this, that becomes an even more important tool when it comes to pitch locations and close pitch calls.”
In the second year carrying an MLB Wild Card Game as part of an eight-year rights deal, ESPN considers the game a chance to showcase the cavalcade of new technology it deploys throughout the season on Sunday Night Baseball and its other MLB properties, including Sportvision K-Zone live pitch-tracking graphics, Dejero cellular-based–transmission camera system, and Sony HDC-4300 4K/ultra-slo-mo cameras.
“This [is] my first year with ESPN baseball, but I think it’s clear that we are always looking to push the technology factor,” says Paul Horrel, MLB remote operations manager, ESPN. “We have introduced some things on baseball this year, such as the Dejero wireless cellular camera, the live K-Zone [graphic] through Sportvision, and the [Sony HDC-]4300 cameras that are just amazing.”
Inside the Compound
ESPN has deployed NEP’s EN2, its Sunday Night Baseball mobile unit, to serve as the core of the Wild Card Game production. In addition, Sure Shot Teleproductions’ KMHD production/uplink truck is on hand to serve three hours of Baseball Tonight and SportsCenter pregame coverage, which will begin from ESPN’s on-field set (weather permitting) at 5 p.m. ET.
“Baseball Tonight and SportCenter will be a hybrid REMI [remote integration] production,” says Horrel. “A lot of the production is being done onsite, but the show is ultimately being integrated with graphics and some tape rolls in Bristol. Cameras and most tape rolls will happen onsite from our Sure Shot truck onsite. They have done that at times during the season when Baseball Tonight was out on the road.”
Upping the Camera Complement
ESPN’s 34-camera complement will include four Sony HDC-4300 4K/high-speed cameras (two running at 360 fps, two at 240 fps), which were standard on Sunday Night Baseball shows this season, as well as an NAC/Ikegami Hi-Motion II unit added specifically for the Wild Card Game.
In addition to the pair of RF wireless handheld cameras deployed on all Sunday Night Baseball telecasts, ESPN has rolled out a MōVI three-axis-gyro-stabilized camera to capture more of the ambiance in the stands in the Bronx.
“It gives us a little more flexibility to get Steadicam-type work in the crowd,” says Orlins, “and make it a little easier in tight areas in the stands.”
Also on hand for ESPN will be Dejero and TVU cellular-bonded–transmission backpack camera systems to capture action outside the ballpark.
K-Zone on Every Pitch: One Year in the Books
The Wild Card Game will mark the culmination of ESPN’s inaugural campaign featuring the K-Zone graphic live on every pitch in every MLB telecast. Orlins says having K-Zone live for every pitch — a tactic that has generated no shortage of debate this year — has been a resounding success and notes that the system had technical issues in just one of the 90-plus games it was used.
“[K-Zone] has gone about as I expected in that there were certainly some people that didn’t embrace the change, but it has become much more accepted,” says Orlins. “I think it’s become a signature for us and a huge differentiator. This is obviously the first time we get to roll it out during a playoff game, so that is a big step forward.”
In addition, the network’s 3D K-Zone graphic has evolved from a pitcher/batter wide shot using miniature Marshall POV cameras into a closer shot using a standard HD camera.
“The 3D angle has been a little more complicated. Originally, we tried to frame the pitcher and batter and trace the entire flight of the ball, but we felt like the entire strike zone looked too small,” says Orlins. “So we have gone to more of a batter/catcher shot with a traditional camera rather than the tiny Marshall cameras. The shot was so wide that the strike zone itself looked tiny. But now you can see a great three-dimensional strike zone up close.”
Mendoza Makes History in the Booth
ESPN’s AL Wild Card telecast will feature a groundbreaking move in the booth: Jessica Mendoza will become the first female analyst to call a nationally televised MLB postseason game when she joins analyst John Kruk and play-by-play veteran Dan Shulman, the voice of Sunday Night Baseball. ESPN MLB Insider Buster Olney will be reporting.
Baseball Tonight will air live from the host team’s stadium from 5 to 6 p.m. and then again from 7 to 8 p.m., leading into the game. Host Karl Ravech will be joined by analysts Aaron Boone, Eduardo Perez, reporter Tim Kurkjian, and Tampa Bay Rays All-Star right-hander Chris Archer. SportsCenter, hosted by Lindsay Czarniak, will air live from Yankee Stadium from 6 to 7 p.m.