AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh Takes Viewers Behind the Plate With Miked-Up Pirates Catcher for Spring Training
Jacob Stallings wore a mic/IFB for in-game interview while catching
Whether it’s in the dugout, on the field, or even via Facetime, MLB broadcasters are giving viewers more access than ever this Spring Training, using in-game interviews. AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh is going all out, miking more than a half dozen Pittsburgh Pirates players throughout March and even deploying a microphone and IFB on catcher Jacob Stallings behind the plate.
— Pirates (@Pirates) March 8, 2021
“The catcher is the quarterback out there,” says Doug Johnson, VP/executive producer, AT&T Sportsnet Pittsburgh. “To hear him calling the game and to get his insight on why he’s doing different things to not only work the batters but control the runners was incredible. Working with our producers Adam Elmore and Jason Steele, we have always been fascinated with the idea of putting a mic on a catcher as he calls the game, to get that insight into what he’s thinking and what he goes through in the course of an inning.”
Spring Training: Breeding Ground for Production Innovation
AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh worked with the Pirates for several months in planning out its Spring Training coverage, and, given its success talking to players during Spring Training games in recent years, the RSN decided to expand in-game miking. Pittsburgh Pirates President Travis Williams and Senior VP, Communications and Broadcasting, Brian Warecki were on board with extending the use of microphones to different positions on the field.
— Pirates (@Pirates) March 12, 2021
“The Pirates have an up-and-coming roster,” notes Johnson. “Talking to these players in the game is an amazing way not only to get insight into playing baseball at a high level but also to get to know their personalities. The Pirates have been great to work with, and they see the value in taking fans inside the game like this.”
The plan is for the RSN to deploy an in-game microphone and IFB on different players six or seven times this spring.
The player-mic system features a Quantum5X QT-5100-PlayerMic-525-M3 wireless mic transmitter (along with a Q5X handheld remote and charger for the transmitter), a Countryman EMW-QT-5100-1P lavaliere mic, and two Shure UA870A-WB UHF active directional antennas. The IFB comprises Lectrosonics T1-22 UHF wireless IFB transmitter and R1A-22 UHF wireless IFB receiver.
“Spring Training is the absolute perfect time to experiment like this,” says Johnson. “The outcome of the game has less meaning, and, for the established veterans, it’s just about getting ready for the season. Players who know they are going to make the club are much looser in spring, and that affords us opportunities to try different things.”
All Access Behind the Plate: How Stallings Was Miked Up
According to Johnson, Pirates Director, Baseball Communications, Jim Trdinich has been crucial to the success of miking players: because of COVID-19 protocols, he is the only member of the staff with access to the players.
“Jimmy T” approached Stallings about wearing the mic during the game. He explained how long AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh had been looking to interview him and which announcers he would be interacting with, and the catcher was open to the idea. The morning of the game, the production team sanitized the equipment and gave Trdinich a tutorial on how to turn it on and attach it to the player. He showed the equipment to Stallings to give him an idea of the size and weight of the pieces, to explain the wiring-up process, and where and when they would meet to put it on him during the game.
Afterwards, Trdinich returned the equipment, which was sanitized again and given to him prior to the game. The production team was in communication with Trdinich through the Unity Intercom setup on a cellphone so the front bench knew when the player was wired up.
“When it comes to access,” says Johnson, “I would say 90% of it comes down to trust: players trusting that you won’t impact their performance and that you would never do anything to burn them. As a team partner, we take that very seriously. Once a player does something like this for us, you can see them get comfortable with it, and they realize it’s not that big a deal, which leads to future success when asking for access.”
Initially, Stallings wasn’t comfortable with the idea of wearing the mic and IFB while batting, but, after he was wired and on the air and his spot in the line-up almost came up in the bottom of the second inning, he decided he was comfortable with keeping it on but taking the earpiece out while at the plate. However, with the catcher set to lead off in the third, Trdinich helped him get the mic off as soon as he got back to the dugout so as not to affect his at-bat.
The RSN started the interview in the bottom of the inning so that announcers Greg Brown and John Wehner could talk to Stallings while he was in the dugout, allowing a normal conversation about his off-season before he went out to catch. Then, the announcers interviewed him while he was catching.
“You could tell at first he was trying to keep his voice down so the batter didn’t hear him,” says Johnson, “but, in an early, funny moment, the batter turned to him and asked him if he was talking to him. The hardest part for our announcers was to ask more yes/no questions to Stallings since he couldn’t talk in detail about how he was working the batter.
“As the inning progressed,” Johnson continues, “you could see him get more comfortable with it, even joking with the talent and asking them if the guy on first could run at all. [He even asked] the analyst if he should attempt a back pick; our analyst agreed to but told him he had to call an inside fastball. To see that actually play out was incredible TV and such a great real-time learning tool for the viewers.”
The decision to mike Stallings and heavily promote it on social media paid off, delivering AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh’s second-highest–rated Spring Training game of the past nine years.
“We’ve had a very positive reaction from Pirates fans,” says Johnson. “Baseball fans crave this kind of access, and you could tell they appreciated being taken inside the game like this. I feel like the next generation of innovations in our industry is going to involve audio and access. We have come so far with camera angles and specialty cameras, but I think the next step is bringing the viewers further inside the game with this kind of access.”