2021 College World Series: ESPN Is Onsite in Omaha With New Cinematic Camera, Pair of Corner Cams
Remote workflows are still in play for the 12-day tournament
In 1950, the annual tradition of the College World Series was established in Omaha, NE. The yearly tournament has been like clockwork, but the unforeseeable circumstance that was the COVID-19 pandemic ended the 71-year streak. Fortunately, the smack of aluminum bats is back at TD Ameritrade Park, and ESPN is capturing an All-SEC Championship Series between the defending-champion Vanderbilt Commodores and Mississippi State with a wealth of tech, including a shallow-depth-of-field camera, dual corner cams near the foul pole, and an aerial drone.
New Toys: Unusual Angles on the Action Present CWS in an Engaging Way
ESPN Senior Coordinating Producer Phil Orlins has become a stalwart on the broadcaster’s MLB efforts, but, for the past week, he has been plying his technological ingenuity on collegiate baseball’s biggest stage. The industry veteran is no stranger to the event — he was assigned to his first tournament in 1989 — and now helms the coverage, along with Producer Scott Gustafson. Along with the expertise of ESPN’s remote operations teams, all postseason games have been covered with some high-quality technology that was never deployed before in Omaha.
Topping the list, the new cinematic camera has been used on several occasions: static shots of players and coaches in the dugout, hitters standing in the on-deck circle before the start of an inning, pitchers walking off the mound after the final out of the frame. Deploying the Sony Alpha 1 model, the telecasts have gained extra flair with the shallow-depth-of-field shots of the players. Given the pace and nature of baseball, Orlins has been pleased with the results throughout the tournament.
“The sport is a little more blocked than football or basketball],” he explains, “so it lends itself to a little better control of [the camera]. We’re not as likely to have lots of people running in and out of the shot.”
Another addition is situated at the intersection of foul line and outfield wall near the foul pole, both left and right field. Corner Cam offers looks at balls shot down into the corner, caroms off the fence, and spectacular catches by the nation’s top collegiate athletes. Like the Rail Cam used at the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City, Corner Cam features a C360 camera whose pan, tilt, and zoom functionality provides viewers unprecedented looks into the nooks and crannies of TD Ameritrade Park.
“It’s pretty impressive in terms of image quality and the range that it can get,” says Orlins. “We can also see the corners from down the line on the opposite side, but shots will be pretty intimate down there with [the Corner Cams]. We’ve been excited to give it a try and be the first in baseball to use it.”
High above the action is a new aerial drone. Also used a few weeks ago at the WCWS, this piece of technology extends beyond the outfield wall and past the building’s exterior. During down time, between pitches, and coming out of commercial break, the drone showcases the venue’s expansive real estate and offers some intriguing shots from hard-to-reach angles.
From Orlins’s perspective, the length of the College World Series favors newly implemented technology. For example, a device that made its debut during the first pair of games on June 19 is being used more often heading into the final two or three games. Usually working a one-night stop at a host venue for Sunday Night Baseball, Orlins and his production team have been able to become more comfortable with the equipment with each game.
“Everything we do on Sunday Night Baseball and our non-exclusive coverage comes down to one game,” he explains. “We sometimes don’t have much of a chance to develop and perfect [the technology]. This [tournament] gives us the chance to fly a drone and see over two weeks what we get out of it.”
Operations in Omaha: Most Crew Is Onsite, but Some Are Still Remote
For the first time in quite a while, ESPN’s baseball commentators and analysts are onsite. There are two announce teams — Tom Hart, Chris Burke, and Ben McDonald; and Karl Ravech, Kyle Peterson, and Eduardo Perez — with Kris Budden serving as reporter for both.
Orlins and his colleagues on the production team are located in the television compound. Working from the Sunday Night Baseball truck, they control nearly 20 cameras for every game, including four with super-slo-mo capability (tight center, low home, down the third base line, and mid third-base side).
With the pandemic still affecting operations, remote workflows factor into production of the Championship Series. Deployed on a handful of marquee events during the past year, especially Monday Night Football, the network’s GREMI model delivers graphics from remote locations. Most notably, a graphics producer will be working from their home in Philadelphia. On the replay side of the broadcast, all EVS operations will be located in ESPN headquarters in Bristol, CT.
Best of the Rest: Ump Cam Returns; Mic Array Captures Gameplay Sounds
Seen in its newest iteration at the 2019 College World Series, Ump Cam has been deployed for every televised game. 3G Wireless is once again providing the POV camera, but, for anyone interested in watching an entire game from the umpire’s vantage point, an alternative viewing option for every pitch will be available from Ump Cam via the ESPN app.
“This feed will be fun and different for those who might love to see everything from right over the catcher’s shoulder,” says Orlins. “We also had Ump Cam during two of the Super Regionals, and it looks better than ever.”
Baseball is a sport best enjoyed with all sounds available. Every year, ESPN litters the ballpark with hundreds of microphones. Locations around the park include between the padding of the outfield wall, amongst the packed crowd, and buried in the dirt around home plate. For the Championship Series, all umpires will be miked for natural sound and insight into where pitches are during an at-bat.
Back and Better Than Ever: College Baseball at Its Highest Level
As in other collegiate sports, most of the players who aren’t professional material will be playing their final innings. The cancelation of last year’s tournament made apparent how important this event is to the local community in Omaha, to fans nationwide, and to the players putting everything on the line down on the field. Looking to put a bow on the NCAA Championship season and the extensive college baseball schedule, Orlins and company aim to produce a pair of stellar productions.
“Making it to Omaha will be the biggest and best baseball moment in [the players’] careers,” says Orlins. “It has been great to be out here again, and it has been a fascinating year overall.”
Game 1 of the Championship Series between Vanderbilt and Mississippi State will begin tonight at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2. Game 2 will be on Tuesday, June 29 at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN, and, if necessary, the winner-take-all Game 3 will be on Wednesday, June 30 at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2.