Live From MLB at Rickwood Field: MLB Network Eulogizes Willie Mays in Real Time During Tuesday’s MiLB Broadcast

Staff in Secaucus, NJ, was a massive help for the smaller crew in Birmingham, AL

The past three days in Birmingham can easily be seen as a celebration of the Negro Leagues and Major League Baseball, but the festivities turned somber on Tuesday night with the sudden death of all-time great Willie Mays. Producing MiLB at Rickwood Field — a minor-league game between the Birmingham Barons and Montgomery Biscuits — MLB Network’s production and operations teams in the broadcast compound and at home in Secaucus, NJ, quickly shifted gears to relay the information to viewers.

“Going into the week, no one expected this to happen,” says Marc Caiafa, SVP, production, MLB Network. “It was amazing that we were here at the field where he started his professional baseball career.”

Honoring a Legend on the Fly: Secaucus-Based Crew, Onsite Team Work To Share the News

Mays’s death shook Major League Baseball and the sports world, and, when the MLB Network crew learned the news in the middle of the game, they acted quickly to convey the information on the live broadcast. Before the San Francisco Giants released their official statement during the minor-league game’s seventh inning, the core group of onsite department leads — VP, Live Events, Chris Pfeiffer; Caiafa from production; and Senior Director, Remote Technical Operations, Jason Hedgcock from operations — met in their production facility in the compound to come up with a plan. Nightly studio show Quick Pitch was getting ready in New Jersey after the game’s conclusion, but Coordinating Producer Dan Komyati pivoted by bringing host Brian Kenny — on his way home after finishing his on-air duties — back to Secaucus for MLB Tonight after the final out. At Rickwood Field, the front bench – Producer Keith Costas, Director Dan Gentile, Associate Director Sharon Roper, and Technical Director Chris Graham — alerted play-by-play announcer Rich Waltz, analyst Chris Young, and comedian and Birmingham native Roy Wood Jr. Waltz, who lived near the Bay Area and attended many of Mays’s games as a kid, delivered the message to viewers with notable emotion.

“With Chris telling stories about his interactions with Willie and Roy having grown up in Birmingham, the three of them did a great job,” says Pfeiffer. “We didn’t have the [MLB Tonight] studio ready to go, so we did almost an hour’s worth of content from the booth as the game was going on.”

Before Waltz informed the televised audience, the crew in Birmingham and the team in Secaucus worked to develop a 12-minute-long obituary video that would play live on MLB Network. Supervisor, Media Management, Bobby Brown took the lead by diving into the network’s footage archive, downloading the finished video, saving it to a hard drive, and giving it to Hedgcock, who forwarded the feed to the Game Creek Video mobile unit.

“We took a commercial break when the obit ended, but we came back just in time for the fans to see and hear the announcement inside the stadium,” says Pfeiffer. “We showed some of the reactions in the stands and stayed [at Rickwood Field] without taking two breaks. Ultimately, we had a lot of good people in place, and everybody stayed calm in the moment.”

It was a full team effort inside the production truck, with contributions from a variety of positions, including Graphics Producer Nathan Daggett, who created a graphic of MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s official statement; Tape Producer Jacob Catalano; Lead EVS Operator Jordan Rebimbas; and A1 Jamie Wehner.

When the Biscuits recorded the final out in their 6-5 victory, Kenny took the reins on MLB Tonight and interviewed numerous guests about Mays’s impact on their lives and the game of baseball. Some of these remote guests were booked on short notice by VP, News and Production, Doug Jaclin, including MLB Network’s Tom Verducci from his home and Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer Bob Costas from Yankee Stadium via Ballpark Cam. Zoom interviews with Ken Griffey Jr. and Harold Reynolds were integrated by VP, Content Logistics and Field Production, Ben Friedfeld — working from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

“We completely reprogrammed the rest of the night,” Caiafa points out. “The results of games from across the league became secondary.”

Coming Through in the Clutch: Tech Execution, Team Adaptability Prove Pivotal

As the proceedings unfolded on screen, Hedgcock and other members of the technical team — including Senior Director, Remote Operations, Brooke Berger and Manager, Remote Broadcast Operations, Jennifer McGinity — were rock solid in providing all the necessary pieces to compose the tribute to one of MLB’s greatest ambassadors. Despite being understaffed in Secaucus and the tech challenges related to a century-old stadium in Birmingham, production and operations maintained a clear line of communication to present a smooth and thorough broadcast.

“We wanted to step out of the way and give our production team everything they needed to show the reverence that this moment deserved,” says Hedgcock. “We didn’t have a ton of extra resources to work with [at Rickwood Field], but it was about trusting people to do what they do every day. It was nice to put everything together and have all our departments move in the same direction.”


Philosophically, the crew’s willingness to adapt made this spur-of-the-moment achievement possible. Going from game broadcast to breaking a human-interest story is a tough transition, but the switching of gears was seamless.

“We always talk about being prepared, rehearsing elements, and being ready for anything,” notes Pfeiffer, “but there will always be things that are out of your control. When something unexpected like this happens, we’re in a place to tackle it head on.”

MLB Network, FOX Sports Collaborate on MiLB Contest, UNINTERRUPTED Fam Jam 

Outside of the sad news, MLB Network had a handful of broadcast obligations from Rickwood Field. In addition to Tuesday’s minor-league game, the crew was also responsible for producing UNINTERRUPTED Fam Jam: a live-to-tape celebrity softball game featuring the likes of CC Sabathia, Ryan Howard, Barry Bonds, and Derek Jeter. The production and operations plan for the celebrity softball game is a near facsimile of previous editions during MLB All-Star and will be replicated for 2024 MLB All-Star in Arlington, TX in July.

As for the minor-league game, Tuesday night wasn’t the first time that the network produced a minor-league game from a non-traditional location. In 2022, MiLB at Field of Dreams featured the Quad Cities River Bandits and the Cedar Rapids Kernels in Dyersville, IA. As with this year’s edition, MLB Network leveraged the tech footprint and a longstanding collaboration with FOX Sports.

An on-field set at Rickwood Field is being used for live editions of MLB Tonight and MLB Central.

“We produce so much baseball with FOX Sports that we work well together on a lot of big infrastructure items, like fibering, power distribution, and resource sharing,” says Hedgcock. “With the renovations done to this stadium, this year’s event is very similar to the built-from-scratch model of Field of Dreams because it requires collaboration from all networks to make this work.”

Aside from live game coverage, two of MLB Network’s marquee studio programs — Emmy Award–winning MLB Tonight and MLB Central — will air live from an onfield set in Birmingham. For a high-profile event like MLB at Rickwood Field, the network wants to highlight the locale and game-day environment as much as possible for those watching at home.

MLB Central was well-received when we were onsite for the MLB London Series,” says Hedgcock. “We’re looking to build on some of that success. I think it works out well for our viewers, and we get some really good content and show off what the experience is like being here onsite.”

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