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Calling the Games a Whole New Way

In 1908, while riding on a New York City subway train, Jack Norworth, who had never been to a baseball game, was inspired by a sign that read “Baseball today – Polo Grounds.” While on that train, he penned the words to what has become the song synonymous with baseball, Take Me Out to the

In 1908, while riding on a New York City subway train, Jack Norworth, who had never been to a baseball game, was inspired by a sign that read “Baseball today – Polo Grounds.” While on that train, he penned the words to what has become the song synonymous with baseball, Take Me Out to the Ballgame, which today is sung during the seventh-inning stretch at professional ballgames.

Despite the immense popularity of the song, Norworth never saw his first baseball game until 32 years later. This season we all have something in common with Norworth, we are familiar with the song, but we won’t be attending any professional games either in 2020.

The 60-game regular MLB ‘season’ is underway, and without question, it is a strange one. If you are a baseball fan and have had the opportunity to view any MLB games, the difference in the product is unmistakable. Before the start of ‘the regular season,’ I took the opportunity to watch a few of the summer camp exhibition games. As the various telecasts began, it was a weird sight with no fans in the stands, but as the first pitches were thrown, it was good to have baseball back.

The games I watched included the Indians/Pirates, Orioles/Phillies, and the Cubs/White Sox, and the differences in the telecast were striking. The Phillies crew of Tom McCarthy, Gregg Murphy, and Ben Davis deserve a lot of credit for making their game both entertaining and informative for the viewers. Not only did their calls make it seem like a normal game, but they presented viewers with interesting shots of what was going on around the ballpark and how the teams were adjusting to the many changes dealing with the pandemic.

The Pirates broadcasters, Greg Brown, Joe Block, John Wehner, and Michael McHenry, also were upbeat and enjoyable. The Pirates did a good job of piping in crowd noise that added to the telecast and seemed to raise and lower in relationship with the action on the field. New Pirates general manager Ben Cherington provided an amusing note relating to the ‘crowd noise’ when he stated, “I couldn’t tell from the crowd noise who they were rooting for.”

On the other hand, in my opinion, the Cubs/White Sox telecast on ESPN was almost unwatchable. Unlike the previously mentioned games, the EPSN announcers, Jon Sciambi, Chipper Jones, and Rick Sutcliff, were each at separate locations in their homes across the country. The camera and voice qualities were not good with the production coming across resembling something seen in a high school classroom using an iPhone. For the self-proclaimed “world leader in sports media entertainment,” they will definitely need to step up their game from what they gave viewers in Chicago.

To be fair, this is a whole new ball game that harkens back to the days when all professional baseball games were recreated beginning August 5, 1921, when KDKA radio first aired a Pirates/Phillies game. Broadcast by announcer Harold Arlin, who sat in a studio and recreated the accounts of the game fed to him from a telegraph line. Now, 99 years later, the modern broadcasters will be doing much the same, except they will be using television feeds for their information source.

In accordance with MLB safety protocols produced to protect baseball personnel during the COVID-19 pandemic, broadcasters will be relying on video feeds and canned crowd noise to re-create away games while working from broadcast facilities in their home ballparks.

Baseball historian Curt Smith feels broadcasters should look forward to this strange circumstance.

“This is a great opportunity for baseball broadcasters to really tell stories, to let their descriptive powers blossom. They won’t be chained to a cascade of meaningless numbers. If I’m a big-league broadcaster, I would be looking forward to this. Baseball fans will get a chance to hear what baseball is all about.”

Creativity should be flourishing during this two-month season. The Boston Red Sox won’t have fans attending their home games, so they are getting into the spirit of things in their efforts to bring friendly faces into Fenway Park.

For a $500 donation to the Red Sox Charitable Foundation, fans can have their likeness placed on plastic cutouts that will be placed in the Green Monster seats above left field. Fans can submit photos and have their faces put on 20×30-inch cutouts. The fans will receive their cutouts at the end of the season and will win prizes if their cutout is hit by a Red Sox home run ball.

Program participants will automatically receive a personalized scoreboard message on the right-field video board. Those whose cutouts are hit by a Red Sox home run will also receive the autographed ball, two Green Monster tickets for the 2021 season, a custom Red Sox home jersey with their name and a video replay of the home run that hit their cutout.

Whether it be no fans in the stands or plastic cutouts, it won’t be the same, but at least baseball is back to provide us with some live sports entertainment. Let’s see how creative those baseball announcers can be. Through it all, let’s have some fun and enjoy it.

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