Announcers losing their minds in an empty stadium will take some getting used to
Part of the reason sports are so weird to watch right now is that they’re just as weird to broadcast. Baseball announcers aren’t traveling to road games, instead calling away games from the broadcast booth of their empty home stadium, where they sit on opposite sides of the room. For the Yankees’ series in Baltimore last week, YES had Michael Kay and David Cone in the Bronx, and Paul O’Neill patched in from his basement in Ohio. The broadcasters watch the game on video monitors, basically seeing what you’re seeing at home.
The awkwardness of the setup can sometimes come through on the broadcast, like when Luke Voit hit a grand slam and Kay wasn’t sure whether it was a homer or an easy out.
Without being able to see the flight of the ball or the movement of the outfielders, that’s one of the hardest kinds of plays to call. Luckily for announcers, the Yankees have some other guys who hit some real no-doubt home runs.
ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball crew of Matt Vasgersian and Alex Rodriguez is calling all its games this season from a studio in Bristol, Conn. Yankee Stadium is less than two hours by car from the ESPN campus, but it’s just safest for them to stay put there even when the game of the week is nearby. And when Aaron Judge is playing at his best, you don’t need to be anywhere near the park to know when he’s hit one out. One upside of the empty stadiums is that the crack of the bat comes through clear as day.
When Judge hit a 419-foot homer in the second inning that left the bat at 107.9 mph, Vasgersian and Rodriguez both started chuckling as soon as he made contact.
That homer was Judge’s fifth in his last five games, but he wasn’t done yet. In the seventh, he broke a 7–7 tie with an even bigger blast. This one traveled 468 feet and sent Vasgersian into such a tizzy that he nearly blew his mic out.
Especially by baseball standards, Vasgersian is a very excitable announcer. It’s not uncommon for you to hear his voice crack like it did on Judge’s second homer. In fact, you can listen to a full 11 minutes of him blowing his top on YouTube. But it’s pretty jarring to hear him—or any announcer, for that matter—get so worked up with canned or nonexistent crowd noise in the background. His excitement is no doubt genuine; it just feels like the drama isn’t fully earned without the tension built by the crowd. There’s no button on the soundboard operator’s machine that can accurately replicate the crowd during the eighth inning of a tied prime-time game between the sport’s two biggest rivals with two outs, a runner on and the most exciting hitter in baseball at the plate. But this is only the second week of baseball’s empty-stadium experiment, so maybe we’ll get used to it by October.
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