Broadcast networks are working through challenges as the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees get set to star in MLB's first regular season games in London.
No, runners won’t go left to round the bases this weekend. But plenty will still be different during MLB’s first regular season games in London, as the Yankees take on the Red Sox Saturday on FOX and Sunday on ESPN.
Network representatives got a sense of that from their visit to London Stadium, when the site was still set up for soccer and home plate was marked by a cone in a tunnel between bleachers. The field will have more foul territory than any MLB park, but despite the diamond-in-an-oval geometry, ESPN senior coordinating producer for baseball Phil Orlins said the TV sightlines could be better than they are in many American stadiums.
FOX and ESPN were involved from the get-go, picking custom camera positions, and it also helps that the dugouts are aboveground, opening up new angles into the bench area. “It won’t look cookie-cutter, but it has some aspects that are pretty good,” Orlins said.
As for what they’ll be showing, MLB has translated Americana for the outreach event. Rather than the racing presidents, like D.C. fans see, Londoners will see Winston Churchill and King Henry VIII race the Loch Ness Monster. They will also be taught how to sing “Talk Me Out to the Ball Game” and told they don’t have to throw foul balls back onto play, like they do at cricket matches. During the game, a live announcer will explain the game’s intricacies.
The quirks continue behind the camera, where FOX and ESPN have joined forces. They’ll share a combined camera crew for the weekend, and in the production truck, some of ESPN’s technical leads will assist their FOX peers Saturday before flipping seats Sunday.
In the small world of sports production, that means a whole bunch of reunions. Orleans, for instance, will reconnect with FOX audio lead Joe Carpenter years after they worked together on X Games coverage. “We’re all friends,” FOX Sports VP for field operations Brad Cheney said. “It’s fun to take the best of the best over.”
On-air, no one will represent that blend like Alex Rodriguez. He’ll work as a studio analyst for FOX Saturday then slide into ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball booth (which is being built on a walkway because the typical press box isn’t behind home plate).
“We’re all wearing MLB hats as ambassadors of the game,” Rodriguez said. “We’re leading with the best foot forward, and we’re doing it with a lot of collaboration from everybody—from the league, from FOX, and from ESPN.”
While New York and Boston players spend a little longer on the field practicing Friday, testing the infield dirt, imported from Pennsylvania, and the expanses of French turf, Rodriguez and fellow broadcasters will also be getting to know the unique field—and the crew will go through an extended walkthrough.
“You want to make sure everybody understands all the moving parts that will be involved,” FOX Sports senior show director Matt Gangl said.
After FOX gets the first crack Saturday, ESPN will open its Sunday coverage with a 9 a.m. version of Baseball Tonight, one more quirk during a distinct weekend for baseball.
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