When we’re not at the game, we’re watching on TV, and broadcasters shape the way we see baseball. Sporting News reviewed local and regional booths last season. Now we're looking at national broadcast teams. This week, it's ESPN's '"Wednesday Night Baseball."
The "Wednesday Night Baseball" broadcast on ESPN exists in an interesting corner of the television universe because, unlike "Sunday Night Baseball," there is no exclusivity for ESPN.
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The game remains on local channels, so if you are a fan of one of the teams playing, you might not even realize "Wednesday Night Baseball" is on. Even if you have the MLB.tv streaming package, you will not know that it is an option. ESPN’s own app only archives the Spanish broadcast.
This means that the only way anyone will watch the ESPN broadcast is if they stumble upon it flipping channels, or if they for some reason get ESPN but not the local broadcaster (this would apply to Dodgers fans), or if they are in a bar or at the gym where ESPN happens to be on a screen, or if they really don’t like their local announcers, or any number of other reasons that apply to very few people.
How few? Last week, "Wednesday Night Baseball" was not among the day’s top 100-rated cable shows. Sports fans had plenty of choice, with NBA and NHL playoff games, which drew millions of viewers. There were also five consecutive episodes of The "Big Bang Theory" on TBS that did better than ESPN’s baseball offering, as well as the 9:30 p.m. ET airing of "Mystery Diners" on the Food Network, the 11:32 p.m. airing of "Storage Wars" on A&E, the 1 a.m. airing of "Dangerous Persuasions" on ID, the 6 a.m. airing of George Lopez on the very tail end of Nick at Nite and 12 different episodes of "NCIS" on USA. Some of those shows may have had fewer viewers than baseball, because baseball was in prime time, but you get the point.
This week, Wednesday night shaped up in a similar fashion. In addition the usual TV fare, there were NBA and NHL playoff games, now into the conference finals. The one advantage for ESPN was a 7 p.m. start time for Rangers-Red Sox at Fenway Park. Would it be worthwhile for a general sports fan who tuned into ESPN at the start of the game to stick around?
Jon Sciambi and Rick Sutcliffe, you have one hour to provide a compelling reason to watch a matchup of two sub-.500 teams on a Wednesday night in May. Good luck, gentlemen.
The global game
Sciambi begins by introducing not the game being broadcast, but by talking about how the focus of this broadcast will be what players from Asia have added to Major League Baseball, the first part of a series ESPN is calling “The Global Game.”
Says Sutcliffe in the introduction: “There’s no question about the fact that with the help of players from Asia, our game continues to get better. The reason for that is because the talent pool continues to grow. Two of those examples are here tonight. You talk about (Junichi) Tazawa, you’re talking about a stuff guy, a power guy. He came to the States as a starting pitcher, and that didn’t work out well, but his velocity got better when he got to the bullpen. Twenty appearances this year, eight holds, and an ERA under one and a half. When you talk about (Koji) Uehara, you go back to that 2013 season, when they won the World Series. He was devastating, what he did. He’s almost perfect, again, tonight. Over the past three years in baseball, I don’t think there’s been a better combination than these two guys at the back end of that bullpen.”
Sciambi then gets to talk about Shin-Soo Choo, mentioning that he is “a high on-base guy,” something that is not part of ESPN’s prepared graphic about the Korean outfielder – this is good, showing that Sciambi is doing preparation beyond what is put in front of him, and the emphasis on Choo’s on-base percentage gets to the heart of why he was a big-money free agent before last season.
Then it’s down to the field for former major league outfielder Doug Glanville to interview Choo. The first question is about what Choo’s career here has meant in Korea, followed up by a query about what baseball needs to do to encourage more kids in Korea to get into baseball. Choo talks about how much it helps that so many games are now televised, which is interesting because there is so much emphasis on induction through participation.
Sciambi then teases some other things that will be going on during the broadcast: Bobby Valentine will be in the booth, Glaville will interview Uehara, and Orestes Destrade will be along to talk about his experience playing in Japan. Ordinarily, this kind of stuff would be overkill, but given that you know hardly anybody is going to be watching this game just for the game, this is a good plan to keep some interest.
The local game
In the major league game to be played, Choo is the leadoff man for the Rangers against Joe Kelly, and Sciambi again emphasizes his on-base ability. Sutcliffe adds the 112 walks that Choo drew with the Reds in 2013, but in this trip to the plate, Choo goes down swiniging.
“When you have as much movement as he has on the two-seam fastball, you really don’t have to command it,” Sutcliffe says. “Look at the catcher’s glove. He wants that pitch down and in. It’s one of those that starts at the front and comes back and catches the inside corner. He missed that by probably three feet with the location, but that was how good his stuff is.”
This is a weird piece of analysis, because a pitch that was supposed to be down and in wound up down the middle of the plate and high. It had lots of movement, but turned out to be kind of a meatball – the reason that Kelly entered this start with a 5.58 ERA. Choo just missed it.
Sutcliffe then drops an A.J. Burnett comparison on Kelly that makes much more sense than dismissing how badly Kelly missed location on the strikeout pitch to Choo. Burnett has always had great stuff, and has always walked a ton of batters and given up more than his share of home runs.
“It’s not only, you well know, Dougie, about fastball command,” Sutcliffe says, teeing up Glanville to join the conversation from fieldside. “You’re talking about a four-seam fastball, the straight one, and a two-seam with movement. It’s also about learning when and how to use each one of those. You’ve got to change speed from time to time to get big-league hitters out.”
Glanville does not jump in, but allows Sciambi to call the next pitch: “The 2-2,” is all he says, which is fine, because everyone can see it’s a foul ball.
“You know, that’s right,” Glanville says. “Part of it, too, is if you’re not showing a hitter the ability to locate one or the other, they’ll quickly eliminate one. They won’t even worry about it until they get to two strikes. His ability to establish the fastball early on will dictate how the Rangers hitters adjust.”
This is short, makes the point well, and allows Sciambi to get back in for some action: “Hit hard, knocked down Napoli, Pedroia up with it, and there’s Kelly over there. He is a great athlete. Joe Kelly gets over, a nice play by the pitcher.”
It’s not clear why this is such an impressive play by Kelly. Delino DeShields hit a line drive that went off the glove of the diving Mike Napoli, and the ball was picked up by an alert Dustin Pedroia, then thrown to Kelly at first base for the out. The play required quickness from Napoli to even attempt a catch, from Pedroia to make the play and from Kelly to get to first base for the throw. The fundamentals were good from everyone involved, but it was a fairly standard baseball play. Not a routine one, but nothing out of the ordinary.
Sciambi notes Prince Fielder’s lack of batting glove before the designated hitter grounds out to end a 1-2-3 inning. Although a short inning, it’s a good taste of what this crew has to offer. Sciambi offers enough play-by-play to keep in touch with the action, has an appreciation for numbers found outside of the box score and if he has a flaw, it’s being a little overenthusiastic. Sutcliffe’s greatest strength is his mastery of the art of pitching. Glanville can chip in on the other side of the game.
Three's a charm
Not having Glanville in the booth might actually be the best way to do a three-man booth, which is surprising because of how irritating the two-in-a-booth-one-down-low setup can be on NBC’s hockey broadcasts. It could just be a matter of personnel, too, because Glanville sure isn’t trying to interject at every possible moment the way that Pierre McGuire does from rinkside.
Mookie Betts bats against Phil Klein in the bottom of the first inning, and it’s a chance for everyone to show off their best. It’s a 2-2 pitch when Betts swings.
Sciambi: “Betts rips one out toward left-center — and there’s Martin! Great jump, nice catch, as he stole extra bases from Mookie Betts. And it looks like he may be a little hurt.”
Lenoys Martin is shaking his arm after running into the Green Monster, but he gives a wave to the dugout to indicate he does not need a trainer.
Glanville: “Martin makes a fantastic grab here. You talk about going to your glove, backhand side. That’s a tough play. When you’re closing it out, you really rotate your wrist to open it up, and that’s the challenge anytime you’re going on your backhand side. It’s all about closing speed, and certainly if you’re going to pay the price on the wall, you’ve got to figure out how to brace yourself, which is not easy.”
Sciambi: “He got something in the shutdown and the collision with the wall – it’s not soft out there. A knee or a wrist or something.”
Sutciffe: “I’m guessing it’s that left wrist that’s been bothering him for the last couple of weeks. First thing that hit the wall, and every chance he gets, he’s taking that glove off to make sure that he’s OK. … I know one thing, as a pitcher, he saved Phil Klein a run. With the speed of Betts, that’s probably going to be a triple with him running into the wall. You’ve got Pedroia and Big Papi coming up after that, you’re going to fall behind early.”
Glanville: “That’s definitely a triple. The angle he took on that, if he misses, he’ll have a lot of momentum away from the ball. The ricochet takes it to center field.”
In the second inning, the theme of The Global Game returns with a look back at Hideo Nomo’s career and importance to baseball. It’s at this point that Sciambi touches on something that made Nomo arriving in the U.S. special, while also touching on the challenge his own broadcast faces.
“I think one of the other aspects of it – that was right before the Internet blew up,” Sciambi says. “So, you still had that thing that your ability to access seeing him – it was places like ESPN or going out to the park. So, even in 1995, there was an element of, ‘What does this look like? I’m hearing all about this, but what does this look like?’ So, you had to tune in to SportsCenter to see it.”
Or Wednesday Night Baseball, which debuted on ESPN in 1990.
The mustache is back!
One thing about Fenway Park is that in order to get to the broadcast booth, you have to go through some public areas. Also, Bobby Valentine was not spending this entire game in the broadcast booth, so there were more public areas that he had to traverse. Valentine, who managed the Red Sox to a 69-93 campaign in 2012, then was dismissed, remains rather unpopular in Boston.
So, he showed up wearing an SHU pullover (Valentine is the athletic director at Sacred Heart University these days), a Red Sox cap, sunglasses and A FAKE MUSTACHE. The fake mustache, of course, is Valentine’s go-to disguise. He put one on in 1999 after being ejected from a Mets-Blue Jays game at Shea Stadium.
“Well, you have to sneak around sometimes,” Valentine says. “Gotta make sure nobody knows you’re around that you don’t want to be around.”
Valentine’s interview includes a lot of talk about differences in baseball culture between North America and Japan, circles back to his time with the Red Sox, and then around again to Japanese baseball. It’s interesting, engaging stuff, and the top of the third inning ends at 7:57 p.m.
So, is it worth sticking around? There is more Valentine to come on the other side of the commercial, with Destrade to talk about his experience later. There’s interest here, and returning after the commercial is worth it to see a blindfolded Sutcliffe comparing the feeling in his hand between a Japanese baseball and an American one. This is more enjoyable to watch than a Rangers-Red Sox game ought to be.
If you’re planning to watch playoffs of another sport anyway, this may not be enough to keep you around, but on a Wednesday night during the summer when your favorite team has played an afternoon getaway-day game, "Wednesday Night Baseball" can succeed as a show about baseball that overlaps with a baseball game, rather than the straight-up game broadcast that fans of the teams involved are going to find on their local stations or out-of-market streams.
Source : http://www.sportingnews.com/mlb/news/espn-wednesday-night-baseball-broadcast-review-jon-sciambi-rick-sutcliffe-doug-glanville/q6mno8u4g50z1jt5lt73irvfi