All Audio telecast captures true sounds of game
More than 60 mics captured Indians, D-backs in element
It was the top of the ninth inning at Salt River Fields, starting players were long gone, the Indians had a 10-2 lead on the host D-backs, and Cleveland's Lonnie Chisenhall was on first base after a single and chatting with first baseman Lyle Overbay.
"I'll take about a hit a day," Chisenhall told him. "That'll work."
Chisenhall and Jack Hannahan are in a battle for the Indians' everyday third-base job this spring, and indeed the former followed up the latter's grand slam on Wednesday by hitting safely in his third consecutive Cactus League exhibition in Scottsdale, Ariz. But in that moment, what MLB Network viewers were hearing was as important as what they were seeing.
It was a live conversation actually happening at first base, aired with a brief delay -- that kind of conversation fans for years have wondered about. There was plenty of that to savor as MLB Network presented a groundbreaking All Audio telecast, complete with more than 60 open microphones placed on players, managers, coaches, umpires and spots around the field.
Now everyone knows that Jason Kipnis sings Adele in the field, umpire Gerry Davis went to Paris in the offseason, and Justin Upton has a soprano pitch when he yells "I got it! I got it! It got it!" to catch a shallow fly to right. Now everyone knows what that crack of the bat really sounds like up-close when Shin-Soo Choo smashes a rocket over the wall...and what it sounds like when Choo is on third and has to dive out of the way of a line drive down the baseline.
"It gives the fans an opportunity to see what goes on, how we communicate with each other," said D-backs second baseman Aaron Hill, who had plenty of air time and seemed to enjoy the experience. "We do have fun out there, but at the same time, but obviously it's our job and we take it very seriously. Obviously it's great for the fans. After a while you forget it's there, and sometimes you need to always remember it's there."
He added: "It's fun, I think it makes it a more personable experience for the guys. I don't like necessarily doing it during the [regular] season."
The All Audio telecast was done in cooperation with Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association, an effort to produce in-game audio on a scale never tried before. It began with a pair of enhanced-audio game telecasts during last Spring Training, producing sound but not airing. Both of those games involved the Indians. MLB Network did a test with Tuesday's Texas-Arizona game, and then it made a little history.
"It's a great thing -- it took a lot of work to get to this point, with the cooperation of the Players Association and the Commissioner's Office," MLB Network CEO Tony Petitti said. "We were able to test it last year, and everybody has the same goal, to make the presentation of the game of baseball as exciting and as new as possible. You're always trying to advance the coverage."
MLB Network studio host Matt Vasgersian, a former lead play-by-play announcer for the Padres, was solo in the broadcast booth, interjecting sparse comments only when it was necessary. Indeed, the introduction of batters often was handled by the mere sound of the P.A. announcer himself.
"I don't know if I would say I called that game, as there was very little calling to be done," Vasgersian said. "It wasn't about giving people biographical information about A.J. Pollack, who is going to start the year in Triple-A, probably with the D-backs. It was about letting people listen to what it's like out there. We had over 60 open mics out there. ... People in the [production] truck mixing the audio really worked the hardest, and did a great job."
Indians manager Manny Acta had the line of the game, at least outside the box score. When his pitcher, David Huff, threw three straight strikes to Justin Upton, blowing the third one by him to end the third inning, viewers heard Acta say: "Blue Bayou, Linda Ronstadt!"
"I think it's interesting," Acta said. "You can hear the ball hit the catcher's mitt. It's fun for fans at home. Too bad that a lot of stuff ... they can't hear because you have to clean it up, but it's fun.
"It helped me clean up my language, for sure. It's hard to be yourself when you know that so many people are listening to you. Although, a lot of innings go by, and you forget you have it on."
Told that Kipnis was singing on the field, Acta said, "That's what I heard. I'll be interested to see that."
Vasgersian said early in the telecast that MLB Network was not permitted to air audio of conversation around the mound, or on the back bench of the dugout. Other than that, everything was pretty much fair game, although the brief delay was needed to withhold at times.
Reaction to the All Audio game was certainly mixed. The manager on the other side, Kirk Gibson, is glad to be going back to normal mode on Thursday, especially after another lopsided defeat. When asked if he liked being wired, Gibson said:
"Not really. I mean, it was a crap game again, three in a row. It's frustrating, so you have to certainly watch what you say."
Players substitutions are frequent in these early games, so MLB Network personnel were staged around the dugouts to help with the transfer of microphone packs to new players entering the game. One of the more focused-on participants was Indians third-base coach Steve Smith, who chatted with the umpire, and gave insightful help to Felix Pie about leading off the third, as the runner was there following a triple.
Ryan Roberts said of the telecast: "It was alright, I guess. You have to be cautious about what you say, that's the bad thing. You feel like you just have to watch what you say. In the way of feeling uncomfortable with the mic on, no. But uncomfortable that you can't just be you and say what you want."
Hannahan had a big game, as he attempts to maintain his regular job at third base for the Tribe, and he described the audio element as "different." There was one funny moment when he was in the picture-in-picture screen on the right, and all of a sudden he ... sneezed.
It was another reminder that these are people just like anyone else. They make a lot of snorting noises, they huff and puff like other athletes, they spit loudly. They do a lot of chatting with each other when they come to bat, or reach base, a lot of how-do-you-do's. What the game delivered was not so much revelation, as it was confirmation that they are just like normal people.
"I'm not a real big fan of it, just for the fact that it's baseball," Hannahan said. "They've never played with microphones on their unis before, I don't know why we had to now. I just think it takes away from guys being who they are. They're worried about what they're saying. I just feel like it kind of takes away from it."
Asked if he was conscious of the microphone during the game, he replied: "I was, yeah. I kind of felt like I couldn't really be myself out there. I'm a fan of baseball, so if I was at home or whatever, I think it might be pretty cool. But it's a little different being a part of it."
What might the All Audio game lead to in the future? It's hard to say. For one thing, there needs to be a translator handy, as Spanish is partly fact-of-life in a typical game. And it sure would be nice to hear the pitcher, arguably the person around whom the game most revolves.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. MLB.com beat reporters Jordan Bastian and Steve Gilbert contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.