03/07/12 10:00 AM EST
MLB Network to wire Tribe, D-backs for sound
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
For the countless fans who always wondered what players, managers and umpires are saying throughout a Major League Baseball game, the time finally has come to find out.
MLB Network will break ground Wednesday at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Ariz., by presenting live in-game audio of a Cactus League telecast between the Indians and D-backs, starting at 3:10 p.m. ET and airing on brief delay. The game also will be streamed live without blackouts on MLB.TV, and play-by-play man Matt Vasgersian of MLB Network will be solo in the booth to ensure that game sound is priority.
Managers Manny Acta of the Indians and Kirk Gibson of the D-backs will be wired throughout for live sound, and so will home-plate umpire Stephen Barga. Also wearing microphones will be the players positioned at catcher, first, second, third, shortstop and center field. Live microphones are planted on each base, the first- and third-base lines, and along the outfield wall.
"We're going to try to prioritize on sounds around home plate, because that is the first eye-opening thing for the viewer, based on our test," MLB Network CEO Tony Petitti said after Tuesday's Texas-Arizona test game at Salt River Fields. "If we can make the crack of the bat sound the way the tests sounded, then deliver the conversations, just the natural sounds of the game -- players yelling what base to throw to, who's cutting the ball off -- it will be great.
"You're not always sure who's saying what, but you can gradually find out. It's a lot of fun learning it. As our director said during the test, audio normally chases the picture, and here it's the opposite. We're making audio the priority and we're making pictures to go with it. It is definitely unique."
Oh, by the way, it is Trevor Cahill's first game outing since being acquired from Oakland by the D-backs. It could be interesting if his catcher comes to the mound for a brief chat that fans otherwise would never hear. David Huff will start for Cleveland.
This broadcast is in cooperation with MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association, producing 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.
"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," 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."
Tuesday's test featured a 16-3 Rangers blowout on 19 Texas hits, and Petitti said that kind of offensive eruption actually is conducive to this effort -- maybe more than a close, strategy-filled game -- because the crack of the bat is such a basic element fans like.
"The test went really well," he said. "It definitely progressed from the beginning of the game to the end, so that we learned a lot of techniques. You never practice this, right? It takes a little while to get people squared away. We learned what we liked and we are excited about [for Wednesday]. We'll learn even more."
Now that "The Artist" has won the Oscar for Best Picture, it is time for another production about the transition from golden silence to the sensation of sound. Gibson, for one, said he would "prefer not to be mic'd, but I'll do my part." Oh, to have sound as he once ran around the bases for the Dodgers in October of 1988, pumping his fist. Is he really OK with this?
"Well, if I wasn't, we wouldn't be doing it," Gibson said. "I think I'm open-minded to it, I think I understand what they're trying to do. They're trying to, I think, let the sounds of the game -- the real sounds of the game -- tell the story, instead of just having play-by-play and an analyst."
As for the one-person booth, Petitti explained: "I think we didn't want to fall into a natural pattern of analyst and play-by-play talking back and forth. We are giving people a chance to really hear it, and two people are going to talk more than one. It would be in the way. It doesn't mean if we do this again you always go with one, but until we learn as much as possible, it makes sense to do it a little differently."
Naturally, players will be coming and going rapidly in any first-week exhibition game. MLB Network will have staff in the dugouts assisting with the switch-overs, so that substitutions include the ceremonial passing of the microphone to the guy entering the game.
"I like it," said Indians outfielder Shelley Duncan, who already has two homers this spring. "I think they should do it more. They're trying to find ways to make games on TV more interesting. Test it out in Spring Training."
Unless those bees that infested Salt River Fields at the start of the week make an unexpected return -- imagine the droning sound heard by all -- the real buzz should be people around the game talking about people talking within the game.
If you want to broadcast the game how many fans would want it broadcast, then it is worth trying to present the sound that happens down on the field. What does the runner on first say to the first baseman between pitches? What is that meeting on the mound all about? What happens if someone gets knocked down with a pitch?
"The managers were great in the test," Petitti said. "Kirk was terrific, had some interesting things from time to time to say, charging his players, reacting to plays. Everybody has embraced the same idea. If it's great, give it a try."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. MLB.com 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.