While MLB teams have been mixed in their approaches to announcers in the ballpark during spring training, ESPN will begin the 2021 MLB season with remote announcers, but that decision may be revisited as the season progresses.
We saw some teams dispatch announcers to spring-training venues in 2021, but many teams did not. The decisions regarding spring training were positioned as safety issues: quite honestly, most spring-training press boxes are rather small, with social distancing difficult to achieve. And travel, especially when viewed in the beginning of February, is still a major concern.
So it’s no surprise that ESPN is beginning the season with announcers calling games remotely, either from the mothership in Bristol, CT, or Charlotte. In a press conference held last Friday, Sr. Coordinating Producer Phil Orlins laid out the broadcast giant’s game plan for the 2021 MLB season.
Cutting to the chase: ESPN announcing crews will be working remotely to begin the season. It’s not an ideal situation, Orlins said, but one that can be effective under the circumstances. A small crew at the ballpark will be augmented with a much larger production staff in Bristol. Also reporting directly from the ballparks on Sunday nights: Buster Olney, though Matt Vasgersian and Alex Rodriguez will start the year in Bristol, with Marly Rivera in the mix for certain games.
To make up for the lack of a local presence, ESPN is upping the visual feeds from the ballpark. For Sunday Night Baseball, ESPN will operate a minimum of 10 cameras plus some additional robotic cameras, depending on the ballpark. In addition, a minimum of five super slo-mos will be used on those games, including an ultra-slow motion. There are some other tech initiatives in the works, but nothing to begin the season.
“I guess there are two things I think about in terms of them going back to the ballpark,” Orlins said. “One is if you’re not going to get access by being at the ballpark, that’s a huge piece that makes it less relevant to be there, and the reality of it right now is if you’re not going to be allowed on the field and you’re not going to be allowed in the clubhouse and all you’re going to do is go to a booth, then you get down to really the main question being how you see and how you call the game.”
For weekday games, ESPN will work with local RSNs on video feeds augmented by a few ESPN-only cameras.
One thing you won’t see this year, at least to begin with, is a shift to more of emphasis on player personalities and less on the game itself. ESPN had implemented such a game plan in spring training 2020, but when MLB shut down spring training and then delayed the launch of the regular season, ESPN scaled back that new personality-driven approach. We may see it appear during the course of the season, Orlins said, but for now the approach will be basic.