Will they play?
Mark Mederson (TheLorian)
Arizona Diamondbacks broadcaster and Loras College graduate Mike Ferrin said he was in his backyard pool when Major League Baseball announced last June that a shortened 2020 baseball season would begin in July.
“It was the five minutes that I wasn’t on my phone, which generally I’m on my phone,” Ferrin recalled. “It was a great relief, you know, [but] the disconnect on it was so weird … we’re agreeing to play this truncated season and at the same time COVID-19 cases in Arizona were out of control. It was scary bad here.”
Ferrin said that he was not worried about coming in contact with the virus on the job because all MLB broadcasters worked from home last summer. Play-by-play radio and television announcers would watch live on television monitors showing two different camera angles of the games. One of the problems, Ferrin said, is the camera shots were determined by the home teams. If you’re announcing for the visiting team, sometimes the camera wasn’t showing what you wanted to see. And camera angles weren’t the only down side of the 2020 season.
“Well, there’s a lot of it that sucked,” Ferrin said as he laughed. “One of the reasons I love covering baseball is because people in baseball love talking about baseball … the people are what really make it special. All of those conversations were gone.”
Some of the little nuggets that broadcasters rely on come from “off-the-record” conversations that took place at the ball park before games. Ferrin says he always got good information from the hitting coach leaning against the batting cage or from a casual conversation with a player. He said that, while you can keep in touch via text or over Zoom, it’s simply not the same.
“For an extrovert is sort of sucks, because if you draw your energy from being around people, you lose that,” Ferrin said. “Sitting in the office just shooting the breeze, I mean, losing that was really difficult.”
In live broadcasting, Ferrin says, access to players is very important. There is dead time before and during games that needs to be filled with information. “And to have that [access] ripped away, and maybe the thought that it isn’t all coming back is going to be very difficult for a lot of people to deal with,” Ferrin said.
While reduced access makes the broadcaster’s job more difficult, Ferrin says that, for him, it’s also one of the things that makes the job enjoyable. He believes that the technology certainly made the job of remotely broadcasting his shows and the games possible, the human connections were harder to maintain via the technology. Ferrin says the players were struggling under the COVID-19 conditions as well.
“Oh, I know, mentally it was incredibly taxing because they were really restricted, especially when they traveled,” Ferrin said. “They couldn’t gather as a team, really anywhere. They were spread out even when they were at the ball park.” At Fenway Park, Ferrin noted, the Red Sox converted luxury suites into locker room space assigning two players to each suite.
Because of these restrictions’ players spent a lot more time away from family and friends than they would during a normal season. This, Ferrin said, meant that they spent a lot more time working – like breaking down game video – with little time to relax. He says this is one of the reasons he discounts claims from social media and callers on sports radio who say the 2020 World Series Champion, the Los Angeles Dodgers, are not as legitimate as championship teams who won after a full season.
“I think it’s important to remember that those teams that won [in 2020], and specifically the Dodgers, went through an extra layer of playoffs that no baseball team had ever gone through,” Ferrin said. “To me that’s a really tired argument and it bothers me a lot because I think it’s really disrespectful to the teams that played the games.”
Ferrin noted a text that he just received on Friday suggesting that the league will likely tell broadcasters to not travel to away games, at least for the first half, of the upcoming season as well. He says this season will begin similarly to the way last season ended – minimal fans and not a lot of access. But, he believes, it will begin on time and he will continue to do his job, even if it is remotely.
“I mean, it still beats digging ditchers for a living,” Ferrin said. “We’ll find the joy in [the game] once it gets going … the games will heal all.”