Back on April 2, 2006, ESPN debuted an innovative production enhancement that forever changed the way viewers enjoyed Major League Baseball on television. On that Opening Night between the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field, ESPN became the first network to utilize an on-field, handheld camera during a regular-season MLB telecast to capture in-game live shots of home run celebrations, managers approaching the mound, batters in the on-deck circle and more.
Along the way, players have grown used to having the camera around for those special moments. So much so that Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz called out ESPN cameraman Duke Thorne – his purported good luck charm – after launching another mammoth home run during the Aug. 3 Sunday Night Baseball game at Fenway Park. Thorne, who grew up a New York Mets fan in Fairfield, Conn., mans the handheld device each week for Sunday Night Baseball and has the enviable task of following Ortiz, and other sluggers, around the bases.
Prior to working this week’s Sunday Night Baseball contest between the Oakland Athletics and Atlanta Braves (Sunday, ESPN, 8 p.m. ET), Thorne explained to Front Row what happened with Ortiz and how he approaches his assignment.
What’s your role on Sunday Night Baseball telecasts?
Any time there is a dead ball – a home run is hit, a ball goes out of play – I have access inside foul territory. When a home run is hit, I go meet the hitter at third base and run them down the line and bring them into the dugout. We’ve been really careful over the years to work with each individual team as well as Major League Baseball to make it as seamless as possible and to stay out of the way while giving the fan something at home they can’t normally see.
Take us through what happened with David Ortiz.
Back in June, we had Red Sox at Tigers on Sunday Night Baseball. I was near the on-deck circle waiting to get a shot and he kept walking toward me. Finally, he was leaning on me and he said, ‘When I hit my home run tonight, how slow do you want me to go from third base to home plate?’ Jokingly, I said I would really appreciate it if you’d break it down. Later that night, he hit a two-run home run a mile off of Joba Chamberlain to ultimately to win the game 5-3. I was almost able to walk next to him all the way from third base to home. As he was walking back around, he leaned under my lens and said ‘Was that slow enough for you?’
When the team was leaving, he said to me, ‘Hey, big man. Big man!’ Everybody was like ‘Oh, now you’re buddies.’ And I said, ‘Well, every time he sees me, he hits a home run, so yeah, I guess we’re buddies’. Then it blew up on Sunday Night Baseball at Fenway on August 3 when he said ‘I told you, I told you’.