ESPN’s on-site production of the College World Series includes a brigade of approximately 100 people to operate some of the most advanced technology available, such as the UmpCam, DollyCam, K Zone and new on-screen graphics as well as 22 cameras, more than 100 microphones, replay machines, thousands of feet of cable and on and on. One member of the crew has a role that might seem a bit out of place in this constantly moving environment, but provides an element that can make a telecast sing… and also say a thousand words: a still photographer.
ESPN Images staff photographer Phil Ellsworth, working his sixth straight College World Series for ESPN, arrived in Omaha two days before the first pitch and by Friday night’s opening ceremonies had 4,537 pictures in his portfolio available for use in the television coverage.
Ellsworth set up his “studio” on Thursday in the basement of TD Ameritrade Park in a concrete, 20 by 15 foot room behind the third base dugout. He spent his Friday morning and afternoon in that office, taking specialized portrait photos of 32 players – four from each of the eight participating teams – that will be integrated into the telecasts throughout the event.
“It’s the small touches and attention to detail that separates a good on-air moment or feature from one that hits a viewer with a memorable emotion,” said ESPN coordinating producer Tom McNeeley. “Phil has an ability to capture a player in a way that strikes you, even if the photo is only on the screen for a moment within a 30-second feature. That’s why we specifically ask for him to be here every year.”
His work was prominently featured in the first two games on Saturday, with his portraits being used in several player vignettes. But knowing his photo of Miami outfielder Willie Abreu kissing his mother’s wedding ring was used in an on-air report (see video below) about the player’s heartbreaking story means the most to Ellsworth.
“I make it a point to ask anyone I photograph if they have a particular ritual, article of clothing, body movement, etc., that they do during or before a game that I can capture in a picture and could differentiate them,” said Ellsworth. “I was struck by his story of how he wears the ring around his neck and kisses it to honor her. That I was able to help tell his story with that image is special.”