Journalism Showcase

ESPN’s “Journalism Showcase” – March 18, 2016

Still from OTL on the "Sugar Kings" - the lost team of Cuba.
A still shot from OTL on the “Sugar Kings” – the lost team of Cuba.

As part of the historic return of Major League Baseball to Cuba – with a game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team on March 22 (ESPN, 1:30 p.m. ET) – Outside the Lines will set the table for ESPN’s extensive coverage with a one-hour special Outside the Lines: Major League Baseball Returns to Cuba airing Sunday, March 20, at 9 a.m.

Bob Ley will host the live program from Havana’s Parque Central. Coordinating producer Tim Hays, who travels to Cuba today, has been overseeing the planning.

“The decision was made to go an hour on OTL to really showcase the fact that we’re broadcasting from there and to have Bob kick off the coverage for the whole network,” Hays said. “I think that’s a tremendous opportunity for us.”

Doing live television for an American network from Cuba doesn’t come without its challenges, and Hays said his team has been working on logistics and planning for the past month.

“There’s a period of time when logistics are very complicated,” he said. “Visas have to be applied for and approved for everyone involved. Between the details of getting everything to Havana we need in order to produce live TV and preparing for the communication challenges in a country where internet services can be unreliable, it’s much more complicated than a normal domestic project.”

OTL joined forces with ESPN Event Production and SportsCenter teams for the project, sharing resources and equipment, including a production truck that traveled to Havana from Florida on a barge. ABC News, which has done several World News Tonight programs from Havana, and will be doing so again next week, also lent some expertise through corporate synergy. ABC’s live shots will be done just a few yards from the ESPN location.

“Because the OTL show is happening right at the beginning of our coverage from Cuba, we won’t have all of the production elements in place yet on Sunday,” Hays said. “A lot of it will come together on Monday and we’ll certainly be working at full power on Tuesday when the game is scheduled to be played.

“We’re working with a skeleton crew on Sunday with one camera for Bob,” he said. “And so because of the unpredictability of working from Havana, we’re going to have a full control room and Andy Katz standing by in Bristol just in case there are any technical problems so we can continue to broadcast our Cuba show on Sunday morning.”

Cuba Trip Significant for OTL Coordinating Producer

For ESPN Outside the Lines coordinating producer Tim Hays, traveling to Cuba for the historic return of Major League Baseball not only represents an interesting professional challenge, it also means something to him personally.

Hays’ father-in-law, Dr. Tulio Figarola, is a native of Cuba but left the island nation as many others did when Fidel Castro seized power.

“He came over here (to the United States) in 1959 right in the heart of the revolution,” Hays said. “He was a 28-year-old doctor, just starting his residency, then fled to Miami.

“So throughout the last 25 years he’s told my wife Rebecca and I countless stories about his homeland, and how much of a paradise it was when he lived there, and how he’s generally saddened by what’s happened to his country during Castro’s regime,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I was so excited about joining this project. To be able to go there and then tell him about what I see and fill him in on what’s changed in Cuba over the last 57 years since he left. It’s a real thrill. It means a lot to me and my family.”

All ESPN personnel are traveling into Havana on charter flights from Florida. After the Sunday morning OTL, Hays will remain in Cuba through the Monday and Tuesday ESPN telecasts and then travel home on Wednesday. – Andy Hall

Journalism on Display

  • Sunday’s SC Featured is a historical look at the 1950’s Cincinnati Reds AAA affiliate which, in pre-Castro Cuba, was based in Havana. Jeremy Schaap reports on the “Sugar Kings.” The feature will debut in the special edition of Outside the Lines airing from Havana at 9 a.m. ET on ESPN and then air in the 10 a.m. edition of SportsCenter, with re-airs in other editions of the program throughout the day.
  • The Outside the Lines program also will include a feature on Chicago White Sox slugger Jose Abreu, who defected from Cuba in 2013 leaving behind his young son. Abreu returned to Cuba last December on a goodwill tour and was briefly reunited with him. Pedro Gomez reports.
  • Two Cuban brothers, Yuli (31) and Lordes (22) Gurriel, are among the most highly regarded international baseball players on the planet. They were loyal to Cuba and were the face of the national team until defecting in early February. Reporter Paula Lavigne, who had access to the Gurriel family in Havana for a feature three years ago, updates viewers on where the brothers are now in a story that will air during the OTL show from Havana.
  • Panelists on Sunday morning’s The Sports Reporters (9:30 a.m., ESPN; 11 a.m., ESPNEWS) will be Mitch Albom (guest host), Israel Gutierrez, Frank Isola and Manish Mehta.
Pedro Gomez (left) interviews White Sox slugger Jose Abreu who defected from Cuba in 2013.  (Toby Hershkowitz/ESPN)
Pedro Gomez (left) interviews White Sox slugger Jose Abreu who defected from Cuba in 2013. (Toby Hershkowitz/ESPN)
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