Behind The ScenesMLB

Cuba not all that foreign to senior coordinating producer Orlins

Major League Baseball’s historic return to Cuba on Tuesday is bringing Phil Orlins’ ESPN career full circle.

Orlins, ESPN’s senior coordinating producer for MLB, will oversee production of the Tampa Bay Rays-Cuban National Team telecast tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.

While this is a first trip to Cuba for many, it’s not for Orlins, who also produced the 1999 ESPN baseball telecast in Havana – the last time MLB held a game in the country. He discusses that trip and what to expect from this year’s game coverage.

Press release of the '99 game in Cuba
1999 press release for the MLB game in Cuba

What are some of the significant differences in the preparation and execution of the 1999 telecast compared to this year’s event?
The way we produce it is much bigger than it was back then and our needs to not just cover a game, but to provide ancillary content throughout a three-day period, is a much bigger and technical challenge than just covering a game like back in ’99. When you add in a Presidential visit, it just really stretches all the resources down there because it makes things go in high demand.

This is going to go down in history as one of the more significant international, diplomatic moments. When the President gives his speech [in Cuba], it’s going to be one of the biggest news stories, with a baseball game to cap it off the following day. President Obama will attend the game and he’ll head straight to Air Force One after his in-game interview with us. There’s also a lot of changes that may affect the possibility of Cubans playing in the Major Leagues while maintaining citizenship. These are major factors that were not present in 1999.

What are the characteristics of our MLB commentators which make them the right team to document this historic telecast?
Karl Ravech obviously has great history with our baseball coverage; superior interviewer; can cover many topics and do them effectively. He’s very well-suited to handle a challenging play-by-play assignment. Having the ability to combine play-by-play and hosting skills are ideal for this situation.

Eduardo Perez brings a first-person history by being the son of the only Cuban Major Leaguer to become a Hall of Famer (Tony Perez). He brings incredible family history that is influenced by his children, father and other family members that are still in Cuba. He is a very smart person and is willing to speak openly and honestly.

Doug Glanville is exceedingly smart and well-read. He has written the open for our telecast which is beautiful and poetic. Any show we do that requires research and he brings well thought out points of view and has the ability to articulate them well. Doug is uniquely qualified – he’s an Ivy League graduate with a nine-year MLB career.

Tim Kurkjian always provides historical perspective in a way that is easily digestible to our audience. Tim is beautifully qualified to deliver in Cuba.

And, like Eduardo, Pedro Gomez has a Cuban family history. From his reporting skills, bilingual ability and deep knowledge of Cuba he will be great for our coverage.

What lesson did you learn in 1999 that will help you and the crew this time around?
The lesson is to keep our sense of humor because everything will change. There will be a million curve balls along the way, so we just have to roll with it and get it done.

Gianina Thompson contributed to this post.

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