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Producer’s ESPN “comeback” going much better this time around

Tim Kurkjian raves about working with Seth Hayes:
“Seth is a very funny and creative young guy. He really knows and loves the game of baseball so when I tell him my stories I know he understands and appreciates them. I greatly enjoy the character he’s created for the ‘Outside Baseball’ segments. He looks and sounds like a lot of people I’ve met along the way and Seth plays him very well.”

The road to ESPN for senior associate producer Seth Hayes has been both short (he grew up in Bristol, Conn., where the network is headquartered) and long (his earlier “stint” with ESPN ended abruptly).

You might even say Hayes went from the outside to the inside and now, he’s on the outside again – but in a creative and very funny way.

Baseball Tonight’s new segment, “Outside Baseball,” features ESPN MLB reporter Tim Kurkjian sharing his many great stories about baseball and its personalities in a humorous, random manner thanks to the off-the-cuff questions of a passionate, albeit misguided, fan.

That fan is played by Hayes, who many may remember from his previous acting role in the 1996 “This Is SportsCenter” commercial where he plays a young anchor who, as Bob Ley said, “came out too soon.” Hayes, a sophomore at the time, was chosen from a casting call at Bristol Central High School; 20 years later, he legitimately works for ESPN and has proven more than ready.

“In 2003, I was hired as a production assistant in event production,” said Hayes, who attended Syracuse University. “And yes, I included the commercial on my resume, a woefully-lacking document without it.

“At the time, I didn’t think about working at ESPN someday,” he said. “I just thought it was cool to be inside the building that I’d driven by so many times.”

Hayes recently spoke with Front Row about the “Outside Baseball” segment and how he went from the “TISC” spot to a career at ESPN – and more opportunities in front of the camera.

How would you describe your ESPN MLB job?
I worked as a production assistant, graphics producer, and ISO producer on our MLB coverage for six seasons. The last three years, I have been a part of event production’s Creative Content Unit, where I have produced many MLB teases. So I know the people working on MLB very well.

How did you come up with the idea for the “Outside Baseball” segment?
When my friends and I talk about baseball, or sports in general, we tend to find the humor in it. The conversations are rarely serious, and oftentimes, steer away from sports to weird, random places. So I thought, ‘What if I could have that kind of conversation with Tim Kurkjian?’ I wrote some scripts, and pitched the idea to ESPN MLB senior coordinating producer Phil Orlins. He really liked the idea. When I pitched it to Tim, he said he was “all in.”

What’s it been like working with Tim?
It’s been incredible. He’s got a million amazing baseball stories, and a great sense of humor. I wanted fans to be able to hear his stories. But I thought it would be funny for him to have to tell them to my character, who has his own crazy take. In the first ‘Outside Baseball,’ [see video below] my character tells Tim how he wants to become a Fungo Master.

When I wrote the script, and it came time for Tim’s story, I just wrote ‘Tim tells fungo master story.’ I didn’t ask him if he had a good story on the subject. I just knew he’d have one. I was wrong. He had three. He’s the best.

Describe the differences of being in front of the camera versus working behind the scenes.
The challenge is doing both at the same time. During the first shoot, I had to break out of the mindset of just being a producer, but now also being a “performer” (extremely loose quotations). It’s been 20 years since I was in front of the camera [for the TISC ad], and I’m becoming more comfortable with it each time. But I’m not expecting an invitation from James Lipton anytime soon.

If the video below does not play on your device, click here.

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