Hundreds of student-athletes travel the road to Omaha each year, with hopes of participating in the College World Series (CWS). ESPN director Scott Johnson has been down this road many times – 25, in fact – and 2017 is no different. Johnson has been a staple of ESPN’s CWS coverage since 1991, helping the company capture the thrilling moments, emotions and talented athletes who compete in this marquee NCAA Championship event.
A former collegiate baseball player at Ohio University, Johnson joined ESPN in 1990 as a director for Major League Baseball and CWS telecasts. While getting ready for the tournament in Omaha, he spoke with Front Row about the CWS.
How has coverage of the College World Series evolved over the past 25 years?
My first year directing the CWS was 1991, and I think we had seven or eight cameras. I just finished filling out the monitor wall for this year and we’ve now got 28. The volume of equipment has increased tremendously since then. Also, until 2011, the games were played at Rosenblatt Stadium in a neighborhood next to the zoo here in Omaha, where we all have great memories. Since then, they’ve been played at state-of-the-art TD Ameritrade which was built with television in mind and sits in the middle of downtown Omaha. We walk across the street from our hotel to the ballpark and the setup is not nearly as difficult.
Is it hard to believe that this will be your 26th CWS?
It does feel like I’ve been directing this event for a long time. In 1991, my wife and I had a two-year old little girl. Now we’ve got four kids who aren’t kids any more, and that two-year old was nominated for an Emmy this year for producing a 30 for 30 on the ’85 Bears.
What are your most memorable moments from covering the CWS?
The most electric atmosphere was that first year for me when Creighton played Wichita State. Creighton is located just a few blocks from Rosenblatt and Wichita beat them in a great game. [MNF director] Chip Dean directed that game as I was on the other crew that year. I was also in the ballpark when Warren Morris hit a walk-off home run in the 9th inning for LSU to win the CWS in the late 90s.
My greatest memories will always be from the relationships I’ve built with crew members (some of whom have been here with me since 1991), announcers and Omaha natives who have shown us such great hospitality here over the years.
As the director, what’s the most important thing you do to ensure that ESPN is capturing the game and the excitement at the CWS?
The most important thing is that we don’t forget to document the game. We try very hard to portray the color and atmosphere in and around the ballpark. We search for interesting back stories about all eight teams, but the most important thing is to not miss what’s going on between the lines. Our viewers count on us to deliver proper documentation and we plan to do just that.
Editor’s Note: ESPN’s College World Series coverage begins Saturday, June 17, at 3 p.m. ET. The game schedule and other details are available here.