EDITOR’S NOTE: This year marks 30 seasons of Major League Baseball on ESPN. In those 30 seasons, ESPN has been home to historic baseball moments and state-of-the-art innovations. Throughout the season, ESPN and Front Row are highlighting the evolution of the game, the most memorable stories and the most important ways ESPN and MLB have collaborated through the years.
ESPN and Major League Baseball are celebrating 30 seasons together in 2019. Over three decades, ESPN has been the leader in innovative viewing experiences for Major League Baseball fans, including the American League Wild Card Game on Wednesday in Oakland. Tampa Bay’s 5-1 victory over the host Athletics concluded ESPN’s 2019 televised live game coverage slate; visit ESPN Press Room for ESPN’s multi-platform coverage details regarding the entire postseason.
Emmy Award-winning initiatives and a proud history of “firsts” have kept ESPN at the forefront of the MLB broadcast evolution.
Here are some highlights below:
Statcast-focused Alternate Viewing Experiences
Sunday Night Baseball upgrades to 1080p and in-field microphones
ESPN produced its first Sunday Night Baseball in 1080p on July 14, 2019 from Fenway Park. 1080p affords ESPN the opportunity to capture all live action in a higher resolution and converts well to 4k, delivering a superior image to viewers. In order to jump from 720p to 1080p, ESPN operations considers all compatibility aspects of the equipment and workflows of the team. For Sunday Night Baseball, they updated several vendor cameras, recording and graphics systems to work in a native 1080p environment in order to produce the game in true, native 1080p.
In conjunction with the push for higher resolution, ESPN operations took a new approach to capturing new audio perspectives by enhancing field sounds through strategically placed buried lavalier RF microphones and player-worn lav mics. ESPN has worked with MLB and teams on installing in-ground microphones for all Sunday Night Baseball games in the 2019 season. The buried mics are placed in locations such as home plate, the pitcher’s mound and in each base, contributing to the final audio landscape and creating a more complete audio experience previously unavailable to the viewer. These buried mics make them more aware of sounds such as the “power crack of the bat,” which audibly ties exit velocity to a sound image; viewers can now accurately hear the difference between a home run and a pop-up.
Access and Mic’d Up
ESPN consistently leads the way in telling the story of the game through unparalleled access. ESPN regularly works with teams to mic the most prominent players and coaches, recording audio throughout the telecast and playing back the best moments, such as Anthony Rizzo teasing his new teammate, Nick Castellanos, asking if it was his first Sunday Night Baseball. Other “wired” segments from the 2019 season featured Christian Yelich, Mike Trout and Cody Bellinger. In one particularly cool moment, ESPN had the Cora brothers – Boston Red Sox manager Alex and Pittsburgh Pirates third base coach Joey – “mic’d up” and interacting during a Spring Training telecast.
New Locations and Going Global
Over the last several seasons, ESPN has increased its number of MLB telecasts in new and innovative locations both domestically and internationally. ESPN has televised the MLB Little League Classic, an annual regular season MLB game played at Historic Bowman Field in Williamsport, Pa., the hometown of the Little League World Series, since 2017. ESPN opened the 2019 MLB season with the Japan Opening Series between the Oakland Athletics and the Seattle Mariners, a series that would include Ichiro Suzuki’s final Major League Baseball game. The season also included the first edition of MLB in Omaha presented by GEICO, a game between the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals at the site of the College World Series. Also this year,Sunday Night Baseball traveled to London, England, for the Mitel & MLB London Series 2019, where ESPN was the exclusive home of the historic Sunday, June 30 game between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox at London Olympic Stadium. ESPN has also televised games in Mexico and Puerto Rico, and most notably, a 2016 Spring Training Game in Cuba which was the first time an MLB team played in Cuba since 1999. ESPN has also worked with MLB to produce and televise The Fort Bragg Game (2016) from the Fort Bragg military base in North Carolina.
ESPN’s K-Zone pitch tracker won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Technical Innovation in 2001. In 2015 ESPN implemented K-Zone Live in all game coverage. ESPN was the first to introduce this approach — a live virtual strike zone over the pitch, which is now ubiquitous in MLB coverage. In 2018, K-Zone was awarded a second Emmy Award for Outstanding Technical Achievement with the implementation of K-Zone 3D. This 3D application, powered by Statcast data, creates a virtual ballpark that has the ability to show a pitch from any angle, building an environment in which ESPN can provide the most complete analysis of a pitch.
Hit Tracker debuted during the 2018 Wild Card Game on ESPN and has been used regularly during Sunday Night Baseball in the 2019 season, as well as during the Home Run Derby. The virtual graphic explores the kinetics of a hit—showing analytics of the launch angle, exit velocity, apex and distance of a hit in 3D.
Front Row Cam
The robotic low-home camera, known as Front Row Cam, debuted on ESPN in 2017 and captured an Emmy Award for Outstanding Technical Innovation. Front Row Cam fits in a custom-built, narrow box enclosure situated on the field behind home plate and features robotic pan, tilt and zoom controls. A Sony P43 Super Slo-Mo camera fitted with a 42X telephoto lens is aimed skyward, reflecting off a mirror to capture dramatic shots of the pitcher’s face and each pitch. The Sony P43 camera captures up to 360 frames per second provide intricate detail of pitch spin and movement while the 42X lens allows for tight shots of the pitcher’s face, which gives ESPN viewers the closest perspective of the game action.
The 2018 T-Mobile Home Run Derby saw several innovative firsts in MLB coverage, including 4D Replay. The 4D Replay system utilizes more than 100 4K cameras placed throughout the stadium surrounding home plate and the pitcher’s mound, capturing a 180-degree view of a batter at the plate and the pitcher on the mound. This detailed image of the batters and pitchers allows even more in-depth analysis of the best sluggers and arms in the league. In 2019, 4D Replay has been used multiple times on Sunday Night Baseball telecasts and was also added to ESPN’s College World Series and Little League World Series coverage.
Sunday from the Seats
Sunday from the Seats is a production during which ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball commentator team calls the evening’s marquee game from a unique location inside the ballpark. ESPN first tried this initiative in 2014, situating the Sunday Night Baseball team atop the iconic Green Monster at Fenway Park. ESPN’s production and operations teams work with the team to select an area that’s going to create an authentic, immersive experience. The ESPN team successfully delivers all the necessities for a traditional booth broadcast to the stands, adding audio and utility technicians to manage the location, using a fiber booth kit to integrate the new “booth” area, and running any fiber connectivity back to the truck. Sunday from the Seats has served as recurring series with telecasts emanating from Wrigley Field, Citi Field, Minute Maid Park, and more.