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Journalism Showcase: Production Notes: Explores Legend Of The St. Louis Cardinals’ Rally Cat

Senior writer Liz Merrill's curiosity about this kitten's life after its 2017 outfield escapades turns into feature, animated video narrated by Stephen A. Smith

Four years ago, the legend of Rally Cat was born in St. Louis.

On Aug. 9, 2017, a kitten ran onto the field during a game between the host St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals at Busch Stadium. After a groundskeeper picked up the kitty and ran off the field (while being scratched and bitten), Yadier Molina hit a grand slam on the next pitch, lifting the Cards to an 8-5 victory in a contest that would be known as “The Rally Cat Game.”

Today, explores the legend in a fun presentation that includes a story by senior writer Elizabeth Merrill and an animated short video done from the perspective of the cat, with narration by Stephen A. Smith (see above).

As Merrill reports, the cat would wind up captivating the city – and what happened afterward to the cat is a wild story in itself.

Merrill and Rayna Banks, ESPN senior managing producer, talked with Front Row:

What made you decide to want to tell this story?
Merrill: I used to live in Kansas City, and I still watch most Royals’ games. (Believe me, it’s not easy). So four years ago, I saw the cat run onto the field as it was happening live, and it was such a bizarre event, a this-stuff-only-happens-to-the-Royals moment. And I always wondered what happened to the cat.

Banks: Once I learned about Liz Merrill’s story about Rally Cat, I knew someone needed to produce a companion video. It had all the ingredients: a moment-in-time and whatever-happened-to story that involved a kitten running onto the field during a baseball game. For a sport that has a long history of superstition, it was a fascinating turn of events. Rally Cat became a local legend. The more I heard about the reporting Liz had done, I felt like it was a no-brainer.

What was the thought process that went into how it’s being presented?
Banks: Though this story is out of our investigative/news lane, I knew our group could deliver. We had three weeks until the story was set to post. Right away, I emailed the pitch to producer Greg Amante without saying a word. We immediately discovered we were thinking the same thing: The story needed to be animated and told from the cat’s perspective. Aside from having limited video and video restrictions online, we wanted to have fun with it. It was important to us to be complementary to Liz’s story and produce a piece that could live on all shows and platforms. From there, Greg connected with Liz and started writing.

St. Louis Cardinals star Yadier Molina, seen here in 2016 action, became the hero after “Rally Cat’s” 2017 appearance. (Allen Kee/ESPN Images)

Where did the idea of having Stephen A voice the video come from? Was it difficult to convince him?
Banks: Just as Greg and I were on the same page with how the story should be told, we both had Stephen A. at the top of our list. Stephen A. is always talking, sharing his opinion on anything thrown his way, so why wouldn’t he want to join in? We also felt that Stephen A.’s on-air personality and swagger matched that of our cat. I emailed Dave Roberts [Senior Vice President, Production] to see if this is something Stephen A. would be interested in doing.

He hooked me up with coordinating producer Tom DeCorte, who replied simply saying, ‘We can figure out a way to get this done.’ He was in. With the help of [producer] James Dunn and others on his team, Stephen A. tracked between First Take and Stephen A’s World. And, of course, Stephen A. was a true pro and nailed it in one take.

Who else was involved in making this happen?
Banks: We animated this story in-house with the very talented [lead video editors] Rob McNicholas and Jessica Yong. They were part of our brainstorming and storyboarding from Day One and did a tremendous job of running with our ideas and bringing their own to the table. We worked closely with [coordinating video editor] AJ Irish in edit and [coordinating audio design editor] Ray Palagy in sound design to perfect our post-production elements.

Was there something funny or memorable that didn’t make it into the piece?
Merrill: I spent more than an hour on a Friday night with a very passionate TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) person who had a hunch that some cats she trapped in Busch Gardens a few years earlier were related to Rally Cat, so I briefly explored the world of cat DNA testing – yes, it exists. The technology to determine parentage isn’t there yet. But it’s coming soon.

ESPN’s Journalism On Display

ESPN produced an animated feature featuring Stephen A. Smith’s voice for the feature about Rally Cat. (ESPN)
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