Most of us enjoy watching softball on TV anytime we can and since I'm fortunate enough to get behind the scenes I wanted to take you with me and show you what's involved when ESPN televises a softball game.
Putting a softball game, or any sport, on tv is no easy undertaking. It takes lots of trucks, people, cameras, cables and time. Let's take a look at some of what's behind the scenes when you sit in your living room and watch a 2:00pm softball game on tv.
Even though the game might be scheduled to start at 2:00 in the afternoon, the crew gets to the ballpark at 6:00am. This crew includes close to 30 people that will meet the production truck, the satellite uplink truck and the portable generator as they also descend on the park at 6:00am. The hard-working crew then starts laying miles of cables in order to set up the 5-8 camera's usually required to shoot a softball game, cover the cables so no spectators trip on them (as most are laid in and around the stands), and setup all the monitors and microphones needed to conduct the broadcast (pictures 1 & 2). They'll put up any protection or padding that might be necessary to keep balls from hitting any cameramen/women as 1-2 camera's are usually on the field level (low 1st and low 3rd camera), (picture 3) and will also climb and attach any fence camera's that might be needed in order to shoot the scoreboard or get a view from high above homeplate (called high-home).
As announcers, we arrive at the field about 2 ½ to 2 hours before game time and then begin our pre-game prep. By the time we get to the field we've both already interviewed each coach (usually via phone), read through both schools media guides, churned through what seems like hundreds of pages of stats and boiled it all down to nuggets that will fit on 4 x 6 cards for each player.
- The segment that opens the game when the play-by-play person and the analyst are shown on the field talking about the matchup is called the "open", and it's shot down on the field usually about 10 feet in front of one team's dugout using either the 1st or 3rd base camera.
- We shoot the open about 20 minutes before the game starts and because we don't have much time, we have to get it right in about 2 takes.
- This segment we use what's called stick mikes (the ones with ESPN on them) and we also have little earphones in one ear so we know when we're on camera, off camera but talking about what's on the screen and when we're going off camera.
- As soon as the truck says the open is good (Picture 4), we quickly take off our ear pieces, unravel ourselves from all the cables and hustle back up to the booth (which can often be on-top of the press box) in time to get into position, get our headphones on and start the game.
- We watch the game through a monitor and not what's going on the field. This enables us to talk about what you're actually seeing on your TV at home.
- We have very little room for anything like notes as the monitors, and talk-back box take up most of the small table top we usually have (pictures 5 & 6).
- I color code my player cards and put them in order based on their batting order using a small o-ring that let's me change cards whenever there's a substitution. Color coding the cards makes it easily to tell one team's info from the other.
- I keep score during the game on a sheet I made so that I can quickly know what each player did in her previous at-bat. While we have a game-stats person to provide us a few select stats (like pitch count & number of balls vs strikes), we have to keep score ourselves.
- I use a defensive diagram showing each team's defensive alignment so I can quickly know who fielded, caught or threw a ball.
- We talk on headphones when we're in the booth and can hear the producer talking to us telling us things like when we're back from a commercial break, when a replay will be coming up so I can talk about it, and anything else we will need to know in order to talk about it. (picture7)
The actual game goes very fast and you never really know what things you'll be talking about, how much time you'll have to interject stories or backup information or stats that might be relevant. As the Women's College World Series draws near more and more softball will be on tv in the form of the Regionals and Super Regionals. The next time you watch a game you'll be a little more informed as to what's going on to make it possible. And there you have it - life behind the scenes of a televised softball game.