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MLB, ESPN Take Player-Miking to a New Level

20/05/2022

MLB, ESPN Take Player-Miking to a New Level Ballplayers on the field are happy to share what's on their minds By Dan Daley, Audio Editor

Friday, May 20, 2022 - 10:54 am

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Baseball players are just plain chatty. Perhaps it's the relatively slow pace of the game, or maybe the pitcher is in a groove, and three outfielders find themselves a bit bored by the third inning. In any event, that's working in ESPN's favor this season: the broadcaster is wiring athletes for sound at a new level.

Sometimes, fans get a sharp analysis of a moment in the game, punctuated by the player's going zero to 60 to make a play he'd just been speculating about. On April 7, for example, Boston's Kik Hernandez was ruminating on two Bronx Bombers in scoring position just before he bolted to catch up with the line drive that would send them home at Yankees Stadium. Or, a week later, Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies chatted amiably with the announcers in San Diego about well, microphones on baseball players.

"Well depending on how hard it s hit. If it s hit hard he s probably not gonna go home. Here it is!"

This mic d up moment with Kik Hernandez was awesome pic.twitter.com/M1osm0BDgD

ESPN (@espn) April 11, 2022

From Novelty to Normal What had been a novelty is rapidly becoming routine content. It has also become a category of its own for broadcast-sports audio. It has had that status with the NFL for years and, more recently, with the NBA. But baseball's leisurely pace makes it particularly well-suited for conversations during games.

We especially appreciate that MLB has let us have the latitude in order to use this and get the most out of it, says Kevin Cleary, remote operations specialist, ESPN. He notes that, ever since Reds first baseman Joey Votto first donned a Q5X PlayerMic transmitter and Countryman B6 microphone element, along with an earpiece for foldback, for Cincinnati's April 7 season opener in Atlanta, baseball players haven't stopped talking on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball. The ballplayers have really picked up on this and are enjoying it. Some of them seem like they're auditioning for their next careers as broadcasters.

At its core, it's about storytelling, something that baseball is both good at and needs, says Cleary: There is some secrecy to field strategy in baseball, but there's not a ton of strategy to playing first base. What this does is let the ballplayers tell us about the nuance of what they're doing, engaging not just the TV crew but the viewers, too.

He credits ESPN SNB analyst Eduardo Perez for getting athletes - many of whom can be skittish about wearing a wire on television - on board for the process.

But that's just the start of it, Cleary points out. The new audio needs its own ambient context, layering the sound around it in the mix as the crowd sound ebbs and flows during the game, keeping it part of what he calls a symphony of sound rather than an isolated moment in a game. That includes using EQ to keep speech separate from the other effects elements, such as bat cracks, and to make the wired ballplayer sound like, as he puts it, a fourth member of the announce team.

It's how to keep all the other microphones that are scattered around ballparks, such as in-ground mics around the mound and home plate, on their side of the effects line. That's especially important since there is no submixer on the REMI production, which is directed and produced at ESPN's Bristol, CT, facility, where EVS replay and graphics operations also are located. The audio, however, is mixed onsite by A1s Brian Shannon and Brian Deardorf.

Unlike the NFL, which controls access to on-field audio, MLB has granted ESPN control over the player microphones, and the broadcaster works with the league and teams in determining which players don the audio gear and when. A minimal profanity delay is applied.

Sound on the Field Putting microphones on athletes has become one of broadcast sports' favorite pastimes, though one fraught with technical and legal complications. The contemporary version dates to 2010, the year the NFL moved its umpires to the offensive backfield. The change was made for the safety of the officials, who had lined up on the defensive side of the ball, in the middle of the field and 4 or 5 yards from the line of scrimmage, putting them at greatest risk of getting hurt in collisions over the middle.

However, the move also eliminated the microphone worn by the umpire, which was discovered to be a key source of on-field audio for televised games. And it led to a decade-plus of wiring players to pick up key spoken-word sound (notably, the quarterback's pre-snap cadence) and the close-up crunch of helmet and shoulder-pad contact in scrimmages. The act of improving officials' safety had created a new dimension in sports audio.

The NFL (whose media arm NFL Films had been wiring players for sound since 1967) kicked off an audio phenomenon that has spread throughout pro sports, notably with up to two NBA and NHL players per side now miked for each game. The process is also part of collective-bargaining agreements between player organizations and leagues, which spell out who, how many, and when microphones are worn and by whom they're controlled.

Baseball has been the latest to embrace what has come to be known as Mic'd Up, or, as ESPN more prosaically refers to it, live in-game player interviews. It started with 2018 Spring Training in Arizona, when ESPN miked Boston's Mookie Betts, who, during an in-game interview, saw a ball hit over his head and told fans, I ain't getting this one, boys. Previously, the promise of miking players in the field had been on display during the 2017 All-Star Game, when Nationals&#
LINK: https://www.sportsvideo.org/2022/05/20/mlb-espn-take-player-miking-to-...
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