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Live From MLB at Rickwood Field: League Renovation Highlights the Historic Venue's Heyday

20/06/2024

Live From MLB at Rickwood Field: League Renovation Highlights the Historic Venue's Heyday League production partner Van Wagner taps local staffers for game-day show By Kristian Hern ndez, Senior Editor

Thursday, June 20, 2024 - 12:58 pm

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Over the past two seasons, Major League Baseball built and played on a Field of Dreams in Dyersville, IA. Tonight, the league plays on a real-life field of dreams: Birmingham, AL's Rickwood Field, where numerous baseball greats once graced the diamond. The league, aided by production partner Van Wagner, turns back the clock in a newly renovated ballpark to present what it was like to watch a game during its peak in popularity.

MLB's Robert Field leads the league's Global Events' efforts at Rickwood Field.

We tried to keep all the elements that Rickwood Field has for our fans to enjoy, says Robert Field, senior manager, global events, Major League Baseball. We didn't want to change the history of this stadium.

Two Years in the Making: Regular-Season Game Honors the Negro Leagues A project of this size and scope required immense preparation and planning. Building on the momentum of the second MLB at Field of Dreams, in August 2022, and to fill a void in the calendar when extensive construction at the Dyersville site prevented a tentpole event from being played the last year, MLB leaned into the idea of hosting a regular-season game that paid homage to the Negro Leagues. As part of an effort Initiated by Gerald Watkins, chairman/executive director, Friends of Rickwood Field, the nonprofit organization that manages and preserves the historic venue, MLB VP, Events and Game Presentation, Brian O'Gara, Field, and their team traveled to Alabama in October 2022 to check out the site. Because the oldest ballpark in the U.S. is still intact despite nearing its 114th anniversary, the league teamed up with the city to give it a refresh and bring it up to the league's current standards.

Van Wagner has employed local staffers to operate this manual scoreboard in left centerfield.

[Birmingham's] job was to renovate the playing field [with the assistance of BrightView], and we would handle the rest, says Field. To keep its authenticity, we wanted to keep a lot of its original infrastructure, like seating, roofing, and lighting.

Even so, the project included a handful of add-ons to update the venue's overall look and follow player-safety guidelines. Musco Lighting, which handled the lighting for MLB at Field of Dreams, was recruited to install towers behind the manual scoreboard, the stands behind the third baseline, and other locations. Since pace-of-play rules weren't around in the 20th century, pitch clocks needed to be installed near the third-base dugout, along with an elevated position behind the home-plate section of seating. Behind the right-field wall, an LED videoboard with a 16:9 aspect ratio was erected to display the live statistics and video content that today's baseball fan is accustomed to seeing.

MORE FROM MLB AT RICKWOOD FIELD:

FOX Sports Celebrates Black Baseball With Special Broadcast in Birmingham

FOX Sports' Francisco Contreras and Tom Lynch Dive Into the Operations Plan

FOX Sports' Negro Leagues Tribute Game Aims To Take Sound Way Back

MLB Network Eulogizes Willie Mays in Real Time During Tuesday's MiLB Broadcast

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum Connects Rich History to Tribute in Birmingham

Aesthetically, and one of the most collaborative components from an event-presentation perspective, the league and its sponsors had to come up with a plan for implementing engaging ads. The original fence, a wood-turned-concrete structure that had a centerfield distance of an insane 478 ft., was covered with messages and billboards featuring several bygone companies. During the renovation, a new fence was installed with a considerably shorter distance, and the wall is now adorned with creative ads evoking an older era of baseball. Also, intricate details make the padded wall look like wood, including scuff marks, chips, and hammered-in nails.

Van Wagner's Bob Becker heads the team working the MLB's Negro Leagues tribute in-venue production.

From a production perspective, a stadium built in 1910 doesn't have the necessary connectivity or the space to accommodate modern-day technologies. Typically producing high-profile events in state-of-the-art control rooms in sports behemoths like SoFi Stadium, Van Wagner had to adapt its plan to a much smaller, antiquated environment. With space at a premium, the bulk of the staff is stationed inside Game Creek Video Apollo mobile unit. The crew is led by Van Wagner President, Productions, Bob Becker; Lead Producer Shannon Landers; and Director, Technology, Jeremey Havens.

Whether it's laying down fiber or sharing resources, we had to work closely with FOX Sports and MLB Network from the beginning, says Becker. With the help of Game Creek Video, we brought in our normal allotment of Ross Video equipment because, no matter the location, we still need those pieces to be successful. Normally, we use 13 XPression [graphics] systems for a single board, but, at Rickwood Field, we have our normal two-channel XPression system: one driving GIP [game in progress] and the other driving all our insert graphics.

Major League Baseball and its sponsors created wood-like billboards on the outfield wall.

Logistically, to handle this production at a time when the company is also executing shows for the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City; Men's College World Series in Omaha, NE; and more, a majority of Van Wagner's onsite team comprises local staffers from Down in Front Productions. The Birmingham-based live-events company has experience with the University of Alabama
LINK: https://www.sportsvideo.org/2024/06/20/live-from-mlb-at-rickwood-field...
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