A backstage look at the booth and the TV truck. The game behind the game.
Working in the baseball industry requires time, patience, a love for the game…and an ability to work in very close quarters with your colleagues without worrying too much about the little things, like personal space and, sometimes, your own sanity.
Whether we’re riding buses, flying on planes, hanging out in the clubhouse, watching batting practice or working in the press box and broadcast booths, there seems to be one standard that remains unchanged. Ten times out of 10, you’re going to be sitting very closely to at least one person, and probably more, and you’d better like each other (or at the very least, pretend to).
That brings us to the TV truck — an 8-by-20 metal box that holds between six to 10 people, dozens of computer screens and carries with it the responsibility of bringing the fans the television broadcast every night. The room is dark. It’s cold. And there’s a flurry of activity among the FS Houston crew — Wave Robinson, the producer, Paul Byckowski, the director, Mike Uggucioni, associate producer in charge of graphics and Jerry Blancas, associate producer in charge of replays and reteases, along with a few local contractors who help with the operation.
The work begins five or six hours before game time — the crew arrives to the ballpark early afternoon for a night game — but the bulk of the process starts about 45 minutes ahead of first pitch. Jim Deshaies and Bill Brown do two stand-ups — a live shot where they banter back and forth with the studio host in Houston (more often that not, FS Houston’s Kevin Eschenfelder), and they also tape the “open” — the approximately two-minute introduction you see with the two broadcasters just before first pitch.
Preparation is simple: get miked up, run a comb through the hair (obviously, Brownie only), check the teeth for leftovers from dinner (J.D.), say “check check check” into the mikes (both), and off they go. Meanwhile, in the truck, the production crew is watching nearly a dozen monitors that show not only Brownie and J.D., but shots of the crowd, the dugout, the field, the anthem singer, the peppy people throwing t-shirts into the stands, the mascot scaring the kids…if it’s happening inside the ballpark, the cameras are watching, as are the folks in the truck looking for the next interesting angle to bring to the viewing audience.
Brownie and J.D. are great on camera, of course, but they’re highly entertaining off as well. When the mikes aren’t live, their between-inning conversations often filter into the truck. Before Friday’s game, for example, Brownie announced to no one, “I’d like the fans to know Hunter Pence will be hitting three home runs in this game.” Follow up from J.D.: “Oh my goodness. Lindsay Lohan was just sentenced to jail time!”
On this particular night in Milwaukee, the weather was dreadful — cold and windy accompanied by a torrential downpour for the majority of the game. To be truthful, I was a little nervous to be sitting inside of what equates to a metal box during a thunderstorm, and there were a couple of dicey moments where I wondered if we were about to go airborne, spin around a few hundred times and drop in the middle of Munchkin Land.
But the company I was keeping seemed pretty unfazed by the weather conditions, so I relaxed. There are a few advantages to watching a game from the TV truck: there’s never a dull moment, and therefore, the games — even this four-hour, 14-7 debacle — moved quicker than it does when watching from upstairs. Also, if there’s a controversial play, we can watch five different replays, from 10 different angles. And if the visiting truck doesn’t know what’s going on, it can tap into the home crew and steal some of that footage.
Another treat: commenting, out loud, on the good, the bad and the ridiculous is wholly acceptable. The press box is strictly a no-cheering zone, a professional working environment where outside distractions — i.e. loud opinions — are unwelcome. In the truck, you can let it fly, whether it’s a yelp after a nice play or an “Oh for crying out loud” after something happens that you might not agree with (like manager and pitching coach ejections).
The television broadcast appears, from the outside, to be a flawless operation. I would imagine doing this more than 150 times a year brings a rhythm and flow to the workday, with every person saddled with one job that has tentacles spreading in dozens of directions.
Robinson and Byckowski sit up front and monitor everything, from the replays to the promos to the flow of the broadcast. Uguccioni has at his fingertips every statistical bit of information available to man, and he instantaneously builds graphics to go with poignant moments in the game. He also gives the countdown when they’re coming out of a commercial break.
Blancas is responsible for the replays, and his eagle eye identifies and captures the most interesting moments in the game that eventually becomes the “Final Take” you see at the end of the game. He has nine or 10 cameras to choose from and his quick hands freezes the moments, stores them in a database and spits them out into one cool video to run when the final out is made.
Our night in the booth, in pictures…