By JOE REEDY, AP Sports Writer
Major League Baseball has taken its fair share of criticism for changes trying to get younger fans interested in the game, but there has been one this season that has generated rave reviews.
MLB has expanded letting players being mic’d up and interviewed during games after doing it on a limited basis from 2017-20. It has become a weekly occurrence on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” and has produced some fun moments.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised that it has gathered and maintained momentum, because it’s not the first time we’ve asked for and had collaboration,” ESPN vice president of production Phil Orlins said. “So to see it get rolling this year, along with a tangible enthusiasm from players to be a part of it has been a pleasant breakthrough.”
Fox first did the in-game interviews with players during the 2017 All-Star Game in Miami. ESPN followed in 2018-19 in spring training before having it in a limited capacity during the shortened 2020 regular season.
It was put on hold last year due to frayed relations with the MLB Players Association. But now that there is labor peace again, mic’d up is back with ESPN seeing most of the benefits so far.
ESPN analyst David Cone said having players mic’d up also gives them a chance to display their personalities and increase the marketing of the game.
“Their personalities need to be shown more like other sports, and this is the best opportunity,” he said. “It’s great that the opportunity is there and it has been embraced. Every one of the players has presented a side of their personality that otherwise wouldn’t have been seen.”
Players have also shown that they can continue to play at a high level with the earpiece and mic on. The only comparison to what MLB and ESPN are doing is having NASCAR drivers interviewed during races, but that is occurring during caution periods and not when they are going wheel to wheel for the lead.
“We don’t know what that player is going to say or what the outcome is. We’ve had situations where Francisco Lindor gets a groundball, and he was scared to death that he was going to boot it while Max Scherzer was on the mound, and he’s mic’d up with us. And then the relief of the human side of it because he was happy he made the play,” ESPN analyst Eduardo Perez said.
Besides Lindor discussing the intensity of New York Mets teammate Scherzer on the mound, Cincinnati’s Joey Votto did some impromptu play-by-play from first base during the opening night game against Atlanta.
Boston outfielder Kiké Hernandez discussed whether he was going to throw home or to second base if he had a ball hit to him. When the Yankees’ Anthony Rizzo had a base hit to center, fans could hear Hernandez coming up on the ball and then making a full-bodied throw home.
Lindor, who was mic’d up during a game against the Philadelphia Phillies on May 1, said there wasn’t much of an adjustment compared to what he normally does during a game.
“I do talking during the games anyway so it’s not something different,” he said. “The fans get to hear a little bit of interaction and how I am processing the game and that’s always fun for the fans.”
Three-time AL MVP Mike Trout is slated to be this week’s mic’d up player when the Los Angeles Angels host the Mets.
The only positions that haven’t done it yet are pitcher and catcher. ESPN announcer Karl Ravech also noted that it might also been interesting to have an umpire do it one week.
“I think the unknown of any individual is what makes this whole thing great,” he said. “We believe we know certain personalities and they’re going to be great. We believe we know certain personalities who probably aren’t conducive to it or turn out to be unbelievable at this kind of byplay.
“We learned a lot about Bryce Harper when was a DH. He gave us so much insight from a star player that you wouldn’t otherwise get. And yet Harper, for the most part is probably probably considered kind of a quiet guy. We got so much out of him because we’re talking about baseball, you know, his comfort zone.”
Mic’d up is likely to expand to other broadcasts as well. MLB chief revenue officer Noah Garden said Fox will do it during next month’s All-Star Game in Los Angeles while the opportunities are there as well for Peacock’s Sunday afternoon games and Apple TV+’s coverage on Friday nights.
“We’ve always been working with our media partners to innovate our broadcasts and I think it is important for us to continue that. These have gone well and you continue to push forward,” he said.
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