I love baseball.
We have had a very rough relationship over the years - thanks to the 1994 strike. Once I began producing sports, and my son began playing, I rekindled our relationship and it burns bright! I tell you this so if the final product has some elements that don’t make sense, I will blame it on editing for length because I know I will go long!
Baseball has a bad stigma for being slow and uninteresting but I disagree. I think the ebb and flow of action in the game allows broadcasters to immerse the viewers in the game unlike any other sport. There are a million stats you can show, no other sport has the time to show the “sidelines” and the antics in the dugout, and of course the sleeping fan!
Baseball is also the easiest the replicate the professional expectations at the high school level. While a major league production uses between 8 and 15 cameras for most broadcasts, a 3 camera set up works work for high school. The problem with shooting baseball is the distance you must cover with cables in order to get the “pro look.” I offer the following suggestions to minimize the amount of cable we need to cover the game yet give the viewer the angles they expect to see.
Our main camera is the high home position. I try to get this camera a high as I can in order to get as much of the action as possible. This replaces the high centerfield position that you expect to see from the big leagues. While you can see the whole field, the center of the camera is dominated by the pitcher, batter, and umpire. This is allows us to carry the action at the plate as well as gives a good angle to see the play develop in the field. We use a small POV camera for this position. A GoPro or in our case the Marshall cameras work great. A couple of cables up the fence and you are good to go.
I prefer to have my second camera at first base because of the progression of the game. Obviously the main camera covers the plate and mound and the next step in the progression of the game is for the batter to go to first. Having a camera on top of the action there makes the game more watchable. Too often, I have tried to shoot across the diamond from 3rd to show a play at 1st and had the pitcher or umpire get into my shot blocking the action. I am not at all saying the camera should lock in on the bag and stay. I am just saying that if the ball is put in play, camera 2 is my go to because the operator should be at the bag before the runner gets there. If there is a right hand batter, the 1st base camera has to be on the batter. This allows us “inside” their swing. It allows the viewer to see the ball go through the hitting zone as well as the bat and ball meet if there is a hit (this is great for replays if you have the opportunity).
The final camera I plan on is the 3rd base camera. Obviously, we use this camera for plays at 3rd. Again, we don’t lock this camera down. This camera allows us inside the swing of a left handed batter. We can also shoot down the line from 2nd to 3rd and get the dance between the middle infield and a runner on 2nd. The relationship between a runner at 3rd and the defensive players is great to watch as well.
The key to directing baseball broadcasts is to know the game and know the potential plays. I have seen directors use a “playbook” in order to prepare the camera ops for what they are going to be expected to do. I think this is a great idea as long as the director is not 100% married to the plan. I have always operated with the philosophy that “you can’t call and audible until you call a play.” This is especially true with live sports. While it does make sense that the 1st base camera shoots to the plate with a right hand batter and third base or high home pick up the runner at first, sometimes that is just not possible. So while I think you should have a plan, I think it is more important to communicate and make changes as needed.
Baseball is one of the most difficult games to do play by play and color for. While there is a lot of action and I love baseball, from a TV perspective, it is a slow game. The role of the color analyst is tremendous for baseball. The play by play talent should focus on reinforcing the images the viewers see but the analyst needs to give deeper content than in any other sport. With the increase of the number and use of stats in baseball, the analyst has to not only give the statistical information but sometimes educate the viewer what WHIP means or how slugging percentage is calculated.
Both the play by play and analyst should know how to and keep a running scorebook for the game. This in my opinion is non-negotiable. Both must know who, what, when, and what is going on at all times and the only real way to do that is to keep a scorebook. If you don’t know how to keep a baseball scorebook, these videos are the best tutorials I have found (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XtmtVHXQpD0 - Part 1 / https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ymuj9580qBQ - Part 2)
Above right are some guides for different scenarios for directing a baseball broadcast. This will not cover every scenario but it will certainly help you to prepare so you can call an audible if needed during a show. Click Here to download the full-size image.