Inside the game with Ballpark Cam (cont.)
Players take notice of the camera during the game, too. Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Ryan Madson said in a 2009 post-game interview that he was "excited to use this camera, finally." Caiafa said that players can't help but notice it when the camera is focused on their dugout. "At first glance, they see it and they think "Is this thing on?"
John Entz, who as senior vice president of Production oversees all original programming at MLBN, said that players watched Batting Practice Live last season from their clubhouse, realized Ballpark Cam was showing a live feed of their dugout and then set a plan to show off their customized handshakes with teammates in front of the camera during the game.
Caiafa remembered a time last June when a heavy rainstorm hit Philadelphia and drenched Citizens Bank Park in the afternoon before that night's game. Even though the field displayed no evidence of a recent downpour on Batting Practice Live, Ballpark Cam showed the strength of the rainstorm from earlier in the day.
The cameras are usually running by early afternoon in each ballpark. Local technicians employed by MLB stay at their respective ballparks all season (There are usually two or three technicians for each park). Their responsibilities include performing camera maintenance, although they don't operate them. That's controlled by a small staff at MLBN's studios in Secaucus, N.J.
Operators there pan and zoom the cameras and switch from ballpark to ballpark with the click of a mouse. Every day, several hours before games begin, operators will use the cameras to scout potential storylines. Whether it's a hitter who's working out the kinks in his swing or a star returning from injury, it's one operator's job to seek out who's practicing and what shots need to be "banked" for use later on MLB Tonight and other shows. It's another operator's job to ensure those sessions are recorded.
As this information is being logged, the operators keep their eyes open for other shots they feel could be used. It can be as simple as video of St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols working with catcher Yadier Molina on his swing, a random occurrence camera operator Amelia Schimmel noticed and logged one day last season. Another time, Schimmel captured Detroit Tigers catcher Victor Martinez, then on the Boston Red Sox, throwing batting practice to his son.
It's those kinds of shots that weren't seen before Ballpark Cam. "The ancillary benefits have been much more than I think anybody anticipated," Entz said.
Each high-resolution, high-definition camera is protected from the elements with its own weather shell. Of course, it's not the protection from rain and snow that makes them unique. It's their technology.
Panasonic AK-HC1500C box cameras, which can pan 320 degrees with zoom capability, are used in centerfield. A common complaint from baseball fans is that game cameras aren't lined up with home plate. The centerfield camera in this case doesn't need to be streamlined with the plate; there's no strike zone coverage associated with the camera. What's prioritized is that the Panasonic cameras have a clear shot to pan across the field and zoom into home plate.
"They give us a nice, cleaner picture for as long a lens as we have to put on there to be able to go from centerfield to home plate," said Mark Henry, MLBN's Director of IT.
A Canon BU-45H camera system is implemented behind home plate or in the home team dugout, depending on each park's logistics. Henry said MLBN will define where the camera should go, but they work with teams if home plate or dugout space is taken up by other equipment.
The Canon's features include 20x zoom capability, 340-degree panning and a Telemetrics Televator robotic system that can adjust the camera's height from 4 to 12 feet. "It gives us the price/performance combination that we needed," Henry said.
The technology used to make the Ballpark Cam system a possibility was already in existence before the MLBN introduced the cameras. Yet Henry said that he and the rest of the MLBN IT crew had to adapt it to ensure the network could operate from all MLB ballparks.
The first cameras were at the Padres' PETCO Park. MLBN installed Ballpark Cam in five additional parks before the 2009 season, six more during that season and another ten in 2010, including at Yankee Stadium, Dodger Stadium and AT&T Park in San Francisco. They continued running installations through nearly every remaining ballpark, with Baltimore's Oriole Park at Camden Yards serving as the 29th ballpark to receive the camera system. Sun Life Stadium in Miami is the lone ballpark without the cameras; MLBN will wait until the Marlins move into their new ballpark in 2012 before installing the system.
The Rundown and MLB Tonight, which begins at 6 p.m. EST, an hour before the first night's games commence, will serve as the primary venues on which to use Ballpark Cam as a game preview tool. (The 5-6 p.m. EST slot between Rundown and Tonight is filled by Intentional Talk, a live talk show that's hosted by Chris Rose and Kevin Millar.)
Whatever way MLBN incorporates Ballpark Cam to preview games is welcomed by teams. "To have MLB Network around ... they are an advocate [of us] that helps us a lot," Miller said.
Shaun Rachau, the vice president of communications for the Arizona Diamondbacks, recalled a time last season when starting pitcher Brandon Webb, now with the Texas Rangers, would toss simulated games as part of his rehabilitation for a right shoulder injury. "I think it's great that our fans could see that," Rachau said. "We're a middle-market team. We always need to fight to get some national exposure."
One team who gets national exposure -- the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim -- might have felt they had too much of it one day last July 28. Starting pitcher Joel Pineiro was warming up in the team's bullpen for that day's game against the Red Sox when he suffered a left oblique strain. The centerfield camera at Angel Stadium caught the injury and Pineiro's subsequent on-field meeting with trainers. Teams are typically sensitive about revealing a player's injury to the media, but the Angels had no choice but to leave with Pineiro's situation appearing on Ballpark Cam.
Miller said the Padres haven't had concerns about a player getting hurt with Ballpark Cam rolling, emphasizing there are plenty other media members from other outlets to report whatever Ballpark Cam captures. Vaughn said it warrants teams to remind players not to put themselves in an embarrassing situation, given that the cameras are live.
"We have to learn more about what the player rituals are, and what they are doing," Entz said. "You never know if at 3:30 during the day Victor Martinez is going to be playing catch with his son."
Ballpark Cam may even make its way to Spring Training sites. Entz conceded it might not be practical monetarily, but that having cameras at the ballparks in Florida and Arizona would "open a huge amount of possibilities." For MLBN, the Ballpark Cam system serves as a conduit for baseball fans to gain more exposure to players and game information than they would have thought possible a few years ago.
"It's a place to take viewers," he said, "that we -- or anybody -- have never been able to take them before."
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