Inside the game with Ballpark Cam
Ballpark Cams are in 29 of 30 stadiums, giving fans closeup on action
Special cameras are installed in centerfield and by the home team dugout
Cameras are on during batting, field practice, giving fans intimate moments
When MLB Network debuted on Jan. 1, 2009, it promised to bring access to baseball fans like never before. Perhaps nowhere is that pledge more apparent than with the Ballpark Cam.
Twenty-nine of MLB's 30 ballparks are equipped with Ballpark Cam, which is installed in two areas, one just beyond the centerfield fence and another that's either behind home plate or in the home team dugout. The camera's purpose: To deliver footage fans can't usually see.
These days fans can use their TV and computer to evaluate virtually every phase of the game. They can dissect the intricacies of each player's batting stance in HD. They can use Pitch f/x data to review the speed, trajectory and movement of each pitch thrown in a game. Yet until Ballpark Cam arrived, fans at home hadn't been able to watch players go through batting and fielding practice.
Small and mid-market teams were left with few other options than to pitch their game highlights to producers of ESPN's Baseball Tonight. Now, teams have MLB Network as a post-game interview option for players who've had notable performances.
"Postgame or pregame, it's easy to get a player on [MLB Network], including on the road," said Warren Miller, director of communications for the San Diego Padres. "It's a struggle for us to get on Baseball Tonight, even when we're playing well."
One inroad for the Padres and other teams on MLBN last year was Batting Practice Live, a 30-minute show which aired from 5:30-6 p.m. EST on days when only night games were scheduled. The show was canceled during the offseason in favor of two new shows airing from 3-6 p.m. EST.
BP Live would feature MLBN analysts previewing that night's games by running through scheduled lineups as the centerfield camera displayed a live shot of the ballpark hosting that particular game. Analysts would also conduct interviews with players. MLBN said the 30-minute program was a test to gauge its production value and viewer interest.
The network's two new programs won't directly fill BP Live's void, although MLBN claims Ballpark Cam will be utilized on The Rundown, the earlier of the two new shows. The Rundown, positioned in the 3-5 p.m. EST time slot, provides a review of games played the previous day and a preview of that night's contests. Ballpark Cam is incorporated for interviews and analysis, the latter of which have proved invaluable to MLBN's analysts.
Harold Reynolds, who played 12 years in the Majors as a second baseman for the Seattle Mariners, Baltimore Orioles and the California Angels, saw the potential for the cameras to show a side of the game TV viewers couldn't previously capture. "I thought it was great," Reynolds said. "Every baseball player has had extra work. The main stuff gets done before the gates are open."
Analysts can take information they get from watching the players warm up on Ballpark Cam and incorporate it into their analysis on various shows, including the nightly MLB Tonight Live, which provides live look-ins at games around the league and reviews ones already completed. And watching players practice on Ballpark Cam can unveil a few surprises, even for a baseball veteran such as Reynolds.
"I'm surprised at some of the extra work guys do," he said. "It wasn't as specific [when I played] -- straight-on flip drills and working on pivots [for throwing to a base]," Reynolds said of two common fielding drills he sees. "They get a little more specific today than 15 years ago."
Even hitting drills can catch him by surprise. There was the time early last season when Houston Astros outfielder Hunter Pence was taking batting practice while then-hitting coach Sean Berry slapped his right arm with a stick before each pitch. Berry did it so that Pence knew precisely when to swing.
"I'd never seen anything like that," Reynolds said.
The centerfield camera's ability to capture batting and fielding practice, while instrumental, represents only part of Ballpark Cam's value. The dugout/home plate camera provides access to pre- and post-game interviews with players, coaches, broadcasters and team beat writers. It's the post-game access that highlights the importance of having a camera ready to go for a quick reaction from a game.
"You never know when a guy is going to pitch a no-hitter, perfect game or hit for the cycle," said Marc Caiafa, a coordinating producer for various MLBN shows, including Batting Practice Live. "We have the ability to get a guy on camera every time."
Matt Garza provided one of those moments last season. The Chicago Cubs righthander, then a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, tossed a no-hitter July 26 against the Detroit Tigers at Tampa's Tropicana Field. Rick Vaughn, the Rays' vice president of communications, said that in the past a pitcher would have to wait until well after a game's conclusion to discuss his no-hitter. With Ballpark Cam the interview could be done immediately. "We were able to get him on minutes after throwing the no-hitter," Vaughn said. "It was amazing how many people go to share that immediate post-game [interview] on the network."
SI Now Live Friday December 6, 2013
SI Now: "Lenny Cooke" documentary details a fallen prospect