Just like in the past few years, ESPN rolled out “All Access” pre-season games in 2020. This rapidly growing trend pairs TV announcers in the booth with mic’d up big leaguers for a question and answer session or storytelling time. ESPN’s all-access success is undisputed this year as the likes of Freddie Freeman, Kris Bryant, Pete Alonso and Anthony Rizzo took to the mic.
The talk of the offseason has been the Astros’ cheating scandal. Anthony Rizzo didn’t let fans forget during his mic’d up experience against the Angels this spring. The broadcaster asked him what pitch he was expecting to see. His reply almost broke the internet! Rizzo replied with, “I have no idea. I wish I knew… Someone bang for me.” And as if fate was on his side, he smacked a hard single to right, almost like he knew what was coming.
One of the best conversations happened during the Braves-Red Sox game. In one of the first games broadcast by Chipper Jones, good friend of Freeman, the stories flowed. Chipper and Freddie cut up during the entire at-bat giving the average fan a look at the human side of these superstars. The interaction was priceless! To cap it all off, Freeman went from first to score talking to the booth the entire time. He ended the run by pointing at the booth, impressing even the veteran analyst Buster Olney. Freeman is a staple in the Braves’ clubhouse and a national name in baseball. Hearing his stories and exchanges with players can bring a smile. It is obvious he loves what he does and wants to bring a smile to his fellow players as well.
Like his counterpart Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant wore a mic versus the Angels on March 3. Boy did he not disappoint. From talking to himself awaiting a pitch to returning to the batter’s box after a long foul, the laughs just kept coming. Bryant joked with announcers about being tired after a foul ball as well as stating he didn’t know how he laid off a nice slider away. The at-bat ended with a pop-up on the infield but not without more commentary about running from Bryant. This one at-bat helped Cubs fans learn about their player and get into the mind of a major league hitter. Hearing a player joke and talk about an at-bat in real time is exactly what baseball fans want more of.
The Mets might have disappointed with their record last year but the players mic’d up during this spring did not. Jeff McNeil alongside Pete Alonso and Dominic Smith provided a game’s worth of entertainment within the game. From the explaining of nicknames to heckling, these Mets were having fun sharing their time and voices. Smith just missed a home run to right field during his mic’d up at-bat and the cheers from his bench were louder than the stands. Fans of baseball yearn for this type of interaction into their favorite players.
We Need More
ESPN’s All Access was a success. As usual, the fans love hearing stories and reactions from players doing what they do. Unfortunately, as of right now, spring training is all fans will get on this issue. Most managers and many players are against any other mic’d up games during the regular season. The belief is that the focus of the player should be on the game and not else where. One manager described it as a major distraction.
Baseball needs more. Fans want more. Baseball, by nature is a slow game. The MLB understands this. Just look at the new rules released this year to speed up the game. Fast-paced society demands constant action. Should an active infielder should be talking to the booth during a game, probably not. However, how many relief pitchers sit for seven-plus innings doing nothing in the bullpen. How many starting pitchers are sitting on the bench any given day when it isn’t their turn. Personality and relationship building between the fans and players will strengthen the game and draw in the new generation of MLB fans. ESPN’s All Access success was great, now it is time kick it up a gear.