Transcript: ESPN Major League Baseball Production-Focused Media Conference Call

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Transcript: ESPN Major League Baseball Production-Focused Media Conference Call

ESPN hosted a production-focused media conference call on Thursday, March 14, with Phil Orlins [Vice President, Production] and Andy Jacobson [Producer] to discuss the start of ESPN’s 35th season of Major League Baseball broadcasting.

ESPN will exclusively televise 2024 MLB Opening Night – the defending World Series Champion Texas Rangers host the Chicago Cubs – on Thursday, March 28, at 7 p.m. ET. Prior to that game, on Wednesday, March 20, and Thursday, March 21, ESPN will televise the inaugural Seoul Series as the Los Angeles Dodgers take on the San Diego Padres in the first MLB games to be played in Korea.

Additionally, ESPN+ will carry MLB Spring Breakout games from March 14-17 and air Spring Breakout Squeeze Play on Friday, March 15. For more information, visit ESPN Press Room. The transcript from today’s call is below.

PHIL ORLINS: Thank you, Ben. Hello, everybody. Like Ben said, thank you for joining. Thank you for your interest. Hopefully I’ll defer a lot of the Q&A to Andy as it specifically relates to Sunday Night Baseball and even the Seoul period coming up. Andy really is our true lead on the game coverage and the day-to-day linked with all our talent and all of that.

To give you a little bit of an overview on where we are, Sunday Night Baseball, obviously the flagship, as Ben said. We’re very, very excited to be in our third year with the Sunday Night Baseball team of Karl Ravech, Eduardo Perez, David Cone, and Buster Olney.

No secret, we had a period of some inconsistency and fluctuation in our talent team in years, so really between the Jon and Joe era that I was a part of for a long time — Jon Miller, Joe Morgan era. I remind our talent not to be too casual with their references to names and so forth, so I’ll try to do better at that myself as I speak.

It’s good to be back with a consistent and recognizable team. It’s always nice to have change and new things in some ways, but it’s also probably more valuable to know where we’re going and what we’re doing.

I’ll give you just a couple of words on key people in that team. Cone, David Cone, the analyst, one of the two analysts, I find him to be — have really everything — the credibility that goes with five World Series titles, 190-plus Major League wins, but also a modern thinker, incredible curiosity about the game, about the modern game. Loves the modern game. Not stuck in the past in any way, shape, or form. Really loves the game and the future of the game.

I also find his delivery to be concise and extremely credible. It reminds me — maybe an odd comparison, but reminds me a little bit of Joe Morgan in the sense he doesn’t waste a lot of words on the air at all. Great part of a three-man booth.

Eduardo Perez to me, he may not be the Hall of Famer that his father was, but I don’t think there’s a baseball lifer who has a more complete baseball experience than Eduardo brings to the table from 11 years in the Major Leagues to college baseball to playing in Japan to managing, general managing international teams in the winter. He is the true multicultural representation of the sport of baseball.

I don’t think anybody out there sort of connects with the entire sport in every way and especially the multicultural, multinational aspect of the game. He’s a real true liaison, connection, both language-wise and personality-wise. He’s a really great diverse talent in the game. I don’t think anybody — we talk about diversity, but he is the true representation of it, not just from an ethnic background, but from a multicultural, multilingual perspective.

Karl, Karl is the great leader in the booth. He’s conversational in his delivery, which I think is what we want and need. I would say one of the best assets of Karl is he is unafraid for the show not to be exactly like every other show and open and willing and embraces taking risks. That’s really the key to that is it allows us to do things that I think differentiate and make the show the best it can be.

Characteristics of the broadcast, there’s been a lot of talk with good reason about the access to players, and a huge thank you to Major League Baseball and the Players Association for making that happen. I think it’s been one of the great enhancements in broadcasting over the last several years. It’s gotten better. It’s gotten easier. Guys are cooperative. Partly because of Eduardo, guys who speak foreign languages first or are uncomfortable with English are comfortable going on and being translated and so forth.

A guy like Rafael Devers, who doesn’t do many interviews at all, especially in English, he’s happy to go on and catch a pop fly and talk about his favorite flavor of ice cream in a mix of Spanish and English. It really opens up access to the stars of the game.

As much as the mics have been the signature element, to me the signature of Sunday Night Baseball is it embraces the special entertaining nature of the game. The player mics are probably the most recognizable part of that, but the things that Andy does that surprise the audience. You know, Lars Nootbaar coming up to the booth to do an interview before the game and being surprised by his mother on Mother’s Day being brought in live with him not knowing that. There’s just a degree of unpredictability and surprise and embracing of entertainment.

Buster Olney going out to interview the fan in Houston and reached over the barrier and should have been ejected, but was embraced instead by his fans around him and the Astros organization. He was there with his young son. Those kind of like, to me, risk taking, some degree of risk taking, willingness to embrace unusual, unpredictable entertainment is really what defines this show. We embrace surprise. We embrace the unpredictable.

Lastly, I would say that we always want to be a little bit more aggressive. I’m not saying we want to be completely off the rails from what people traditionally expect from a broadcast, but if you want to put us on a bell curve, we want to be on the progressive end of that.

So I’m sure Andy will get into it at one point, but one of the things we’ll be doing this year for the first time, we will add win probability to our mini board. It will be up there 100 percent of the time or 98 percent of the time during the telecast. I think it just speaks to the way people think about sports right now, the consciousness. It’s on every website.

People who obviously have a wager on the game maybe have a little more thought about it as well. I just, after a lot of debate, think it’s — we want to embrace the differentiation there. I think it will — you know, it will cause some reaction. It will not probably at the outset be mostly positive reaction, but I think over time it will connect with the psyche and intentions of the viewers.

A couple other things just to hit real quickly before we turn it over to questions. Seoul series next week out of Korea, of course. Look forward to that. We’re coming out at 5:30 a.m. with the first pitch at 6:07 for those games. So we’ll do an extra 30 minutes from site of intros and experience and culture there.

No shock, we did 150 KBO games that started during the pandemic and continued even when MLB returned. It is really special for us to get a chance to connect with that experience of the first Major League Baseball being played in Seoul.

Karl and Eduardo will be there. Karl Ravech and Eduardo Perez will be there onsite. They happen to be the pair that broadcast our first KBO game in 2020. They’ll be joined by Daniel Kim reporting for us there. Daniel is just a super bilingual Seoul, Korea native and talent. I think Daniel appeared on probably 80 of our KBO telecasts as a guest in the middle of the night from Seoul.

We really look forward to that, capturing the atmosphere. Andy will be there onsite, just capturing that culture and that sport. All the games we were there, there was no crowd, so it will be great to be there and finally see the real atmosphere of Korean baseball, not to mention Japanese connections with the Dodgers and Ohtani and Yamamoto and all that.

The last thing I’m going to hit before we start is we’ve had various alt casts throughout the years. Most people know we’ve stepped away from the KayRod or the personality-driven alt cast this year for MLB. We will kind of return to our alt cast roots with a Statcast alt cast that will begin with the Home Run Derby, which we did last year on July 15th. Then we’ll do 9 out of 10 Sundays with the Statcast alt casts.

The talent for that will be Kevin Brown, who I’m sure everyone knows from the Orioles and ESPN as well, really young progressive, thoughtful play-by-play announcer. He’ll be joined by Mike Petriello from MLB.com. The whole Statcast effort is a major collaboration with Major League Baseball, and the data and animations and all the kinds of things that happen with Statcast. Mike will be part of that broadcast team. He has been for all of our Statcast specials.

We’ve added Trevor May, who some of you know. He’s a Twins relief pitcher, as the ex-player type analyst, walking right off the field after a good year with the A’s last year.

I have not really encountered a guy stepping off the field who is as deeply embedded in that database world as I have with Trevor. As one example, he’s doing weekly podcast Rates & Barrels every Friday with Eno Sarris, and the level of knowledge and experience with the highest ends of modern data is incredible for a guy walking off the field. So I think he really helps us take it to another level.

Then I think the last aspect of that, there’s going to be a lot of things that differentiate that show. It will be very different than it was five years ago when we launched it. But I would say the main obvious differentiation will be we’ll very aggressively using volumetric data-created replays that will allow you to see replays from any position on the field — in the batter’s helmet, behind the pitcher, over the shortstop’s shoulder.

There’s some similarities to what we’ve done with the NFL and NHL, but it will be more of a replay and database and human approach to it versus the cartoon approach to it. But from a technology standpoint, using that collection of data to kind of recreate things from any camera angle and embed data into that. I think from a visual standpoint, it’s going to really differentiate those shows.

Anyway, I probably talked longer than I planned to right there. Let’s kick it off with questions, and Andy and I will take what you got.

This is both for Phil and Andy. I realize you’re not going to give me any specific names on this call, but can you just sort of philosophically give me a sense in terms of like what is sort of the process or the ongoing process of how you might look at players who are recently retired or maybe not — like make a decision not to play this year, in terms of maybe adding them to ESPN? He’s probably going to play, but I’ll give you an example. Joey Votto is somebody who’s been great with the media. I think he’s certainly had an interest in maybe doing this once his career is over. I know your equivalence in the NFL and NBA, they have long-running lists of people who could potentially do this if they ever stepped away from playing. So I wonder if you guys could give me just a little bit of insight in terms of how you look at that.

PHIL ORLINS: We love Votto. I shouldn’t say that probably. Actually, I just had him on as a zoom guest on Andy’s last Spring Training game, last week the day before he signed. I’m probably like a Votto-phile. Like I said, I shouldn’t give that up. I’m pretty much obsessed with everything he does, social, the whole Chris Russo thing, podcast, all that stuff.

To answer your question, yeah, I do jot down a little list I keep on my computer that’s probably four pages long now. It’s kind of funny to look back and see some of the names that have come and gone from that list for one reason or another. I won’t go into too many details on that.

Yes, like your other points of reference, we do keep — I do keep that sort of list. I would say in terms of like evaluating who is of interest, I try to take everything in I can take in, which is to say you get a little out of interaction or player interview or whatever it might be.

I would also acknowledge, like, I’m an MLB Radio — like to me, I find — I just get long form from a lot of people on MLB Radio. That can be guest hosts they use in the wintertime or things like that. So probably a disproportionate — to be honest, the Trevor May thing, I mentioned the podcast he’s doing for The Athletic, which is your place as well, with Eno, but he’s also doing three hours every Sunday with Danny Wexelman on MLB Radio, and I got a heavy, heavy dose of what he’s about through that process.

I take it in every way I can take it in. I do get long form through MLB Radio. There’s a lot through contacts, play-by-play announcers, they’re talking to people on the field, I certainly use that as a bit of a filter. And I would say my own personal thing is just trying to figure out kind of how progressive the person is thinking about the game and also how ready they are to work.

A lot of times, I’d rather find a guy four years after he’s done playing when he’s figured out it’s really, really time to get to work and passionate about it, than in some cases the guy that walks right off the field.

Now, if you’re Trevor May and you walk right off the field, and the first day you walk off the field you’re doing the John Fisher breakdown of the A’s ownership and you’re launching your own YouTube channel and you’re on MLB Radio and doing podcasts, he checks every box of, okay, I’m ready to go to work. But not everybody does. So those are the priorities to me.

Phil, I was wondering if you could go over your thought process when you started televising those games from Korea during the COVID season. How was that received back then?

PHIL ORLINS: It was an amazing — if you all know, it was an amazing time with no live sports out there. It literally was let’s figure out a way to bring live sports to a place, ESPN, that’s built around live sports.

Then from there, it really became the question of how do we make this reasonably entertaining and how do we approach it from — there was sort of, I guess you could call it, a talk radio or podcast aspect to it. As far as like the overall approach and the guests and all that, I’ll turn it over to Andy, who was kind of our lead producer on that project during the baseball hiatus — MLB hiatus.

ANDY JACOBSON: As Phil said, it was a crazy time. We knew the viewers, the fan base were just craving live sports and something to watch and something to follow, baseball fans, sports fans.

We attacked those shows very much like almost as if we’re doing our Spring Training games. The game is there as a backdrop, but we certainly didn’t expect viewers to all of a sudden know the players, just completely become consumed by it. So we treated it like — I think every show had an average of three or four guests per game, not just a half inning, but we kept people for a while.

The goal was to watch some baseball over a cup of coffee at whatever time of the morning that was and just enjoy some sense of normalcy again because we were all sort of craving it.

Was the viewership better than you thought?

PHIL ORLINS: I think the affinity and passion was higher probably than the actual ratings. I think the ratings were solid for 5:30 a.m. Eastern time and 2:30 a.m. Pacific time, but there was a halo effect of like a group that really felt passionate about it. I think it sort of outkicked the coverage in terms of what it meant from a cultural standpoint more so than the actual, literal number of viewers.

Again, it was okay. Live sports, it was certainly better than highlight shows about no live sports or re-airs or things of that nature.

I think the big thing was the sort of emotional connectivity for passionate sports fans or baseball fans that kind of outweighed how much actual viewing there was. I think it made a bigger impact than the actual numbers indicate.

Thank you so much.

PHIL ORLINS: I couldn’t quote the numbers for you today. I’d have to go to research on that. Three or four years is a long time for me at this point.

Just had a question about the alternate presentations. Obviously the KayRod telecasts are going to be ending. Will Michael Kay still have any role on the ESPN coverage this year, or was it just KayRod only?

PHIL ORLINS: He’s obviously still got the Yankees in his talk radio stuff. Michael is actually doing the Mets game in London in June with us and will be on playoff coverage as well in October. We still think Mike is a tremendous play-by-play announcer, but it’s a little different this year.

We don’t have that many games beyond our Sunday night crew, so the London game, and like I said, when we get into the Wild Card round, Michael will be part of that as well.

Just quickly about the Statcast. Obviously Jason Benetti was a big part of that. He’s at a different network now. Do you have any ideas on who’s going to be filling those roles on the Statcast broadcast?

PHIL ORLINS: Kevin Brown will do play-by-play, who was actually, I think, with Jason when they used to do the Syracuse Chiefs.

ANDY JACOBSON: Yes. Jason hired Kevin Brown to — yeah, Syracuse Sky Chiefs or Chiefs, whatever they’re called now, in the Minor League baseball.

PHIL ORLINS: Kevin on play-by-play. He can stand on his own. He doesn’t really need the Jason connection, although he has it. But he’s just — look, anybody who’s around the Baltimore market knows this guy is one of the really talented, special, up-and-coming play-by-play guys. He’s really smart about the game and data as it relates to the game.

Kevin is a very, very natural — and he also did the Home Run Derby Statcast special that we did last year in Seattle as well. He’s, for us, a natural, natural fit for that.

Mike Petriello continues in kind of his role as the Statcast data expert. Again, as I said earlier — I really want to stress, this is truly a collaboration on the project between us and Major League Baseball Statcast. They do a tremendous amount of the work to prepare us and provide the animations and data that we use out of the Statcast group for the telecast.

As I mentioned earlier, Trevor May will be the analyst. As I’ve gradually gotten to know Trevor and listened to his work, just an unbelievably deep thought process and mind about baseball data and strategy, especially from a pitching perspective, and a lot of baseball data generates from that perspective.

I’m telling you, not to sell The Athletic here, but his podcast with Eno Sarris, remarkably good in that world. Anyway, that’s the theme.

I won’t get too deep, but are we going to see the Ump Cam this year? If not the Ump Cam or anything else, what kind of cool shots you guys have in plans this year?

PHIL ORLINS: We will see Ump Cam. We’re trying to figure out exactly how much we’ll see Ump Cam, but you’ll definitely have it in Korea and opening night on March 28th and then the first Sunday night Cardinals-Dodgers game on March 31st. After that, we’ll figure it out from there.

Candidly, there is some — trying to see where we are on the four-inning wearing of it for the Major League umpires and whether that’s going to stay that way or increase. That probably has some impact on our decision-making there.

I think from a — I wouldn’t tell you that there’s going to be — let me look. We’ll have drone over the field sort of opening night game in Texas, but that’s been done on our College World Series coverage. It’s been done on Fox’s World Series coverage. It’s not groundbreaking, brand new.

I think the things that are going to be truly new are one — Andy, if you want to grab the screen and share it — the data implementation of win probability on a full-time basis, albeit subtle and small; the addition of exit velocity on a full-time basis for hitters.

Then I think as the season goes, the things we’re developing for the Statcast shows — when I talk about the volumetric replays, I think you’re going to see, as we develop the stuff, that, while we are pervasive with it in the Statcast show, we are also going to find effective and important usages for it in the ESPN show.

That’s going to take a little bit of time and be more targeted towards July. Am I missing anything, Andy?

ANDY JACOBSON: No. I’m trying to call up the image of the win probability if folks would like to see where our development is with that.

In terms of mic’ing up players, you guys were very aggressive last year with that. Can we expect the same frequency this year — obviously player abiding, but can we expect mic’d-up players in as many games as this year or anything new on that front?

PHIL ORLINS: Yeah, we expect to mic, talk to a player in just about every game. Obviously something could always happen. Something could go wrong if we miss a game for some reason or another, but we expect to do it every game.

I would just say one of the most gratifying things about it — Andy is the one making the calls every week and all that — it’s really gotten a lot more accepted and a lot easier over the last couple years than it was at the outset. Players are comfortable with it.

I always say — this is not a mathematical thing. To me, there are a third of the players in baseball that just don’t want to do it, it’s not their thing. There are a third of the players in baseball that just love it, can’t wait to do it. And there are another third that at least are open minded about doing it once in a while and will try.

So if we’ve got 900 players in Major League Baseball and 300 of them love to do it and another 300 of them are willing to do it, we’ve got a pretty good opportunity. We’re really open and flexible about not — it doesn’t have to be the number one star every week. We love talking to people who are good personalities. We love talking to people who maybe are from — we did Seiya Suzuki last year through the Cubs interpreter, things like that. We always actually embrace the opportunity to do the unusual person.

I mean, we had two catchers last year who wore mics while catching, Jose Trevino, and I think Martin Maldonado. Those guys are literally — I mean, Jose Trevino is just rolling you through his approach, his pitcher. He’s not really giving anything away. And then he’s talking about Oral Roberts in the College World Series at the same time. It’s just unbelievable. They’re enjoying it for the most part. It’s easy for me to say, but I really believe that.

ANDY JACOBSON: Just to piggy-back, enough credit can’t be thrown to our announcers to this. This is year three for them. They work the field. They work the clubhouses. They have relationships. The Martin Maldonado one, we have a weekly production call with our guys. On that Thursday, Eduardo bring Martin Maldonado on to our zoom call to talk to the crew about what it’s going to be like and what we’re going to do with him.

Just the relationships they have, and they make these guys comfortable not only during the interviews, but in the process leading up. We don’t have nearly the success we would without those guys leading the charge.

Just real quick, one season down with the pitch clock. What’s the rhythm for you and Griffin up at the front bench? Do you guys feel more comfortable this year? How do you think it’s going to play out with the pitch clock in year two?

ANDY JACOBSON: I do. Funny, I was thinking about this the other day. It’s almost as if as a viewer you don’t even think about it anymore. We obsessed over the clock for a while, all off-season last year, wondering how it would impact us, and it did. It sped things up a little bit. You can’t really waste replays, get to the best look immediately, things of that nature, finding places to squeeze content in outside of just game stuff.

I think in one year’s time, it’s amazing how it’s become just normal. I’m curious to see some stats from Major League Baseball, like how often they’re seeing violations. It’s very seamless to me already. I’m looking forward to year two, having experienced year one. But I think we’ve already kind of adjusted and know what to expect and how to attack it.

Just for a little more detail on that, obviously Apple has its own third party that helps. Will your win probability be in ESPN stats entirely internal?

PHIL ORLINS: It is. It is. I’m not saying it’s necessarily drastically different than the ones that are out there on Baseball Savant or elsewhere, but we do have our own analytics team, stats information group as you know, and they provide win probability algorithms — I guess you’d call those algorithms — for all the major sports. So we’ll be using that one for Major League Baseball.

Did you consider going into the more granular pitch or at-bat probabilities?

PHIL ORLINS: I think there are a couple of things on our agenda in that space right now, and one of them is — not to speak of necessarily any other broadcaster in detail. I don’t think it’s necessarily the, like, will you reach base, will you strikeout percentage kind of rotating through.

But we’re very interested in probability, like pitch selection probability for the pitcher as part of that telecast. Like sort of a corner graphic that either in its most simple form would tell you what a pitcher throws, what type of percentage of pitches he throws, type pitch he throws on each different count. Or potentially a more evolved version of that that includes other factors in that decision-making, like first, second, third time (indiscernible), the quality of the hitter, high leverage/low leverage situation, or things of that nature.

So we’re very interested in that in particular, and there are also some scouting report developments in terms of hot zones, cold zones, and things like that that we’re working on, kind of trying to build a blended scouting report that kind of incorporates both hitter and pitcher strengths and weaknesses into a pitching approach.

Those are two things that are on our agenda off of our day at MLB yesterday, frankly.

And then with the volumetric video, obviously the MLB has that Gameday 3D experience that fans can access on their own, and you’ve put some of these in your broadcast before. Is it a different experience this year? Will it be similar, or just more common? Any more details you can share?

PHIL ORLINS: There are some pretty fundamental changes coming to their technology and engines and things of that nature that are evolving the look pretty drastically forward and allowing the graphic to be better embedded in the whole scene.

I think we should hold off on more detail on that until the July 1st time frame when we really are ready to launch and all that. There’s a lot going on. I guess I don’t want to say too much more because it’s really their end of the project.

Again, they’ve been unbelievable partners on this, including the Home Run Derby last year, where they basically delivered us the fully animated home run coverage for the ESPN2 broadcast. They deserve their own representation in that story, I think.

ANDY JACOBSON: The only tiny thing I would add, I think the immediacy is something we’re extremely hopeful. To me, the differentiator, or one of the differentiators would be, sure, we see Statcast 3D show up in a lot of places, but do we ever see it in a first replay sequence or very soon after it happened? That’s like kind of one of our goals, working with them. Not just frequency, but immediacy.

A little piggy-backing, Phil, on what you were talking about. I’m curious how you evaluate — there’s obviously so many data points, you could fill the screen with numbers at this point. I’m curious how you evaluate what is worth looking at, just what that process is internally as you’re considering each year potentially adding new pieces of data to the storytelling mix.

PHIL ORLINS: It’s easier said than done. You try to focus on the things that are really impacting the approach to the game, and some of that’s by talking to people that are in it from either a data or an on-the-field standpoint by paying attention to what the really best of the best in the analytical space, Petriello and Eno Sarris in that space are talking about.

With me, I think the filter is how does it affect the game, and how does it affect player development? I was talking to one of our producers yesterday who’s got a kid who’s trying to play college ball. Like we can sit there and be old-school and say that exit velocity isn’t that big of a deal or pitch velocity doesn’t matter, but a kid who’s trying to get to college, they need to see his exit velocity get from 89 to 92. So it’s utterly pervasive in the development of the sport and how people develop.

We can be frustrated by pitching injuries. We can lash out and blame it on stuff like that. But if you want to play in the Big Leagues or even college scholarships or whatever, this stuff is absolutely ever present.

Then beyond that, you just really try to look at the metrics that are driving the decision-making in the game. How does pitch framing translate into runs and things like that? Clearly it’s affecting decision-making in terms of how you fill out the roster and your lineup.

Defensive metrics are driving some of the decision-making in terms of free agent value or who gets played. By the way, defensive metrics are complicated, man. We could spend another hour on the differences between run/save versus outs above average and stuff like that.

At the end of the day, all this stuff is important, and all this stuff is — and plenty of people sort of do bemoan that direction, but I’ll tell you, it’s not the people with the Dodgers that are bemoaning it. It’s not the people with the Braves that are bemoaning it. It’s not the people with the Astros. It’s here, and it’s real, and we try to embrace it.

I’m curious what your biggest conversations are with the league, as you guys prepare, what their biggest priorities are that they want to see out of the broadcast this year?

PHIL ORLINS: It’s not really like that with MLB. I say this as a compliment. We do spend a lot of time with them. We’re talking about some evolution of Home Run Derby. We’ve talked to them a lot about the alt cast stuff because it really is a collaboration. Andy, you’ve been in some of these meetings, certainly talk about the requests for the player mics and all that.

They’re supportive of access. They’re supportive of moving the game forward from a technology standpoint. They embrace putting their own resources into that. It’s good for them. It’s good for their brand, and it helps us as a partner as well.

I really mean this as a compliment. I don’t really recall a situation where we’d like your guys to cover this or cover that or change this or change that. I can’t necessarily speak for every other sport, but that’s not part of the conversation, which I appreciate.

ANDY JACOBSON: I’ll just say they’re very supportive, collaborative. We have outside, crazy ideas. Send David Cone from the press box to the bullpen and have him sit with the Giants in the bullpen for an inning. They’re supportive and want to help us get to that point. More often than not.

PHIL ORLINS: We’ll navigate a little traffic between — baseball is not a one-size-fits-all 30 teams kind of sport. Sometimes there’s a little navigation in there, which Andy said, there’s 30 different relatives. They’ve got different personalities. Sometimes they — but they really do their best to help us get the right outcome.

Without a doubt — this is very, very apparent coming off of last year, they’re very — they’re much, much more forward thinking about like the rules and communication and that stuff. I guess they didn’t have big rule changes 20 years ago or whatever. It’s just a different environment as far as that goes. They’re very, very open and sharing of information and data and why they’re making decisions and all that kind of stuff.

I don’t know if some of you guys have been part of that or get some of that, but I do think they did a great job last year, not only with the rule changes, but just as importantly with communicating the rationale and setting a winning narrative, so to speak, for everything they’re doing.

Just going back to earlier when you talked about the win probability, you said it will get reaction. It probably won’t be completely positive at the start. I’m wondering why is this worth doing for you despite knowing that there’s going to be some level of backlash there? Do you think that that backlash is going to diminish over time as people get used to it?

PHIL ORLINS: I’m 100 percent sure that backlash will diminish over time, and people will get used to it and ultimately begin to expect it.

I’m not a psychologist, so I guess I should probably be more careful about pretending to analyze the human psyche, but change is not easy on people. People think about whether their team’s chances of winning all the time. That doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t find it ticks an emotional box when they see their team only has a 4 percent chance to win in the ninth inning or something like that by mathematical equations. So I do expect some of that reaction.

I do think it’s part of the psyche of the viewer, and I think it will become — already is and will become more of the future of the way people think and look about the game.

It’s not as — it’s not as front and center as the decision to use K-Zone Live in 2015, which if I did that by a mathematical poll of people’s initial Twitter response, it never would have been on the air. Here we are with it being on every telecast currently. Sometimes you’ve got to take a shot at what you believe.

Like an emotional connection is important and it’s an important positioning for ESPN in our broadcast when you make that emotional connection with viewers. That doesn’t always mean that it’s going to be a 100 percent positive connection in all circumstances.

I just wanted to ask about the — if you could sort of expand on the process in terms of working with the league and working with the Players Association to get mic’d up sort of as pervasive as it is and up and running.

PHIL ORLINS: I think, as Andy said there, kind of three pieces to it. The league support, the Players Association support, and just as importantly the visibility and relationships of our broadcast team, and probably Eduardo more than any of them.

It’s kind of been forgotten, but we did it first during the pandemic, even had it in playoff games that year in 2020. Then it slipped away in 2021. It became a pretty large discussion between the league and the Players Association. They finally kind of settled on a plan to move forward in 2022. We’ve had it ever since then.

But the league is — like a lot of things, not everybody loves that either. Having said that, I think the league gets it. It’s been a huge statement that’s positioned MLB as a pretty progressive sports league, which is not necessarily the perception of the sport before that, then follows up with the rule changes and all that.

I just think the way that people see and think about baseball as a sport that’s willing to change, take chances, risks, move forward, appeal to young people, it’s just dramatically changed. I just think that was an important step to it.

And the Players Association, once they’re on board, they’ve been great. They invited me down, now over a year ago, to speak with all their team representatives at their business meetings in November. It was just a great group. They were really enthusiastic about it. They get that it shows them in a positive light.

They’re a younger group of players that have online presences and have some degree of care about how they’re perceived or heard in the first person. They’ve really been a great supporter of it. Through really almost — I don’t want to say day one, but once it got off the ground and had success.

The craziest thing, they feel, and the research has shown — it’s a credit to Karl and all the announcers — but it seems to resonate with our viewers with like an organic and authentic experience. At least that’s what our research shows. It’s kind of extraordinary playing baseball in the middle of the field with an ear piece and a microphone, and the viewers feel that’s organic and authentic. I’m trying to think what’s actually organic and authentic about it.

But to their credit, like the conversation and laying out when the pitch is thrown and just the way it’s been handled, actually feels more natural and seamless than what I just described maybe should feel. I don’t know, Andy. You might have more on that too.

ANDY JACOBSON: It’s also funny, when Phil and I are in the control room during the show and we have a guy mic’d up and the guys are talking to them, Phil and I are often — when we’re talking to them, we love the flavor stuff, the flavor of ice cream, Michael Harris telling us about his bandana collection. That probably is the organic piece to it.

We’re learning about these guys. Maybe the diehard Braves fan knew that already, but we’re taking it large scale. That, to us, is when you peel back a layer. You’re not just talking about defensive positioning. Now you’re talking about who these guys are, what they’re about, get them to smile, get them to loosen up a Little bit.

Corbin Carroll, kind of known as a guy who’s pretty serious, takes his work seriously, like they all do. But you see some of these guys, and you can see that kind of layer, just that relaxed feel, and they’re just open and telling us about their lives. That’s, to me, the ultimate win when that happens. It happens more times than not. It happens most of the time because of the relationships and the right questions most of the time.

PHIL ORLINS: We also always — we select them obviously from a large pool of sometimes sarcastic suggestions, but we always take, we always include a couple of viewers questions from X or Twitter.

Just sometimes there are things that viewers ask and want to know that are more comfortable coming from a viewer, so to speak, than it is from a broadcast team. And the viewers — yeah, they want to know about your best or worst teammate, who’s got the best dance moves. It’s amazing. The personal questions outweigh what do you look for on a 3-2 count by about 99-1.

I was just sent a quick follow-up about Michael Kay. Do you have a partner set for him for London and in the playoffs?

PHIL ORLINS: Not confirmed yet.

PHIL ORLINS: MLB Spring Breakout Squeeze Play on ESPN+ – We’re just going to mess around with a red zone type of coverage. I don’t know if anybody is familiar with MLB’s effort to have all the prospects playing during Spring Training at the same time. Maybe something we’ll do on a more broad basis in future years or other experiments.

We will basically have Dani Wexelman and Kiley McDaniel, our draft and prospect expert, and Danny mostly handles our college baseball type stuff, which he’s incredibly knowledgeable and detailed with the prospect in Minor League areas.

They’ll basically call whiparound coverage of up to four games at a time tomorrow from 3:00 to 8:00 p.m., just bouncing around, watching 6 of the 9 top prospects and most of Kiley’s top 30 all playing. Just messing around trying something a little bit new and different there, hopefully for the passionate baseball fan who wants all the great young talent in one spot. Hopefully we’ll be able to offer that.

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