USA TODAY US Edition

Base­ball post­sea­son could be open mic nights

- Bob Night­en­gale Colum­nist USA TO­DAY

Go ahead, be hon­est.

You didn’t re­ally miss us in the me­dia this year – the re­porters and cam­era crews, banned from the club­house dur­ing the pan­demic, who al­ways man­age to turn 32 fla­vor­ful quotes into a big scoop of vanilla.

In­stead, fans had to lean on the play­ers to of­fer their own be­hind-thescenes con­tent and tell their own sto­ries.

And with play­ers di­rectly con­nect­ing with the fans like never be­fore, they sure pro­vided the en­ter­tain­ment – with­out the need for a pay­wall.

There was Chicago White Sox short­stop Tim An­der­son home­r­ing off Cincin­nati Reds ace Trevor Bauer a week ago, and no pen or pa­per was needed to hear An­der­son yell into the mi­cro­phone at­tached to his jer­sey:

“Make sure you tell him to put that on his YouTube chan­nel too. Vlog about that.’’

Bauer re­sponded af­ter the game on a Zoom call, with­out be­ing prompted:

“Tell TA (Tim An­der­son) he’s soft for not bat flip­ping it.’’ How about some hu­mor? Well, you got to hear Oakland Ath­let­ics des­ig­nated hit­ter Mark Canha dis­cuss his con­ver­sa­tion with man­ager Bob Melvin while sit­ting on the bench and talk­ing to the broad­cast booth.

“Bob Melvin keeps ask­ing me,’’ Canha said, “‘Hey, you want me to put out there on de­fense. You sick of DH’ing?’”

Canha: “No, it’s the best job in all of sports. You don’t have to do any­thing.’’

Want some good-na­tured ban­ter?

San Diego Padres star Fer­nando Tatis was asked dur­ing a game who has the best hair on the team among him and start­ing pitch­ers Mike Clevinger and Chris Pad­dack.

“Good ques­tion,’’ Tatis said, tak­ing off his cap and let­ting his plat­inum dyed dread­lock hair flow. “I’ve got to say me. …When you look good, you play good.’’

You wanted real, au­then­tic emo­tion?

Nothing like watch­ing New York Mets first base­man Pete Alonso’s series on YouTube, where he was mic’d up for four episodes.

You could hear him talk about his train­ing reg­i­men of drink­ing choco­late milk while do­ing squats, know­ing he shouldn’t be con­grat­u­lat­ing At­lanta Braves first base­man Fred­die Free­man for a base hit against his team – but did so any­way be­cause he’s a good guy – and scream­ing into the mic: “Let’s (ex­ple­tive) go” when he hit a game-win­ning home run against the New York Yan­kees.

“I feel like it’s an op­por­tu­nity not just for me,’’ Alonso told USA TO­DAY, “but so many other play­ers and for other teams around the league to just gain ex­po­sure and kind of show all of our per­son­al­i­ties. I feel like it’s a great way to grow the sport and the game.’’

Well, Ma­jor League Base­ball agrees, and for the first time, is per­mit­ting play­ers to wear cus­tomized cleats in the post­sea­son.

They are en­cour­ag­ing play­ers to wear two-way mics, or an­swer ques­tions from the broad­cast booth dur­ing play­off games. There’s fan en­gage­ment on the MLB App to cheer as if they were watch­ing in per­son. There’s even a new video vault for peo­ple to pro­duce their own high­light reels.

In short, the 2020 sea­son has been a blank can­vas for ex­per­i­men­ta­tion.

“One of our big the­o­ries this year with­out fans be­ing in the ball­park,’’ said Chris Mari­nak, MLB’s chief op­er­a­tions and strat­egy of­fi­cer, “was it was more im­por­tant to cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties to con­nect with the play­ers. When you can’t have fans, you have to find another way to drive en­gage­ment with the play­ers, to show­case their per­son­al­i­ties.’’

Check out Mi­ami Mar­lins rookie in­fielder Jazz Chisholm, who wears cus­tomized base­ball cleats each game, honoring Kobe Bryant one day and Prince another. There’s for­mer Toronto Blue Jays out­fielder Anthony Al­ford who showed a dis­play of jus­tice for Ah­maud Ar­bery on his shoes ear­lier this year, and Tatis honoring Roberto Clemente.

You want a rab­bit hole of fun?

The MLB Film Room, which launched Sept. 8, al­lows view­ers to watch more than 3.5 mil­lion videos dat­ing to 1929, in­clud­ing ev­ery sin­gle pitch since 2017. The film room has con­trib­uted to a 253% in­crease in MLB.com’s video por­tal from a year ago.

“In gen­eral, we’re look­ing to con­tinue and build upon all of the things we have ex­per­i­mented with,’’ Mari­nak says. “The things we have done by far have been re­ally suc­cess­ful. You’ll see more things like the Alonso YouTube short with more play­ers. The con­cept has been re­ally suc­cess­ful.

“The post­sea­son dy­namic will be a lit­tle dif­fer­ent, but the play­ers have loved it. It shows them who they are as peo­ple and gives them a chance to ex­press them­selves.’’

Cer­tainly, the folks at the TV net­works would love the twoway mics and ex­changes with the broad­cast booth to con­tinue dur­ing the post­sea­son – worth about $900 mil­lion – but they’re also re­al­is­tic. These are the big­gest games of the sea­son. Will any player ac­tu­ally take the chance of be­ing dis­tracted?

This is the first time play­ers ap­pear­ing in reg­u­lar-sea­son games par­tic­i­pated in two-way con­ver­sa­tions with a net­work broad­cast booth. It had only been done in All-Star Games and spring-train­ing be­fore this sea­son. Seven­teen play­ers from 12 dif­fer­ent teams have par­tic­i­pated since the week­end of Aug. 29 on FOX and ESPN.

Maybe, con­sid­er­ing the pop­u­lar­ity of the reg­u­lar-sea­son in­ter­ac­tions, some­one will be will­ing to be that first post­sea­son broad­cast guinea pig?

“I think it would be great,’’ Alonso said. “I do think the two-way mic can be tough, though, be­cause it’s bulkier than just hav­ing the one-way mic that I did with the YouTube series. I wore a spe­cific T-shirt that had it in­side, and it made it very, very easy, and less bulky.

“There would be times I’d be wear­ing it, but go­ing about my busi­ness and com­pet­ing in games, I’d forget my­self. I didn’t even re­al­ize it, which was awe­some.’’

Sure, there will be the oc­ca­sional blips. One player had an ex­ple­tive slip onto a broad­cast. Alonso would in­form play­ers he was mic’d up but got so used to it, he would some­times forget, cre­at­ing a few awk­ward mo­ments. There’s a seven-sec­ond de­lay, so not all of the col­or­ful ban­ter will wind up on the air­waves.

Yet with pre- and post-game me­dia ac­cess lim­ited to Zoom calls and card­board cutouts re­plac­ing fans in the stands, MLB and the play­ers union cer­tainly pro­vided a whole lot of life in what could have been dreary broad­casts.

“We’re all hope­ful that we’re back at full ca­pac­ity next year,’’ Mari­nak says, “but this gave us a chance to ex­per­i­ment with new ways of en­gag­ing our fans.

We will wind up con­tin­u­ing a lot of it, even when they do come back to ball­park.’’

Who knows, even when nor­malcy does re­turn, will the game will ever look or sound the same?

“This is an av­enue cre­at­ing an ex­po­sure, and it’s a wideopen av­enue,’’ Alonso says. “If we keep trav­el­ing along this road, we are go­ing to keep grow­ing the game, and bring­ing it to more peo­ple in a fun, dif­fer­ent way.

“It would be cool in the fu­ture that in­stead of hav­ing broad­cast­ers talk, just have the play­ers be the broad­cast­ers dur­ing the game, too. We can have guys close to another, and just talk, and shoot the breeze through­out the game and just kind of talk. That would be hi­lar­i­ous, and pro­vide great con­text, too.’’

And who knows, one day, maybe a Mike Trout will be rec­og­nized in pub­lic just like LeBron James.

“I don’t think this is go­ing to mag­i­cally solve the whole thing,’’ Alonso says, “be­cause there are so many mar­ket­ing and pro­mo­tions that still need to be tapped into. But I think this is a fan­tas­tic start.

“The more we can move this for­ward, the more ex­po­sure we can bring to the game of base­ball, I think nothing but good things can hap­pen from it.”

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 ?? GRE­GORY FISHER/USA TO­DAY SPORTS ?? Mets first base­man Pete Alonso is en­joy­ing his time on video and so­cial me­dia this sea­son.
GRE­GORY FISHER/USA TO­DAY SPORTS Mets first base­man Pete Alonso is en­joy­ing his time on video and so­cial me­dia this sea­son.

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