ESPN Serves Up Grand MLB Finale With AL Wild Card Game

By: Jason Dachman

With the postseason tiebreaker puzzle finally settled, ESPN is now homed in on producing its lone postseason telecast: the American League Wild Card Game tonight. For the second consecutive year, the Wild Card Game will serve as the cap to ESPN’s MLB season, with three full hours of Astros-Yankees onsite pregame coverage from Yankee Stadium and the network’s full arsenal of production tools at its disposal.  

“It’s a great pinnacle to our season in that it’s a one-game winner-take-all event. That’s as dramatic as it gets. It feels like a Game 7; it certainly serves as our Game 7 and a great exclamation point on our year,” says ESPN Coordinating Producer Phil Orlins. “We certainly threw all our bells and whistles at this game last year, but we have really progressed: for example, we were not there with live K-Zone on every pitch last year. With the added scrutiny on a game like this, that becomes an even more important tool when it comes to pitch locations and close pitch calls.” 

In addition to high-tech production tools, ESPN’s AL Wild Card telecast will feature Jessica Mendoza as the first female analyst to call a nationally televised MLB postseason game.  

In the second year carrying an MLB Wild Card Game as part of an eight-year rights deal, ESPN considers the game a chance to showcase the cavalcade of new technology it deploys throughout the season on Sunday Night Baseball and its other MLB properties, including Sportvision K-Zone live pitch-tracking graphics, Dejero cellular-based–transmission camera system, and Sony HDC-4300 4K/ultra-slo-mo cameras. 

“This [is] my first year with ESPN baseball, but I think it’s clear that we are always looking to push the technology factor,” says Paul Horrel, MLB remote operations manager, ESPN. “We have introduced some things on baseball this year, such as the Dejero wireless cellular camera, the live K-Zone [graphic] through Sportvision, and the [Sony HDC-]4300 cameras that are just amazing.” 

K-Zone on Every Pitch: One Year in the Books 

The Wild Card Game will mark the culmination of ESPN’s inaugural campaign featuring the K-Zone graphic live on every pitch in every MLB telecast. Orlins says having K-Zone live for every pitch — a tactic that has generated no shortage of debate this year — has been a resounding success and notes that the system had technical issues in just one of the 90-plus games it was used. 

“[K-Zone] has gone about as I expected in that there were certainly some people that didn’t embrace the change, but it has become much more accepted,” says Orlins. “I think it’s become a signature for us and a huge differentiator. This is obviously the first time we get to roll it out during a playoff game, so that is a big step forward.” 

In addition, the network’s 3D K-Zone graphic has evolved from a pitcher/batter wide shot using miniature Marshall POV cameras into a closer shot using a standard HD camera. 

“The 3D angle has been a little more complicated. Originally, we tried to frame the pitcher and batter and trace the entire flight of the ball, but we felt like the entire strike zone looked too small,” says Orlins. “So we have gone to more of a batter/catcher shot with a traditional camera rather than the tiny Marshall cameras. The shot was so wide that the strike zone itself looked tiny. But now you can see a great three-dimensional strike zone up close.” 

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