New setup like 'outer space' for broadcasters

July 21st, 2020

NEW YORK -- Sitting in his home office on Sunday evening, broadcasting a Mets game from off-site for the first time in his career, longtime radio voice Howie Rose flashed back to his experiences from decades earlier.

“We all grew up turning the sound down on the TV and doing play-by-play into a tape recorder,” Rose said. “So, in a way, we’re returning to our roots.”

Back then, Rose was an aspiring broadcaster honing his craft. Now, he is a widely respected professional relearning his job in a way he could not have envisioned mere months ago.

Rose and his WCBS 880 partner Wayne Randazzo will call all 60 Mets games this season from Citi Field, regardless of whether the team is in New York or elsewhere. So will SNY television broadcasters Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling. The new arrangement will require adaptations from all of them, as well as the reporters, directors, technicians and so many others involved with each broadcast.

For everyone in that group, this past weekend’s two-game exhibition set against the Yankees provided a test run. At Citi Field on Saturday, Cohen manned the SNY booth, while Hernandez and Darling sat opposite each other in the visiting area. For a trio that relies so much on banter and interaction, the challenge was maintaining the eye contact necessary to do so in a seamless manner.

“The first game was really, really like we were in outer space,” Hernandez said. “I felt like I was on a spacewalk. … It was like Gary was broadcasting that first game coming out of Saturn.”

To combat such vertigo, Hernandez has requested a mirror be installed between the booths so that he and Darling can look at Cohen, and vice versa, during more conversational segments.

“We’ve got to be engaged,” Hernandez said. “And it’s going to be corrected.”

Road games add additional obstacles, which SNY’s broadcasters experienced for the first time when they called Sunday’s Yankee Stadium exhibition from Citi Field. More than for Hernandez and Darling, two analysts who frequently work off television monitors to see the intricacies of swing paths and pitcher mechanics, the road setup creates a unique challenge for play-by-play men Cohen, Rose and Randazzo.

This weekend, Randazzo had the added task of calling all nine innings because Rose was off-site, completing a 14-day quarantine after traveling back from his offseason home in Florida. Watching the SNY feed on a 12-second delay, Rose found himself unable to do much more than offer bits of analysis from time to time.

“I feel like some people that chimed in said that we sounded like we were in the same place, and our banter was normal, which was good,” Randazzo said. “But it was interesting, unique.”

From his perch in the auxiliary radio booth at Citi Field, Randazzo wondered if players might be able to hear his play-by-play calls, as they could when he was a Minor League broadcaster in the Eastern League, but the fake crowd noise pumped in to Citi Field mitigated any chance of that.

One of the only real people in the stands on Saturday was SNY’s field reporter, Steve Gelbs, who is also learning new approaches to his job. Typically, Gelbs wakes up the morning of a game and begins preparing a list of questions that he hopes to ask players during open clubhouse hours. But with media access limited to Zoom calls, Gelbs -- who prides himself on unearthing nuggets that no print reporters have -- has taken to texting players for additional insight.

“It’s a totally different day for me,” said Gelbs, who must watch games from a photography area rather than roam around the stadium. “What I realized is that now it’s going to be a lot of pursuing players, and picking my spots with players, in the morning. So that changes the day.”

The following night, Gelbs said, was “like a different world,” because he did not attend the game at Yankee Stadium. During regular-season away games, he will work from a studio at SNY with a robotic camera following his movements. He’ll have more of a role in SNY’s postgame show, in addition to his in-game work.

For Gelbs and his colleagues, the learning curve is undeniable. But like their viewers, they are happy simply to have baseball back. Saturday’s exhibition game pulled a 2.53 household rating on SNY -- the highest for a Spring Training or exhibition game in network history, and more than twice as high as an average 2020 spring game.

Opening Day will surely be higher. Rose is “anxious” for it, knowing his quarantine will be over and he can return to the Citi Field booth. He’s excited for it. And when the Mets go on the road and he must call games off television, Rose -- decades removed from his time as a teenage broadcast aspirant -- is as prepared for it as anyone.

“I’ve absolutely taken that approach, that this is nothing I haven’t done before,” Rose said. “I just haven’t done it since I was 14 years old.”