Opening Night, Sort Of
Tonight the Norfolk Tides will, weather permitting, host the Norfolk State University Spartans in an exhibition “game.” The exhibition serves a few purposes — it provides the Tides with some community outreach; it provides a way for NSU to earn a little money (they keep a percentage of the ticket sales) — but primarily it gives the Tides organization a chance to break in new employees, review any changes, and to basically run through a game without any real pressure.
Like most fans, until I started datacasting I had no real idea of what went on behind the scenes at a baseball game. I knew there were ticket sellers and ticket takers; ushers and security staff; concessionaires and vendors; and a PA announcer and scoreboard operator. When I started datacasting, I quickly learned just how many people work hidden from view at a baseball game.
At Norfolk’s Harbor Park, the “press level” is the fourth level. I can group the workers on that fourth level into four general groups, with some overlap.
- The Field Support Staff. At Harbor Park, that includes the PA announcer, a balls-and-strikes scoreboard operator; an auxiliary scoreboard operator; a recorded music operator; a video board operator; and possibly one or two other scoreboard-type operators. With the current Harbor Park configuration, at least two of those operators never get to see live play. All these people congregate in two rooms, stuffed with computer monitors and consoles.
- The Broadcasters. At the AAA level, that includes usually two Norfolk radio broadcasters and one or two visiting team radio broadcasters. On rare occasions, the game is televised and then there’s television broadcasters and crew. Each broadcasting team has its own soundproof booth.
- The Internal Video Crew. The Tides make a video recording of every game, primarily for highlights on the evening news, on the team website, or for a year-end highlights show.
- The Media. That includes the datacaster, who records the pitch-by-pitch results in near real-time; the official scorer, who is the league representative and makes the judgment calls; the Media Relations representative, who relays information to the broadcasters and writers; and the writers. There is usually one writer for the Virginian-Pilot, and sometimes there’s a second writer for the visiting team paper. On even rarer occasions, there are writers from the parent Baltimore Orioles, milb.com, or a publication like Baseball America.
Tonight’s exhibition is really about the in-stands personnel and the Field Support Staff getting themselves (re-)acquainted with each other and the demands of their position. Whenever you see a replay, or a scoreboard flash H, there’s a staff of hidden people making that happen.