Passing the mic – Harrison Bader, Justin Turner wear the mic on Sunday Night Baseball

Passing the mic – Harrison Bader, Justin Turner wear the mic on Sunday Night Baseball post thumbnail image

This season, a different MLB player — from Kiké Hernandez to Ozzie Albies to Bryce Harper and so many more — is wearing a microphone during every Sunday Night Baseball game to speak with the ESPN broadcasting crew. With their turns in the spotlight, MLB’s brightest young stars have opined on the game, their lives and their teammates. Here, we will collect the best stories from those mic’ed up — and behind-the-scenes reflections from the production staff and the players themselves.

Before Bader wore the microphone on Sunday Night Baseball, his intention was to warn the veterans on the team that he was a human parabolic — guys like Yadier Molina, Albert Pujols and Adam Wainwright. Just in case.

It’s a courtesy that a lot of players extend. Earlier this season, Francisco Lindor walked through the Mets’ dugout high-fiving teammates and said to everyone (every single person), “Wearing a mic. Wearing a mic. Wearing a mic…”

What Bader found out is that he wasn’t really distracted by the microphone and earpiece at all; in fact, he found himself forgetting that he was wired up, he said in conversation over the weekend. There was a lot to talk about in Sunday’s game, which turned out to be a 15-6 blowout win for the Cardinals.

Bader was informative, talking about Wainwright and Molina — who recorded their 203rd win starting for the Cardinals, the most team wins in MLB history for a starting battery — and what the addition of Pujols to the clubhouse has meant to St. Louis.

If only Bader’s earpiece was turned on in the top of the ninth inning, when Pujols took the mound for the first pitching appearance of his career.

Turner is known among reporters for being genial and direct — but also blunt. This might have been why Boog Sciambi, filling in for play-by-play man Karl Ravech on Sunday Night Baseball, was hesitant to ask Turner a question about the, well, uncomfortable play that had just occurred at Wrigley Field.

A pitch had skipped away from Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, ricocheting behind Dodgers hitter Max Muncy, and as Contreras moved around Muncy in pursuit of the ball, he reflexively reached for Muncy to move him out of the way, or move around him. But the point of contact was not Muncy’s hip or leg, but a place of particular sensitivity — and Muncy doubled-over in pain, his pain briefly interrupting the game — and giving viewers the chance to see a replay that was causing ripples of laughter in the Dodgers’ dugout. Turner, in the on-deck circle and wearing a microphone during that inning, failed to suppress a grin. Because he knew Muncy wasn’t wearing a protective cup.

During the commercial break, Sciambi mentioned to fellow broadcasters that he wasn’t sure how he could ask Turner about what happened to Muncy. Eduardo Perez, never shy, cheerfully volunteered that he would ask Turner — and after the commercial break, he made good on that promise.

True to Turner’s reputation, the Dodger third baseman did not blanche.

“It looked like he got grabbed in the junk,” Turner said.

Turner offered a whole lot of other insights on the microphone, about hitting, about the addition of Freddie Freeman, the potency of the lineup. But it was immediately apparent that the word “junk” would soon be trending on social media.

Lindor is surrounded by some new guys in the Mets’ clubhouse. Eduardo Escobar, the team’s chatty and high-energy third baseman, occupies the locker to Lindor’s left, and to his right, Max Scherzer has settled in. “We have a really good group of guys,” Lindor said over the weekend. “I really like our group of guys.”

The Mets’ front office wanted to surround Lindor with more support, more veteran players who could share the production and media burden with him — and Lindor does seem more at ease in his second year with the team. Word came down early in the season that he’d be happy to wear the microphone on Sunday Night Baseball, which makes sense — during games, he is seemingly in constant conversation with those around him. Lindor offered a scouting report on the Phillies as in-game conversationalists. Bryce Harper, he said, will always say hi, but generally is pretty quiet while on the bases. J.T. Realmuto talks a little. Rhys Hoskins is a first baseman, so he’s a talker. Jean Segura has a lot to say.

During his time with the microphone, Lindor did, too. He explained all the shouting and gesturing he was doing to the other Mets fielders — about the funky coloring of the sky, which might make it more difficult to see the ball. He talked about how Buck Showalter, the Mets’ new manager, has about “25 different expressions.” He explained how you can’t talk to Scherzer when he’s pitching. He poked fun at his teammate Luis Guillorme — and then flipped a 102 mph batted ball to him to turn a double play on air, much to the relief of the broadcasters and production crew alike.

They could all imagine what might be said if there had been an error — that Lindor was “distracted” by the mic — and Lindor could too. With a bit of a chuckle, he acknowledged to Karl Ravech, Eduardo Perez and David Cone that he was “shaking,” knowing that he had to stop the ball and make the play under those circumstances. And if Lindor has even more to say after Sunday night’s win, you couldn’t blame him. He’s off to a good start, hitting .282 with an adjusted OPS+ of 154, and the Mets are the only team in baseball to win each of their first seven series.

It was the bottom of the ninth inning on Sunday Night Baseball, and the Phillies, trailing 1-0, were down to their last strikes (umpire Angel Hernandez’s interpretation of strikes, anyway). But from the middle of the Philadelphia dugout, Harper had unfinished business off the field. He asked specifically to restore his earpiece and microphone to genially sign off from his extended conversation with ESPN broadcasters.

Harper’s turn with the mic had started in the third inning, until he had to prepare for a possible at-bat. Then he continued in the fourth inning, the fifth, through much of the rest of the game — talking about his 10-year anniversary as a major league player, the challenges of serving as a designated hitter, being a dad, and how he preferred to cope with the evolving strike zone that Hernandez called in the Brewers-Phillies game Sunday. For two hours, he shared the joy of his craft with baseball fans.

That Harper was generous with his time on the live microphone was not a surprise to anyone at ESPN, because of his history with the relatively new technology. In the midst of the bleak 60-game COVID-19 season of 2020, Harper agreed to talk to the Sunday Night broadcasters during a game against the Braves — in the half-inning after Atlanta scored 10 runs on his Phillies.

Despite the one-sided blowout — and the unwritten old-school rules about how players should sullenly handle that sort of situation — Harper joined the broadcast, speaking cheerily about how the Phillies just needed to score a run an inning to get back into the game, the beginning of a discussion that carried on for most of that night. At one point, Harper’s earpiece was dislodged when he banged against the outfield wall in Citizens Bank Park while making a play, but after an inning of looking around on the warning track, Harper found the hearing device and continued to chat. He went way above and beyond anyone’s expectations.

“I thought that was a good opportunity to do it,” Harper recalled over the weekend. “It was in a COVID year, when the world was kind of upside-down. I was trying to make the best out of it, have some fun with it.”

Ozzie Albies jabbed a finger close to the face of longtime coach Ron Washington, tilting his head as he made his argument, and as Washington answered, his head rocked forward with each inflection. Eduardo Perez, who was prepping for a Sunday Night Baseball broadcast in San Diego, watched the exchange.

“Do you think somebody might wonder if they’re actually getting ready to fight?” Perez said, laughing.

This is how Ozzie converses, with Washington, with teammate Ronald Acuna, Jr., with just about everyone, oozing energy and good cheer, which is why so many opposing players seemingly make conversational pit stops to talk with Albies before and during games. He was an easy choice to wear the microphone when the Braves played the Padres, and viewers got to listen to him explain some of the choices that he was making on defense.

David Ortiz would get a similarly happy reception from teammates and opponents, grinning the Big Papi smile, but he was into his 30s when that really started to happen. The same is true with the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera, who was well into his Hall of Fame career when he began routinely engaging others on the field, jabbering at the enemy dugout.

At age 25, Albies is already getting this sort of reception, drawing laughs from teammates, energizing the space around him. “He’s exactly the same way every day,” manager Brian Snitker said. “It’s hard to place a value on how important that is.”

After a cold and windy night at Yankee Stadium, Enrique Hernandez texted Eduardo Perez when his time on the microphone was over. (Perez had been the person who approached him about the possibility of using the in-game TV technology.) In the text, Hernandez noted that wearing the mic had actually helped him to focus.

Between pitches, Hernandez had done what he always does during games — assess the score and the game situation, and anticipate what he will do on a ball hit to his right, his left, in front of him.

“I’m always talking to myself out there,” he mentioned to Perez. By doing this out loud, to hundreds of thousands of viewers, Hernandez felt even more focused, more engaged in the moment. That fourth inning didn’t go well for the Red Sox but was exceptional for anyone looking for insight into what outfielders think about during games.

April 7: Joey Votto

Reds first baseman and future Hall of Famer Joey Votto sat at his locker in Atlanta In the minutes before Cincinnati’s season-opener, and mulled over the question of whether he is in the midst of a midlife crisis. “Everything is a midlife crisis,” he responded, smiling wryly.

A decade ago, Votto had a reputation among teammates for being relatively quiet, extremely thoughtful, private. But in recent years, his personality has emerged, through in-game interactions with fans, increasingly revealing interviews, and most recently, through a series of TikToks. Reds manager David Bell was alerted to the presence of the TikToks by someone who saw the first of them and burst out laughing, with some happiness that Votto feels more free to express himself.

Votto’s explanation is that he feels this all helps him to connect with fans — and this is why, on Opening Night, he agreed to be the first player in 2022 to wear an ESPN microphone and earpiece and interact with broadcasters while on the field. His conversation ranged from hitting to the question of whether he should get a gold tooth — he asked the Braves’ Ozzie Albies for his opinion on that matter — and yes, about a midlife crisis.

Votto turned out to be the perfect season-opener for Pass The Mic.




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