Not all Rays fans are also NFL fans, but for those who are and get to enjoy the quality of its coverage, comparing it to the celebration of Opening Day is like comparing apples to, well, rotten apples.
With ESPN’s commentators working against a backdrop of — I kid you not — a wool blanket with MLB players painted on, they created about as bland a commentary as you could ever imagine.
Jon Sciambi with analysts Rick Sutcliffe and Doug Glanville were the crew charged with making this a memorable event for fans that were thirsty for some MLB action after a long Spring Training and World Baseball Classic.
Fans were amped, ready to roll and full of energy. The commentating crew, not so much.
Now, to be fair, if you were reading their Tweets, you would have thought you were in for highly energized coverage with insightful commentary.
Coming up top of the hour!!! US!!!!!! https://t.co/oK1xtLmNgX— Jon Sciambi (@BoogSciambi) April 2, 2017
It wasn’t to be, though.
Throughout the game, there were long pauses, long droughts devoid of useful information, and an abundance of video showing Jon and Rick in front of that awful background blanket.
Now had they been broadcasters working for the Yankees we could say they were good for the first three innings. Because for the first three innings it was all about those Yanks, even while Rays hitters were pummeling NY ace Masahiro Tanaka .
In all, they highlighted 7 of the up-and-coming Yankees prospects, talked about the current issues on their roster, and spoke of them as a very young team - forgetting all along that the Rays are actually younger, and also have a top 10 prospect system and their own impressive prospects worth talking about.
How does that happen? How do you highlight this Yankees team’s prospects and show them off like prized cattle, but never once talk about Willy Adames a top-10 ranked prospect in all of baseball?
Doug Glanville: Saving Grace
Thankfully for the ESPN crew, Doug was there to bail them out. Not only was he amusing while talking about the crowd he was forced to endure in CF, but he was able to provide the outstanding coverage, available in the video below, which highlighted Kevin Kiermaier.
If it weren’t for the 4th inning coverage highlighting Kiermaier — for which we give them full props — their coverage would have earned a failing grade. They stopped short of acknowledging him as the best defender in baseball, but Doug bailed them out there. He continued to make it somewhat interesting to watch on occasion, and overall it made the game coverage passable, but not nearly the triumph it should have been.
The conversation with KK is well worth the time to watch, and highly recommend it, but also indicative of what could have been for the team’s other star players, like Chris Archer, Evan Longoria, and Alex Colome.
Jon and Rick: Blind to Rays Performance
What bothered me the most, however, is that throughout the fireworks display the Rays put on to get to a 7 - 2 lead, not only did the announcers refuse to indicate how well the Rays hitters were doing — at the plate or on the bases — but they continued to focus on Tanaka and Tanaka alone.
The announcers seemed bored by the fact that the Rays were winning.
Sure, Tanaka was struggling and that was worth noting, but how about giving the Rays hitters some props for driving the ball back up the middle? Or for taking the extra bases?
Instead: crickets, bland statements, and Yankees talk.
That doesn’t cut it.
ESPN Production Issues
You would think that with the money it costs them for the rights to the games that they'd promote it and produce a high quality product.
Were you ever lucky enough to listen to Vin Scully? Close your eyes and remember the stories he and his crew would research to tell about the home and away players. The details that identified the audience with the players, that taught you something about life and baseball at the same time.
MLB has a lot of issues remaining to get sorted out, but it should not need to sort out how the game is covered.
Who you choose to do the job of commentating - and how you equip them to do that job - is reflective of how much pride you’re taking in covering the game. If Sunday’s debut was truly the best ESPN can do, that does not speak well to their talent or commitment. Move on, give the contract to someone else and let them take it on with gusto.
If you were lucky enough to watch both the Rays game and the Cubs vs Cards game you saw the contrast I’m talking about. In the latter game, the announcers showed some excitement, had insightful commentary, and portrayed a balanced feel for both teams. Rob Manfred showed up, there were guests and interviews throughout, and coverage that reflected a wildly entertaining game.
So why can’t both games have that? Why were the Rays covered so lightly within their own game, particularly one they dominated so much?
It was an honor for the Rays to play the first game on Opening Day. ESPN made it into an embarrassment, for both themselves and for MLB.