September 9, 2020 at the Oakland A’s Spanish Radio Booth prior to the game. Smoke from fires over the Coliseum (Photo by Amaury Pi-González)
The Experience of Broadcasting during a Pandemic
That’s Amaury News and Commentary
By Amaury Pi-González
Here are the memories that were created last season while broadcasting in a pandemic. Many folks have asked what was the experience like, so here it is. During an abbreviated 60-game schedule last year, broadcasters did not travel and most called the games from their home parks.
Some had the luck of having equipment installed by their respective teams at their homes. This set-up allowed them the best commute of all, maybe a total of 20-50 steps to their “home park.” Getting to the Oakland Coliseum to do the games for the Athletics on Spanish radio was nothing new.
I drove like I always do when doing a home game. In the past during certain games when the Giants, Yankees, Red Sox and teams that usually sell-out, create an unusual amount of traffic, I would give my driving a rest and take BART, round-trip to broadcast the game. Because no fans were allowed, the commute coming and going was very “light”.
Arriving at the Coliseum about three hours prior to first pitch (like I always do) the whole parking lot was deserted. About 10,000 empty parking spaces and no tailgate parties. There is nothing like arriving at the Coliseum when everyone has their “tailgate cooker” in full progress.
The smells of smoked meat are just phenomenal. The team and MLB modified the way media entered the Coliseum. There were the standard ten questions or so regarding Covid, taking you temp, and then the normal checking of media work bags and the metal detection gates.
As the season progressed, the thing was the Covid-test would be later and of course during this time, the vaccines were in development…and don’t forget to mask up. Taking the elevator to the broadcast level of the Oakland Coliseum, the protocol was not to allow more than two people at the same time.
The operator was wearing a mask, there was a receptacle with hand sanitizer, (inside the elevator), for everyone to use. The Coliseum and the Oakland A’s did an excellent job. There we many places where big bottles of hand sanitizer were available.
As I got to the broadcast level and the door opened, it was an eerie feeling. The whole place was quieter that most hospitals. The broadcast level usually seats other radio reporters and media writers local and visiting. None of that was allowed.
The only people were us, doing the actual Oakland Athletics broadcasts, radio and television, English and Spanish, engineers, a producer or two and that was it. One or two A’s media staff. Maybe 12 people occupying this whole level, which during a well covered game, could seat dozens.
Also a very small crew on the Coliseum scoreboard, PA announcer and technical people area. This is a busy place during the operations of a regular baseball game in normal times. All the announcers had plenty of separation. Most announcers had their own booth. With the exception of the “cardboard fans”, it was 56,000 empty seats per game.
That is a weird experience. It is something I could never get used to. There was no access to the field to see batting practice or going inside dressing room for interviews. This was all conducted via Zoom at a specific time assigned by the A’s media department.
Technology controlled everything. Once the home plate umpire call of Play Ball! I could hear him (and I mean hear him) like he was next to me, in an empty park you can hear stuff you never heard before. Our production used a crowd noise track during all the games, to recreate the sound of fans.
The PA announcer would call the name of each player coming to the plate, like during regular times; the music will play pre-game and during some parts of the games, and very loud. And the game was the game.
MLB has scheduled to open the season on April 1st.The A’s will open at home against the Astros and then the Dodgers. Most teams are expected to allow fans, maybe 25 percent of capacity and the hope is by the All-Star break (mid July) maybe things will be close to normal times. But for broadcasters, the season will begin just like 2020, no traveling, separation, same safety measures, mask and so on, with the good news of some fans in the stands.
That is progress. I have re-created games that were played thousands of miles away of where I was calling the game, including a couple of Caribbean World Series for FOX sports in English. Those games were called from FOX studios in the LA area while the games were taking place in México and Venezuela.
There was no pandemic or national emergency then, but the ‘powers to be’ producers, chose to do those types of productions because they were more cost effective, and in our business you do what is necessary to survive.
Any major league announcers should be able to re-create the game no matter what the conditions or situations are. If they complain, then they should be sent back to the minors. None of my experiences can compare to the 2020 Season. 2020 is one for the records books. 2020 was like broadcasting in the Twilight Zone.
Stay well and stay tuned.
Amaury Pi Gonzalez is the lead Spanish play by play announcer for Oakland A’s baseball on the A’s flagship station 1010 KIQI Le Grande San Francisco and does News and Commentary at http://www.sportsradioservice.com