How the telecast of the Felix Hernandez perfect game came together
By Shannon Drayer
Two notes before I get to the post. Don’t forget Tuesday the Mariners are hosting the “Supreme Court” for Felix Hernandez. If you are a Felix fan and would like to show your appreciation for the King, this is a great way to do it. Special “King of Perfection” t-shirts and K cards will be given to the first 34,000 (in honor of Felix’s number) fans to enter the park. There is special pricing for numerous tickets in different sections of the ballpark with some starting at just $10. For more information log on to mariners.com.
We also learned tonight that Sounders forward Fredy Montero, who struck the Felix pose after he scored a goal Saturday, will throw out the first pitch that night. Just an aside, when Felix heard that Montero “Felixed” after the goal he was pretty fired up.
The second note, and you can probably get him to Felix too, broadcaster Ken Levine will be signing copies of his book “The Me Generation…By Me (Growing up in the ’60s)” at the Mariners Team Store at the ballpark Monday from 5-7. If you don’t know about Ken’s other career, it’s fascinating. He is an Emmy Award winner who wrote for MASH, Cheers, The Simpsons and a number of other great television shows. For more on the book click here.
On to the post.
This weekend while I was wandering around the field I ran into a couple of folks from the TV broadcast and went out of my way to congratulate them for what they did with the perfect game. It really looked spectacular on TV and I had some questions about that. It occurred to me mid-chat with the director that others might be curious about the behind the scenes as well and since my phone had a great recording app on it (I usually use a Marantz digital recorder for my interviews) I turned my curiosity into work. It was a day off after all. Way to go Shannon.
I spoke with Mark Engelbrekt who is in his 27th season with the Mariners and currently serves as director for all telecasts on ROOT Sports. I also talked with the producer for that game, Ryan Schaber, who is new to ROOT Sports Seattle this year and was producing just his 5th game this season. Want to guess what two of his other five games were? Yep, Humber’s perfect game and the combined no-no.
Both guys had the thought that the game could be going in the direction of a no-hitter relatively early. For Engelbrekt this didn’t change things much. As the director it is his job to sit in the TV truck and call shots from 7-10 different cameras. What added to the beauty of the game on TV and what he was able to give to the viewers that day was not only the perfect conditions that day, but the very fact that it was a day game.
ROOT utilizes a Super Slo Mo camera that allows them to give the viewer looks they have never had before. The high frame rate allows this and for day games that rate is even higher and the camera is able to be placed in center rather than in the concourse as it is at night. You get your best view and closest close ups during the day.
“When Felix was pitching we were able to put it in center field and you could see better his hands, how he was gripping the ball and how it tumbled at the last second when it went over the plate,” said Engelbrekt.
“We also had the camera behind the plate, which I try to always have for Felix,” he continued. “The combination gives you the view of the hitter. Seeing what the hitter is seeing, it’s just devastating. Where did the ball go?”
While Engelbrekt is calling the shots Schaber was dealing more with the bells and whistles. He is in charge of the broadcast in the sense of all the story lines that go into it, working with the broadcasters with video and graphics and driving the content. He is also the person who is in the broadcasters’ ear throughout the game.
“It’s always kind of fly by the seat of your pants but in that case the wheels start turning,” he said of the perfect game. “About the 4th inning I’m thinking we could have a no-no situation. It didn’t cross mind until the 6th that we could be looking at a perfect game. Then you start planning ahead. What do we have in our library that can help tell the story? We of course had the Humber package and one for the combined no-no. We also have a guy who constantly builds highlights as the game goes on and I got him going on having all 27 outs.”
As the realization that they could not only be watching but presenting baseball history set in both Engelbrekt and Schabo realized it was important that they not get caught up in the excitement.
“Calling the shots, one to the next…to be honest you have to kind of compose yourself and not let the emotion get too intense where you can’t do your job,” said Engelbrekt.
For Schaber the biggest moment is what came at the end and he knew what he wanted the viewer to see, and hear.
“For the last out I turned it over to Mark,” he said. “The last thing I wanted to do was step on history. I didn’t want to cover it with a bunch of highlights or replays, I wanted to just let it breath and that’s where Mark takes over as a director and puts up the live pictures.”
“I just wanted to capture the moment,” he continued. “As a play by play guy that’s what they do, that’s what they live for is to make that call but as soon as he made that call I told him (Dave Sims) and Dan (Wilson) to stop talking, to lay out and let the crowd make it feel like you are there.”
“Because it is a special moment, you don’t want to step on it. It’s a fine line but let the pictures speak for themselves. Let the fans here speak for Dave and Dan. Then after everybody catches their breath and we step back and realize what we just witnessed. Then we start looking at highlights, get ready for the on field interview. My main goal was to just not step on a special moment by trying to squeeze in too many replays.”
Two days after Felix’s feat Engelbrekt was still smiling when he talked about it.
“A lot of different things came together, the crowd kept getting louder and louder, I think people were coming in off the streets in the late innings and my son was here he will never forget it. So many things made it special, plus Felix, what a great guy,” he said.
“I always feel great for my camera guys on to be part of something like this,” he continued. “I did a no-hitter with Gooden in New York many years ago and when I first started here I did Brian Holman’s game and I got this close to that and to finally have it come to pass in our ballpark? It was wonderful.”
Even though Schaber is new to the area and had worked the Verlander no-hitter in Detroit he had no problem calling the Felix game the most thrilling sports event he has seen.
“This is right there at the top,” he said. “In my position I was nervous because I didn’t want screw it up but at the same time I was excited because it couldn’t happen to a better guy. That guy is funny, classy, a great teammate, a great guy, everything. You could see the sheer emotion on his face and it was awesome.”