Monday, March 31, 2003

Luxury seats steal home from telecasts

Reds fans may wonder if all the bases are covered watching TV games this season from the new Great American Ball Park.

Fox Sports Net Ohio's debut telecast from the ballpark Saturday provided Reds fans with great views of the action - and the $280 million stadium - except for one thing: home plate.

Gone is the field-level camera directly behind home that Reds fans had enjoyed for 32 1/2 seasons at Riverfront Stadium/Cinergy Field.

Morning news: All four morning TV newscasts plan to cover Opening Day preparations.

Rally: Live coverage of Fountain Square Reds rally (9-10 a.m., Channel 12).

Parade: Two-hour parade specials start at noon (Channels 5, 12, and commercial-free on Time Warner countywide public access Channel 24).

Pregame specials:
Reds Countdown (2-3 p.m., Channel 12) and Real Reds (3 p.m., Fox Sports Net Ohio).

Game: 4 p.m. on Channel 12, Fox Sports Net Ohio. (ESPN's telecast will be blacked out within 50 miles of Cincinnati, per contract.)

Radio: WLW-AM (700) plans live remotes all day leading up to the Inside Pitch pregame show (3 p.m.)and the game.

That camera position - which captured slow-motion pictures of a pitch spinning toward the plate, or close plays at home - has been replaced by new ground-level "Diamond Club" luxury seats immediately behind the backstop.

It's one of several places in the new ballpark where TV angles were changed so fans could be closer to the field - which isn't such a bad thing.

Instead of from the field, the view of home plate for Opening Day today (4 p.m., Channel 12 and Fox Sports Net Ohio), and 39 other home telecasts, will be from the second-deck press box level.

The camera isn't peering over the umpire's shoulder, but the new camera location is lower than the old "high home" camera in the top deck at Cinergy. Actually, the new home plate camera is inside the TV booth next to announcers George Grande and Chris Welsh. (A squeeze play?)

FSNO also opened the ballpark Saturday, telecasting the Reds 3-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians, without an overhead view of home plate showing balls and strikes.

At Cinergy, a camera mounted on the edge of the top-deck roof zoomed in on the plate. But the roof of the new ballpark is not as big, covering only the top 10 rows, so Fox Sports Net may experiment this season with an overhead view, says Tom Farmer, FSNO's Reds TV executive producer.

Better cameras

Except for behind the plate, Reds fans will have a more intimate view of the Great American game on TV.

FSNO has installed more powerful cameras throughout the new ballpark. They provide 86 times magnification - the old ones were 70 times - so viewers can see better close-ups of the batter from the centerfield camera. On Saturday, they provided some terrific views of wild pitches bouncing away from Reds catchers Jason LaRue and Kelly Stinnett.

Blocked views

But viewers won't see everything on TV. Ironically, Great American has the same TV blind spots that Riverfront/Cinergy had - in the right- and left field corners.

When Stinnett rifled a ball down the left field line in the ninth inning Saturday, the home plate camera couldn't see it because the stands flare out close to the field behind third base. Again, TV loses out to improved accommodations for fans buying tickets.

"They have brought fans closer to the field," Farmer explained, "and you can't see around a corner."

So it's up to the director to call quickly for another shot, perhaps from cameras high up above first or third, or in center field.

In all, Fox will use eight cameras for Opening Day: two in center field; one in each dugout; high above first and third; and two in the TV booth (one for the field, one for close-ups of the broadcasters, which Welsh called the "Spy Cam").

The new locations, and ballpark design, presented some challenges to FSNO camera operators Saturday.

• Lower dugouts - so paying customers can see the game better - make it difficult for TV cameras to shoot players' faces because of the protective railing in front of the dugout.

• Dugout cameras must aim up to see players on deck or at bat. Instead of seeing the opposite dugout behind the hitter, TV viewers see the top rows of the lower deck.

• When the camera zooms in on the Reds' center field bullpen, the top of the outfield fence obscures the name of the pitcher warming up. Viewers can only see the player's number. (Keep a scorecard handy!)

Cool stuff

Reds fans today may see Welsh's new play toy this year, a telestrator to draw pictures on the screen. Welsh used it once in the second inning Saturday - and never touched it again.

Viewers also should expect to see lots of Great American features on today's telecast - the tall stacks in center field; restaurants; bleachers; the gap in the third-base stands; and the cool Wrigley Field-like brick wall behind home plate.

A word from our -sors

Judging from Saturday's game, the only folks who may complain about the Reds' telecasts will be advertisers.

When cameras zoomed in on the pitcher tossing the ball, only half of the billboard behind the plate could be seen. So advertisements were truncated for Provident Bank ("-nt Bank"), Mobil gas ("-obil"), Ohio Lottery's Mega-Millions game ("10 Million") and Tristate Chevy Dealers ("-hevy Dealers").

We got the message - but sponsors paying a premium may not be pleased. I'm sure they'll want all the bases covered - fearing that we all won't rush out to get a loan from -nt Bank, buy a new -hevy, and fill it up with -obil gasoline.


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