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Todd Fritz Is Holding Up His End Of The Bargain

“It scares me sometimes that I don’t have a specific goal, but it’s worked so far because I look back at what I’ve been able to accomplish over the years not knowing exactly what was going to be next.”

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When somebody has passion for what they do, you can feel it. As it relates to Todd Fritz, you can also hear it and see it.

Fritzy, as he’s known on The Dan Patrick Show, oozes passion. He has been a valuable asset for DP since his early days on the show back in June of 2002. He’s done great work for nearly 17 years as a co-producer. There’s no way to maintain, let alone thrive, in a demanding role without a genuine love and enthusiasm for what you do. Fritzy possesses those qualities.

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While talking about a former co-worker in this piece, Fritz mentions that if you love what you do and you’re creative, you’re going to accomplish great things. The same principle applies to himself. It’s no wonder he’s had such a great run.

Among many interesting details below, Todd talks about his surprise characteristic, his notebook of organized chaos, and the one guest above all others he’s still in hot pursuit of.

Enjoy.

Brian Noe: How did you end up becoming part of DP’s ESPN show back in 2002?

Fritz: I was working on a number of shows over the years at ESPN including Up Close with Roy Firestone, Up Close with Chris Myers and Gary Miller, a show called Talk2 with Jim Rome on ESPN2. All those shows were out in LA. They moved me back east and I was working on SportsCenter and ESPNews and different ESPN shows back in the Bristol headquarters.

I guess they were making some changes to some of the staff right around May-June of ’02. I was approached by a couple of the executives at the network including Dan. They were trying to put together the group that they wanted to take the show forward to the next level I guess for lack of a better word. He called upon me as did some of the executives at ESPN Radio and asked if I wanted to do that.

I had been doing a lot of TV at the time. My radio background was WFAN sports radio in New York and KMPC sports radio in LA. I always loved radio, but for me to stop doing some of the TV stuff and get back into radio, I felt like the only way I would do that, it would have to be a big-time, high-profile, national, well-respected show like The Dan Patrick Show.

I remember telling my wife that — and this was before I was even approached — and then just all of a sudden like a self-fulfilling prophecy or something, I get this call. The next thing you know I’m on The Dan Patrick Show staff and there was no turning back and no looking back after that.

Noe: How did it then come about where Dan asked you to be part of the current show?

Fritz: I think it was back in 2007. I can’t believe it’s been like 12 years since we’ve been at ESPN. He had mentioned to me and a couple of the other guys that he was probably going to be moving on from ESPN after 18 years there.

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He was looking to put together a little group. It was a huge decision for me because I remember how excited I was when I first got hired by ESPN. That’s the big time. I thought I’d be there forever, but we spoke about my future and his future and what we wanted to accomplish together. He made me an exciting offer. It was the right time to move on.

I wasn’t sure what was going to be the next step at ESPN, but I had been there for 14 years. He was moving on and I was very flattered that of all the people that he’s worked with over the years that he approached me as one of the people that he thought would be an important cog in the wheel of his future career and the next step that he wanted to take. It was a tough decision to leave a company like ESPN/ABC/Cap Cities/Disney and all that, but I knew that whatever Dan was going to do in the future was going to be very successful. I had an opportunity to be a part of it and so I said “Let’s do it. Let’s go!”

Noe: That probably had to be the toughest decision of your professional career, right?

Fritz: It was. When I was at WFAN, I was interning. Then I was a desk assistant and I was editing tape back in the old days splicing things and taping things together. I had a great time there for a couple of years in Astoria, Queens. Then I moved out to LA for a radio job to help start an all sports radio station in LA, which was 710 KMPC in LA.

It was wild for me — I had never been on an airplane before and the next thing I know I’m leaving my apartment building in Brooklyn, New York, and all of a sudden I’m living in Burbank and working in a studio on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. That was a very big decision too, but it was a no-brainer to do something like that. I was only like 22 at the time and just graduated NYU. It was a big opportunity to go out to LA.

But for this, this was big because it’s ESPN. It’s the Mothership, as we like to call it, the Worldwide Leader in Sports. They don’t just hire anybody. You’ve got to have quite a resume to get your foot in the door at ESPN. I had accomplished a lot of stuff in LA and at the Bristol headquarters, but I liked what Dan’s vision was going forward and what he wanted to do.

Sometimes you’ve got to take a leap of faith. Although I didn’t exactly know what was going to be the next step, I did have a very good idea what Dan’s vision was and I wanted to be a part of that.

Noe: What was your experience like behind the microphone before working with Dan?

Fritz: I basically had no experience. An overnight host back in the day at WFAN, Steve Somers, was kind enough to let me do a couple of updates. We probably would’ve gotten in trouble if anyone found out. It was like 3:30 in the morning on a Wednesday. He let me do some WFAN sports updates, which are normally handled by obviously the so-called professionals that come in and pick what sound they’re going to use, the in-cues and the out-cues, and they write their script.

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We were all behind the scenes in our cubicles in Bristol. I’m booking all the guests for the show and we’re doing research and all that kind of thing. Then all of a sudden, the radio show evolved into TV and Dan, I guess, was speaking to some of the powers that be at DirecTV.

He said, “Hey, I want to hear what these guys have to say. I want to give them a voice. I don’t want it to just be me. These guys have a lot of unique personalities and interesting things to say.”

Basically it was Dan’s idea to say, “I think we should have this ensemble of me, Paulie, Seton, and McLovin to actually be on the air and not just be quiet on the other side of the glass doing their individual tasks whether it’s running the board, producing, chasing after guests, or researching.”

It kind of took off from there. Everybody has their own unique personality and brings their own sense of humor to the show. The feedback we’ve gotten seems to work very well and everyone seems entertained and informed by what we’re trying to do every day.

Noe: This is your first major experience on the mic and it’s such a huge platform. What was going through your mind when you first started off in that role?

Fritz: That’s a great question. I was a little nervous, but I had enough confidence in what I had to say that I felt good about it. It was a lot easier than I thought. I think it got a little trickier just speaking into the microphone if Dan happened to call on one of us. Sharing your thoughts even though it was odd seeing the light on the mic button. Then you’re hearing yourself in your headphones. You’re trying not to think about all the different people around the country that are hearing your every word because that might freak you out a little bit.

I think it got a little trickier when all of a sudden TV cameras were put in the studios and DirecTV got involved. Now it’s a radio show on TV. You want to make sure you’re not being distracted by the cameras that are moving and being controlled by the LA headquarters. That took a little time to get used to.

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It was exciting and it was very cool. We were all like, “Wow, this is great. We’re on national radio and national TV.” But I remember those first few weeks and those first few months — you wanted to make a cognizant effort not to play to the camera. Just try to do your thing and do your job, say what you have to say, but ignore the fact that there are cameras all over the place.

Noe: It’s really unique that you have so many voices on the show. How long did it take for all of you to establish some chemistry and really be tight as a unit?

Fritz: I think it happened relatively quickly. We all have very different personalities, but we all have what I like to think of is a strong sense of humor and a strong working knowledge of sports. Dan had the idea that we would kind of raise our hand, which I’m sure you’ve seen over the years, so that we don’t speak on top of each other.

That was the only thing that when we first started we might have stepped on each other a little bit because it’s Dan and there’s four Danettes’ voices in the room. To make sure that we’re not all talking at the same time we have to let Dan know with a glance or raising your hand like you’re in a classroom just to avoid people stepping on one another. Dan would call on each us and we’ll say what we have to say.

Sometimes we’d make a really good point. Other times, which I’m sure you’ve seen also, I may say something that takes that segment for a whole left turn. Dan will definitely let any of us know if he thinks that something we had to say took us off course a little bit. We try to make a joke about it. I try not to do that too much. I want to bring the segment and the topic forward and not take us in some kind of odd direction.

Noe: What are some of the benefits and some of the challenges that come from working with the same crew for over a decade?

Fritz: We all have a good feel for each other’s personalities. It was never really awkward because we had been working together for a while. Andrew came on later on from Sports Illustrated, but I had worked with Paulie and Seton before when it was back at ESPN Radio in Bristol. We kind of knew what made each other tick and what each of our strengths and weaknesses might be. 

That was probably the best thing of all was the chemistry came relatively quickly. We never had meetings afterwards where it was something terribly awkward. We never had things scripted out. The only thing that we prepare for ahead of time is we’ll have a morning meeting and we may have a few guests booked ahead of time. We’ll go through the topics of the day and try to put a little rundown together of what we may be talking about in which segments during those three hours. But from the get-go, everybody hit it off because we all bring something different to the table. It just meshed.

There’s nothing more flattering than when we go on the road to an All-Star game, a Super Bowl, a Final Four, or whatever and somebody comes up to us and they say how much they enjoy the show and how much they feel that camaraderie coming out of the speakers of the radio or what they see on TV. They kind of feel like they can hang out with us. It’s the power of TV I guess. They feel like they know you and they can easily grab a bite to eat with you or hang out in the bar.

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From a little Jewish kid in Brooklyn to being in different parts of the country and people recognize you and come up to you and tell you how much they appreciate what you do with the show is very gratifying.

Noe: What’s something that people might not know about you and could be surprised to find out?

Fritz: I can be very shy at times. On the air I can be a little boisterous. I love making people laugh. I started dabbling in a little stand-up comedy over the last year or so on the show. I tell the guys even more than booking that huge guest or landing that person that everyone’s trying to get, as much of a great feeling as that is, I’ve always enjoyed whether it’s family, friends, co-workers, if I can get a hearty laugh out of the people around me, I really enjoy that.

I don’t think it’s too much of a shock or a surprise to people now because they know I’ll do my mock headlines. I went on stage a few times to do the comedy thing. When I’m not on, I’ll joke around with my family and friends all the time, but there are times when you just sit quietly and watch a little TV, listen to some music, and shut down the craziness of chasing after guests 24/7.

My personality can change significantly. It’s not that you’re putting on an act when you’re on air, but Dan expects, as we all should, to have high energy and be pumped up for the show. You can’t be like that 24/7. At some point you have to settle down and decompress a little bit.

Noe: That’s funny, man. I’m just like you in that way. I’m all amped up on a show, but people don’t know I can be totally different off the air. I can relate to that.

Fritz: (laughs) I think a lot of people are like that. When you watch those late night talk shows with someone that’s funny on a TV show or in a movie role, it doesn’t come across necessarily on Kimmel or back in the day with Leno or Letterman, or if you’re on Ellen. I remember seeing a lot of comedians or people you thought were just all hyper and funny. When you’re memorizing a script or something that very clever writers have put together, it’s a lot different than when you’re just being yourself.

Everyone needs to decompress a little bit. For me whether it’s hanging out with the family, going to the gym, going for a nice long walk or whatever it is. You can’t be “on” like that all the time. I think you need that balance in your life where you can cool down a little bit.

Noe: Is there one certain guest that you haven’t been able to book that you’re still hoping to one day?

Fritz: Definitely Michael Jordan. I know Dan has wanted to have him on for a long time. We’ve all been trying, but in spite of my best efforts that just hasn’t happened yet.

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I’m sure there are others. If you want to get Presidents of the United States on and things like that. I take a lot of pride in back in the Up Close days when I had booked OJ Simpson back when I was in LA. I think it was around ’97, ’98 or so.

I know obviously the whole world was going after OJ. Setting up that interview for Chris Myers, who was the host at the time, that was a big coup. I always look at that and anytime anyone has told me back in my younger days that you’re never going to get that person on the show, or don’t bother calling for so and so, I remember that as an example of you’ve got to make the effort. You’ve got a try.

If someone leaves you a voicemail or sends you an email saying that the person isn’t available or they’re not interested in coming on, or the topics are too sensitive, whatever the case may be — you’re in the business, you hear a million different reasons or excuses. Sometimes people don’t even get back to you every once in a while on certain requests. I try not to take that too personally. Knowing that at least you checked the box and you made the effort. You never know what’s going to happen or who you may be able to track down.

You end up having a very, very special and exciting moment if by some chance you can get that big-name person. Obviously we’d like to have Bryce Harper on the show. Johnny Manziel we tried to get. Eli Manning, the newsmakers that everyone’s trying to go after. That’s what you’re looking to do. Jason Witten, those are some of the names obviously that come to mind immediately. How great would it be to have those guys on the show?

If you can’t get them, that’s where the creativity comes in as a group. Okay, who would be the next best person to have on if we feel we need to have a guest? Is it a writer, a columnist, an analyst, a teammate? Let’s not just stop there. You shoot for the moon and then if you keep working that way, whatever you end up with, as long as you keep going after the biggest names you can think of, the most creative people that can discuss those topics, you’ll end up with a very strong show and guests that can discuss those things in an intelligent fashion.

Noe: Hopefully this makes sense but I think music and sports radio are similar. If you take a musician for instance — if they listen to a lot of different bands, they’re not necessarily copying them, but they can see what they like and they can use that to create their own style based on it.

Fritz: No question. I always go back to my days in the newsroom at WFAN when I was a junior at NYU. Seeing how different producers, general managers, and program directors behaved and how they interacted with one another from a corporate standpoint, but also just from a content programming standpoint. Always be inquisitive. Always try to be creative. Always have the attitude that anything’s possible.

I take things from what I learned at WFAN, and from LA, from meetings for SportsCenter and ESPNews and different hosts that I’ve worked with whether it’s Jim Lampley, or Roy Firestone, or Chris Myers, Chris Connelly, Gary Miller and obviously Dan. I’ve been fortunate to have worked on both coasts in big markets with big-name talent, which isn’t lost on me and the opportunities I’ve had. Hopefully I’ve made the most of those.

I’ll listen to different shows and hear how everybody’s covering it and what the topics are. I think that’s important to not be so narrow. You don’t want to steal anyone’s ideas or takes if you will, but it is very interesting to hear how different hosts and different programs attack the same stories and topics that you’re going to be talking about.

One example for me is this is a three-hour show. When you’re listening to a local news station — for me in New York it’s CBS Radio 880 or 1010 WINS — they do the sports in like two minutes. I always chuckle with that because they go, “Yankees won, Mets lost, and Eli Manning looks like he’s going to be the quarterback next year,” and they’re done for a half hour. Three hours every day, sometimes there’s no juicy story.

You go to the different sports websites and the top story is a hockey trade. February is that kind of month. What are we going to do for three hours? Because we have such a talented, creative group and everybody works so hard and is always thinking of different ways to improve the show and raise the bar, the show just flies by — whether there’s three or four juicy topics or breaking news, or if it looks like, “Wow, there’s not a lot going on.”

Noe: Is there anything specific about Dan’s style or the styles of the other people on your show that you’re not copying, but you’re tweaking it and using it in your own unique way?

Fritz: As far as Dan specifically, I’ve always been impressed with how much he knows about everything and he’s got an amazing memory. His work ethic is second to none. Before I worked with him, when I worked back in the day with Roy Firestone — everyone always jokes that he used to make the guests cry and they’d get all emotional — after working with some of the talent and seeing their interviewing styles and their skills and their ability to have the guest be so relaxed, they forget they’re even on the air.

Dan’s proving that with the Undeniable show that he’s been doing also on DirecTV on the Audience Network in addition to what he does with our show. I didn’t realize that he’s so, not that he was stiff, but like with SportsCenter over the years with Olbermann reading the teleprompter and you could joke around a little bit. He’s a lot of fun to be around with the radio show. He’s got a lot of energy. He’s very motivated. After everything he’s accomplished, he still has that attitude and energy that he still feels like he has something to prove and has a lot more in the business and in the industry that he wants to accomplish.

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We all bring our A-game because that’s what he deserves. It motivates me to really, really go after those big-name guests because he’s so great at interviewing. The least I can do is hold up my end of the bargain, which is to deliver those newsmakers and those A-level guests so that he can do his thing and talk to the people that should be on The Dan Patrick Show.

I always have that attitude; whoever we’re all going after — and a lot of shows are going after the same person — if they’re going to pick one show, I would want it to be obviously an exclusive with The Dan Patrick Show.

I always looked at us as the Nightline of sports talk. If someone’s going to do an interview, I would hope that they would choose Dan to do that with and it’s my job track him or her down and set that up.

Noe: What do you think it is that separates Dan from other interviewers?

Fritz: I think just his intelligence, his sensitivity. He doesn’t do the gotcha journalism. We’ve talked about that over the years. He’s not looking to trip somebody up or make them look foolish. He respects what they’ve accomplished in their industry and that they took the time to come on the show. He does his homework. He does his research. He makes sure he’s fully knowledgeable of the situation.

The words he chooses, and again the sensitivity I guess — that’s the word that comes up more than anything else — that he takes with the interview. It’s very thought out. It’s very thoughtful. He knows what questions the people that are listening or watching the show want answers to. He’s not afraid. He’s not going to do a softball interview. Again, very thoughtful, very sensitive. He just does it in a very comfortable, non-threatening way with a sense of humor and he makes the guests very relaxed. They know they can trust Dan and open up more than they might with another host.

Noe: It’s funny, sometimes you might flash back to sports moments that you had in grade school or high school. If you were to flash back to a moment on The Dan Patrick Show that’s a highlight of yours, what would it be?

Fritz: We had Bobby Knight and Bo Schembechler on the show together, which was a big deal. There was another time when I think two players got traded for each other. I can’t remember who they were, but we got them both on just as they were finding out they were being traded for each other.

Because I worked at ESPN for 14 years and with Dan for 18 years, every so often when you get that big-name person and they make news and you look at the websites, including espn.com with the BottomLine, and you see The Dan Patrick Show being credited, it’s kind of a big deal. It goes a long way because again, I just remember how excited I was when I was hired by ESPN that I really made it in the industry.

There have been so many different moments whether it’s getting that newsmaker on that I know everybody was going after, or a light-hearted moment like the Charles Barkley’s and Reggie Miller’s that are very funny and personable and aren’t afraid to speak their mind. It’s exciting every day because you know at any moment there could be breaking news. No two shows are the same. We don’t have a script of jokes where Paulie is going to say something and then Seton is going to have a retort and then Andrew or me adds something else. We just kind of do our thing.

Noe: How did your wife react to you singing to John Legend’s wife?

Fritz: She is extremely understanding. My wife, Jennifer, she understands the business and she doesn’t take any of that too seriously. She knows who I really am, and besides the fact that she’s not threatened, it’s not like I’m going to be running away with Chrissy Teigen anytime soon or any of these supermodels that I’m encouraged to hug that we get in the studio every once in a while. She’s great.

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Whether it’s Charissa Thompson, Chrissy Teigen, or countless other Victoria’s Secret models and different people we’ve had on the show. They know I’m the hugger. I’m the more affectionate one and I’m serenading them or whatever is going on, she’ll roll her eyes a little bit or she’ll tease me a little bit when I come home from work on those occasions, but she certainly doesn’t get upset and doesn’t feel threatened at all that I’m running away with any model any time soon.

She’s got a great sense of humor. She’s very supportive especially when I have my phone next to me at the dinner table and I’m trying to have family time, yet she knows the job of booking The Dan Patrick Show — or booking any national radio/TV show — occupies a lot of your time, especially when you don’t know what news is going to break at any given moment. I’ve got to hand it to her.

We’ve been married — it’s going to be 20 years coming up in October. She’s the best and I’m very fortunate she’s that supportive and that she’s a sports fan who likes to watch games and appreciates what’s going on in the sports world. It’s not so foreign to her that I’m in some separate world from her. We watch sporting events together. We talk about the sports news of the day. We went to the Rockets-Celtics game on Sunday. My wife and kids were totally excited about it. I’ve got a 16-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter. They appreciate what I do and really like sports. I’m blessed in that way.

Noe: That’s awesome. As far as the specific teams you root for, do you root for similar teams, or are there any clashes?

Fritz: I raised my son to be a Bronco fan like me from day one. We had the Bronco baby bottles, pacifiers, bibs, pajamas and all that. So we’re a big Denver Broncos family. They all have the jerseys and the hats and everything. We’re watching all the Bronco games on DirecTV. It’s just great. I started rooting for the Broncos in 1977 before they lost to the Cowboys in Super Bowl XII. I started rooting for the Astros back in 1980. I grew up in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn and everyone’s wondering why I’m rooting for Houston and Denver. Especially when I was in high school, it’s amazing I didn’t get beat up. 

I always like to tell this story; it was 1986 and the Astros are playing the Mets in the NLCS, which was an amazing NLCS, and the Angels were playing the Red Sox in the ALCS. The Broncos were playing the Giants in Super Bowl XXI. So here I am in New York, I’m rooting for the Houston Astros to beat the New York Mets in the 1986 NLCS, and I’m rooting for the Broncos to beat the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXI, neither of which worked out.

No one could understand why I would be rooting for the Astros and Broncos instead of the Giants and the Mets. When I was a little kid I would go to Yankees and Mets games. I appreciated Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium. I would root for the Yankees and Mets, but once I saw the Orange Crush and then Elway came aboard, I was all in on Denver.

Noe: With the forthcoming move away from the NBC Sports Network, what do you anticipate in terms of how it could impact the show on a day-to-day basis?

Fritz: I’m not sure. I know we’re all excited about it. We don’t know what the future holds with that. I know Dan had mentioned the other day — I’m not privy to some of those internal conversations with the powers that be — but this relationship with Turner Sports and the merger with Time Warner, I guess we’re going to be on Bleacher Report Live at some point in the near future. I don’t know at some point if there’s an opportunity to be on one of the Turner channels, but we’re excited about things.

We had a great six-year run with the NBC Sports Network. For now we’re still obviously on DirecTV’s Audience Network. We’re on about 340 radio stations and SiriusXM. When it’s time for them to share the next step with me, the powers that be, they know where to find me. For now, all I can do is keep doing my job and chase after the guests and have fun with the show every day.

There’s certain things you can’t control, but I know there’s an enthusiastic aura about what’s going on. It’s moving on to bigger and better things. We had a great relationship and I have a lot of friends over at the NBC Sports Network. If it’s time to move on to something else as far as where we might be airing on the web or on TV beyond the Audience Network, I’m excited to find out what that is even though it’s still a question mark right now.

Noe: What’s something that you remember most from the 13 months you worked alongside Jason Barrett?

Fritz: His enthusiasm. I know he’s a big wrestling fan — we always tease him about that. His just wanting to raise the bar each day — challenging our hosts, challenging the rest of us, coming up with long lists of guests we should have on the show. Just wanting to try new things and not be like every other show, not be cookie-cutter. He wanted to be unpredictable, which I respected a lot.

Just seeing what he’s doing for a living now, and having worked with him when we were doing Dan’s show at ESPN Radio, he’s very passionate about what he does. He knows how to deal with talent and producers. I’m not surprised he’s doing what he’s doing now.

The analysis of different shows, and what different hosts and producers bring to the table, he has a good feel for that. Again, you can’t put a price tag on enthusiasm and passion. If you love what you do and you’re creative, you’re going to accomplish great things.

Noe: JB has mentioned the chaos that is your notebook full of contacts. For anybody that hasn’t seen it, how would you describe it?

Fritz: It is an organized mess. If someone was to look at it — I’ve shown it off to some people and they like to call it A Beautiful Mind like that movie where it’s just got scribble all over. That’s really a good analogy. It’s got stars and highlighters and arrows and different phone numbers. To the average person it would look like a bunch of scribble, that I was like a serial killer or something, or that I’ve got some kind of disorder of some kind.

But for me, I know where everything is. I like to fit a lot of stuff on a page. I usually put about six shows worth of notes on one side of a page. I have several notebooks and each notebook can last me like a year and a half or more. I don’t know how that happened. I think when I was a kid back in school I used to write very small when I was taking notes. That way when it was time to study for tests, maybe it didn’t look like there was that much to study if everything was on three or four pages as opposed to 15 pages. Maybe there was something psychological about that.

We all have our little system and it’s worked for me over the years. I can definitely appreciate it when someone looks at it. They either have one of two reactions; one it’s like, “Wow, that’s amazing,” like in a positive way. The other side, they’ll raise an eyebrow and be like, “Are you okay? Should you be on some type of meds or something like that? It’s disturbing that you write like that and that’s how you function every day.” That’s of concern to some people that maybe you need to go lay on the couch and talk to somebody.

Noe: Say over the next 10 years, is there a certain goal that you would like to accomplish personally?

Fritz: I talk to my wife about this all the time. I’ve been blessed where one job has led to another where I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen next or what I wanted to do next. I met someone at a gym in Brooklyn while I was at NYU and that led to an internship interview at WFAN, which led to an internship and then a job there for a couple of years.

I never knew that I was going to work at WFAN. I never knew that was going to lead to flying across the country to help start an LA version of WFAN. I certainly didn’t expect to be at ESPN on both coasts on different LA talk shows and then at the worldwide leader headquarters. I’ve been thankful that I’ve worked in these big markets with big-name talent. I impressed, I guess, the right people that make these decisions on hiring. I take that very seriously.

There are a lot of people in this business that you work very hard and it doesn’t necessarily amount to anything. There are no guarantees. You could be stuck in a small market somewhere. You could be very talented and work really hard, but it may not lead to anything. Fortunately one thing has led to another. I used to wonder, “Was I doing this years ago because I wanted to book the guests for Oprah, or Letterman, or Leno? What exactly is the goal? Do I want to be like an executive at a network?”

I’m enjoying the ride right now. It scares me sometimes that I don’t have a specific goal, but it’s worked so far because I look back at what I’ve been able to accomplish over the years not knowing exactly what was going to be next. Hopefully those next things will somehow continue to find me. If there’s something out there down the road when The Dan Patrick Show comes to an end that catches my eye to work with a particular person or a network or company, then I will cross that bridge.

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Hopefully things will come clearly to me and I’ll be approached maybe for exciting things down the road. For now, I’m hoping The Dan Patrick Show continues to last a very long time. Whatever the future holds I’m sure it’ll be something fun and positive, and something that waking up in the morning I can be pumped about going to that place.

BSM Writers

On Sunday Night, Everyone Is Watching Karl Ravech

“What I like about my story over the years at ESPN from 1993 to the present is that it’s constantly changing and evolving.”

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Karl Ravech injured his knee while playing soccer at Needham High School and needed to make a decision on what he wanted to pursue as a career. Always having an interest in both sports and writing, Ravech made the decision to attend Ithaca College as a communications major. Throughout his time in upstate New York, he worked hard to take the next step in his career by quickly immersing himself in the professional world, serving as the sports director at NewsCenter 7 in Ithaca, N.Y. and a freelance producer for WCVB-TV in Boston, Mass. – all while attending classes.

Upon his graduation, Ravech attended SUNY Binghamton to earn his master’s degree in management and leadership. Just as he had done previously, Ravech worked in the professional world as he pursued this degree, now as a sports anchor and reporter at WBNG-TV in Binghamton, N.Y.. In 1990, Ravech earned his degree and relocated to Harrisburg, Pa. and was nominated for two local Sports Emmy awards for his reporting on baseball and golf.

Ravech was hired as an anchor by ESPN in May 1993 and has been a fixture at the network since, working in a variety of different on-air roles. He is now the primary play-by-play announcer for Sunday Night Baseball, occupying the seat behind the microphone for Major League Baseball’s biggest matchups every week. Getting to this point in his career has been a journey that has required Ravech to consistently adapt and develop, and, in turn, has augmented his versatility.

“What I like about my story over the years at ESPN from 1993 to the present is that it’s constantly changing and evolving,” said Ravech. “I think the fact that it hasn’t stayed stagnant is what’s wonderful, and the Sunday Night Baseball booth is sort of the next iteration in [my] career.”

Ravech began hosting the overnight edition of SportsCenter with Mike Tirico and Craig Kilborn upon his being hired, and became the primary host of Baseball Tonight and postseason baseball studio coverage starting in 1995. After recovering from a heart attack he suffered while playing pickup basketball with colleagues in 1998, Ravech hosted golf coverage for the network as Tiger Woods became the youngest golf pro to ever win a Grand Slam, and also continued his baseball duties.

Starting in 2006, Ravech began his immersion into the broadcast booth when he became a commentator for Little League World Series broadcasts. Each year, he makes the trip to Williamsport, Pa. to call the action on ESPN and ABC showcasing young, talented baseball players while also telling their stories off the field. Additionally, Ravech has served as the voice of the College World Series on ESPN since 2011, calling the championship action each year from the Charles Schwab Field at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.

The style of both of these broadcasts differ from calling a Major League game in that there is more time to delve into the backgrounds of each of the players and tell the unique stories they bring – especially for those participating in the Little League World Series.

“I’d love to be able to bring that same level of joy to a college game or a Major League game, but I think it’s obvious that it’s a little more serious,” said Ravech. “You’re talking about, in the professional ranks, people that are getting paid; and there’s a lot of pressure on the college kids and their fan bases are very passionate.”

Much like a performer, one of the roles of a broadcaster is understanding and catering to their audience; that is, to understand exactly why a person may be watching or listening to a game and what they seek to gain from it. When a broadcaster is able to pull back the curtain and see the game from the perspective of an audience member, it allows them to foster a deeper connection with the audience as a whole and modify the broadcast accordingly.

“The little league crowd that’s on TV is very different than the one that you get for a College World Series game and certainly for a Major League Baseball game,” explained Ravech. “They have baseball in common, but I don’t think that the expectation when you watch the Little League World Series is to dive too deep into Xs and Os… It’s really about why most people came to the game, which is to enjoy it and have fun with it.”

Being aware of the viewing audience has been central to Ravech’s early success as the new primary voice of Sunday Night Baseball, as it differs from the viewers he had previously been communicating with on Monday Night Baseball, a role he took on in 2016. Yes, calling games on Mondays and Wednesdays undoubtedly required ample preparation; however, Ravech’s new gig has required a shift into how he applies his preparation to the broadcast.

“On Sunday night, [everyone is] watching, which means you have got to be as prepared by talking to the players and coaches as you possibly can be because the people who are consuming it know as much about the team as you do,” said Ravech. “It’s not as if we are preparing any differently, but you’re certainly paying a great deal of attention to just the two teams.”

Throughout his time at ESPN, Ravech had worked extensively with Eduardo Pérez: a former Major League player and experienced analyst. Whether it was in the booth at the College World Series or calling Korean Baseball Organization games remotely in the middle of the night during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the duo has developed a synergy on the broadcast.

Pérez is able to extrapolate unique storylines during the game because of his profound ability to communicate with those around him.

“As we walk through the stadiums, he is talking to people who are doing everything in the building – whether they are operating an elevator; whether they are the general manager; whether they are a player; whether they are welcoming people into a clubhouse,” Ravech said of Pérez. “He knows everyone, and those connections make him so valuable.”

Someone Ravech has been familiar with over his years living in New England is former all-star pitcher and YES Network analyst David Cone, albeit from covering him as a player and watching him on television. Ravech called ESPN being able to land Cone this offseason “the last piece” to assembling the new booth, all while Cone is still slated to call 50 Yankees games on the YES Network this season. Prior to the 2022 campaign, Ravech and Cone had not worked together; yet just a few games into his new job, Ravech has been impressed with his colleague.

“He recognizes that in order to communicate properly we, collectively, have to understand what it is that we’re talking about – so you’re not just throwing terms out there that may sound good but you don’t know what they are – and he’s very aware of that,” Ravech said of Cone. “He’s the complete package when it comes to an analyst in 2022.”

Along with being the voice of Sunday Night Baseball, the College World Series and the Little League World Series on ESPN, Ravech has also served as the voice of the SEC basketball tournament since 2017. Being on the call for high-stakes matchups, such as the Kentucky Wildcats against the Tennessee Volunteers, or on Sunday Night Baseball, the New York Yankees against the Boston Red Sox, is an exciting part of Ravech’s job throughout the calendar year. But no matter the sport; no matter the league; no matter the game – there is a consistent aspect of Ravech’s vernacular he is cognizant of every time he steps behind the microphone.

“I think my style, whether it’s in the studio or in the booth, is to really engage with the analyst,” said Ravech. “That part of it is, I think, a common trait through all of my broadcasts and I want to continue to do that.”

Having the ability to engage in genuine conversation with his analyst comes in actively listening and molding the conversation to fit most optimally with what is being discussed, even if it means departing from what he had originally planned. In this sense, he sets his partners up for success during the broadcast, part of the reason why he has been adept in working with different personalities in varying atmospheres across different sports.

“If you listen, then your follow-up questions will not necessarily be ones that you have written down already,” explained Ravech. “[Your analyst] has opened up this door, and you better be able to be willing to walk through it with them because they’re trying to say something and you’ve got to get it out of them.”

While Ravech, Cone and Pérez call Sunday Night Baseball games in the style of a traditional broadcast, there are several elements of the entire viewing presentation that demonstrate ESPN’s willingness to adapt to changing media consumption trends. One of these elements includes the addition of the new KayRod Cast, which became the most viewed alternate broadcast during a Major League Baseball game during the season debut of Sunday Night Baseball. The broadcast, featuring New York Yankees play-by-play announcer and 98.7 ESPN New York host Michael Kay, along with all-star third baseman Álex Rodríguez, diverts from the traditional style of broadcast through longform conversation, special guests and commodifying the act of watching a live baseball game.

“Baseball to me is an ideal platform for things like the KayRod Cast,” Ravech opined. “I think David, Eduardo and I spend a great deal of time focused on the game, but I think there are times where you can veer off and get into some entertaining conversations, and I certainly know that the guests that are on the KayRod Cast offer opportunities like that as well. Baseball lends itself to things like ESPN is doing right now, and I’m grateful to be in one of those booths.”

One of the elements within the traditional Sunday Night Baseball broadcast that lends to the commodification of the sport is putting mics on players. It’s a new element in Sunday Night Baseball this year. Fans have been given a firsthand perspective, essentially divulging the in-game mindset of a Major League player. Occasionally though, the action finds the interviewee mid-sentence during a game, as it did Francisco Lindor recently – and those are moments where all the broadcasters can do is watch and hope for the best.

“You’re kind of holding your breath that he makes the play instead of his being, in some way, distracted by the conversation,” said Ravech. “We’re incredibly sensitive to that. We try to, for the most part, stay out of when they are at the plate; there’s no talking to them. But in the field, they understand that this is an opportunity for them to share with the consumer at home a real on-the-field view that people would not otherwise get.”

Appearing as the featured player on Sunday Night Baseball garners plenty of significance and gives players the opportunity to connect with their fans and the larger viewing public. Having the chance to share your perspectives on national television during a game has become a badge of honor, and players from each week’s matchup have nominated a player for the next week’s game to wear the microphone. So far, ESPN is batting 1.000 in that department, as everyone who has been nominated has appeared on the following week’s broadcast.

“Joey Votto was very different than Ozzie Albies [who] was very different than Kike Hernandez and Francisco Lindor,” explained Ravech. “The list is great, and every one of them has provided unique looks into the game and their positions and their communication styles and skills while they’re on the field and in the dugout.”

Occasionally, a player will opt to stay on the microphone for an extended period of time as Phillies outfielder and reigning National League Most Valuable Player award-winner Bryce Harper did a few weeks ago. Harper was the designated hitter for that night’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers and stayed on the microphone for four innings of the contest.

“It was incredible,” recalled Ravech. “We got a chance to talk to one of the biggest names in the game for four innings; he almost became a quasi-analyst with us. It was really neat, and I think the viewer benefits from it.”

As Ravech’s career continues, he seeks to improve in all areas of his work and try new things if the opportunities arise within ESPN’s broadcast portfolio. While there is always the chance of opportunities presenting themselves at different media outlets, Ravech affirms that since the network continues to innovate and remains the leader in coverage, he wishes to continue working with them.

“I think [ESPN] is going to continue to evolve for sure,” said Ravech, “and I feel very comfortable about the direction they’re going to go in and continue to ride along with them.”

Any additional career endeavors that Ravech desires to pursue will be because he had actively pursued them, and he is excited to discover what lies ahead in his career.

“I’m not one of those who looks at it and says, ‘I want to call a World Series. I want to call a Final Four,’” said Ravech. “If that all happens, then there will be a reason. I’ll have sought those out, as opposed to the way this has happened – which is you kind of just keep moving around and finding your lane like water does down the sidewalk. That’s the beauty of it; it’s organic – there’s nothing linear about it.”

Ravech has worked with a wide array of broadcasters throughout his career at ESPN, including Dan Patrick, Keith Olbermann, Stuart Scott and Chris Fowler, and has spoken to aspiring broadcasters on numerous occasions as well. One broadcaster he has had the opportunity to mentor firsthand is his son Sam, who has grown to become a play-by-play announcer on the SEC Network, ACC Network and ESPN, making his debut for the latter at 22 years of age.

Through mentoring his son and other young broadcasters, Ravech has learned that having authenticity in the on-air work that you do allows for one’s true personality to shine through no matter the sport being played or medium on which the broadcast is being disseminated.

“I always encourage Sam to be himself. Don’t try to be somebody else; don’t use somebody else’s voice; don’t try to speak the way they do,” said Ravech. “Be you, and hopefully over the course of a long time, people will come to respect you [and] your work.”

Sometimes, getting opportunities in sports media comes in being uncomfortable; that is, broadcasting or talking about a sport with which you may be unfamiliar or having to relocate outside your home market to accept a job. By working to transform feelings of discomfort into those evoking contentment, sports media professionals can successfully learn to grapple with change, and be prepared for it the next time it happens.

ESPN saw potential in Karl Ravech in his early years at the network and has been open and receptive to giving him opportunities both inside and outside of baseball as time goes on. In order for Ravech to grow as a broadcaster though, he had to work to enhance his craft – but none of that would have been possible had it not been for Ravech being open to and embracing change.

“Be malleable. Be flexible,” said Ravech. “That’s what I would tell anyone, whether it’s my son Sam who I’m incredibly proud of, or anybody getting into it. You just never know which way this career is going to go and the things it’s going to expose you to. You just don’t.”

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BSM Writers

The Big Ten Could Change The College Football TV Landscape Forever

“It appears the Big Ten could be the first major conference to embrace major streaming services carrying its top games.”

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The college football world, and the college football Twitterverse, was lit the night of September 22, 2018. The fourth-ranked Oklahoma Sooners were being taken to the wire by Army, a team that still runs the triple option in an age when offenses routinely throw the ball 40+ times per game. The National Championship picture was already going to be blurred a bit and we’d barely even started the season. We all left our games of choice in search of the end of regulation and the eventual overtime only to find a relic of days gone by, the game was only available on a pay-per-view telecast.

In the days before massive conference media deals, the pay-per-view games were a regular occurrence, normally reserved for the Southwest Louisianas and Pacifics of the world visiting town. For you kids, Southwest Louisiana is now The University of Louisiana and Pacific once played football, sort of. Not even regional telecasts had an interest in those games, so you called your local cable company and shelled out $39.95 to watch a poorly produced telecast of an absolute bludgeoning. 

Incidentally, one other way you could watch these pay-per-view games was if you had access to one of those C band satellites. In my youth, it was a sure sign of wealth. It looked like your neighbor had raided a NASA facility and stolen a satellite at gunpoint. You couldn’t hide them, either. They would sit out in the middle of your lawn like you were trying to communicate with beings from a neighboring solar system.

My friend had one of these satellites and we spent hours watching random things like Spanish language shopping networks. Where else can you buy an authentic matador cape for four easy payments of $39.95? We also found news analysts awaiting their live shot window while applying one more coat of make-up or adjusting their toupee. It occasionally kept us out of real trouble, even if it wasn’t the height of entertainment. But, I digress.

The concept of the stand-alone pay-per-view game seemed to have been dealt a near fatal blow with the massive ESPN and FOX deals with the major conferences. It was finished off and buried with the launches of the conference television networks. Technically, almost all the games are “pay-per-view” in that I pay my provider each month for the sports channels but I no longer have to find a channel I otherwise never use and watch color bars in anticipation of an announcer I never see trying to sell me on the importance of a game in which the home team is favored by five touchdowns.

The imminent Big Ten Conference media deal is going to be a big one but, according to Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren, it may include something many college fans have never encountered, major games only available on streaming.

Warren told ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg that Amazon and Apple will be potential major players in the future deal. It would be a departure from the normal business plan for the two streaming giants to settle for games featuring a directional school playing a Big Ten power. That means the real possibility of a meaningful Top 25 Big Ten game being available only on a streaming service.

The NFL is already in this bed with Amazon. Notre Dame has also dipped their toe in this pool with a 2021 game exclusively available on Peacock. There has yet to be a conference go all-in to this degree. It appears the Big Ten could be the first major conference to embrace major streaming services carrying its top games. Somebody had to be first, as the Big Ten was with the Big Ten Network, and you can be sure every conference commissioner is watching.

There is a certain comfort to finding games in the way you always have. I imagine dialing up Amazon Prime for the big Wisconsin at Penn State game will have the same feel as dialing up the random channel for the old school pay-per-view.

My family is uniquely prepared for this as we have, apparently, chosen to purchase our streaming services like we are buying them in a Sam’s Club family pack. The Amazon deliveryman visits my house so often I asked my accountant if I could declare him a dependent on my taxes. The Big Ten won’t be sneaking a streaming game past me!

This will come with a certain amount of criticism, no doubt. Many fans pay for their satellite or cable packages primarily for their favorite team’s games. Now, my conference of choice will ask me to add a streaming service on top of this. It’s a smart move by Amazon or Apple. Big Ten fans will sign right up and promptly forget to cancel as soon as the season ends and the $14.95 will keep being drafted whether you watch Severance, or not. My wife and I gave the first Severance episode 15 minutes and moved on to Bridgerton. For your information, I only watch Bridgerton for the well-written dialogue.

This feels like a seminal moment in sports TV, not unlike the 1995 Duke-North Carolina game at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham. That was the night ESPN chose to televise college basketball’s most-watched rivalry on ESPN2. It forced cable providers, and viewers, to say: “Wait, big games will be there too? It’s not just Jim Rome and Jim Everette fighting?” In the length of a two-overtime classic Tar Heel win, ESPN2 became a necessity for any true sports fan. 

Now, you’ll have to pry the Michigan-Ohio State game out of FOX’s cold dead hands but, if Amazon or Apple wants this to work, they’ll pay the money that would put any other Big Ten game in play for them. That is the only way you convince the average fan to pay more for the services they don’t already have. Money obviously isn’t an issue for Amazon and Apple, Jeff Bezos and Tim Cook could realistically be under the impression they are actually buying the physical states that make up the Big Ten.

If Amazon is the winning bid, their football profile is off to an impressive start. The Sports Business Journal reports they are among the leaders for NFL Sunday Ticket to pair with their current national games, a deal believed to be worth $2 billion per year. Add major Big Ten games to the mix and it won’t be long until other conferences are interested in joining the platform.

For Apple, it would be a new sporting venture to pair with their national MLB games, giving them an extended profile. Not shockingly, they are also in the mix for the NFL’s Sunday Ticket package according to Sports Business Journal. All of this means I could eventually watch one of these games on my watch. We truly are living in the time of The Jetsons.

If not now, soon. Amazon and Apple don’t just go away. Clearly, they are interested in being major players in sports streaming and have the money necessary to get a seat at that table. If not the Big Ten, another college conference will be on board, but make no mistake – the Big Ten would be a major pelt on the wall for either company. Speaking of walls, this news may mean it is time to add another TV to yours. Amazon has some great deals right now.

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BSM Writers

Peacock’s ‘MLB Sunday Leadoff’ Hits Baseball Broadcast Sweet Spot

‘MLB Sunday Leadoff’ feels like meeting up with an old friend while ‘Friday Night Baseball’ has been more like going on a blind date.

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@JasonBenetti on Twitter

Sunday was Mother’s Day, so it probably already felt like a special day for many families and households. But for baseball fans, the late morning felt particularly warm and festive with the debut of MLB Sunday Leadoff on Peacock and NBC Sports.

Breakfast and baseball? (Maybe “brunch and baseball” is more appropriate with the pregame show beginning at 11 a.m. ET, followed by the Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox playing at 11:30 a.m.) Who might have guessed the two would blend together so wonderfully until Peacock showed us?

Yes, sports fans have woken up with tennis, soccer, the Olympics, and the NFL in London for many years now. But as the Sunday Leadoff broadcasters mentioned a few times, a morning start time felt like getting up early to play a Little League game, reviving a happy memory for so many fans.

And though baseball has endured criticism for its slow pace and idyllic vibe in recent years, those aspects seemed to fit with a Sunday morning — when some might be waking up, returning from quiet early errands, or coming home from church — just perfectly.

The Peacock broadcast certainly embraced comfortable nostalgia with its presentation, with Vin Scully narrating the introduction, reminding (or informing) viewers that NBC was once the home for Major League Baseball for more than 40 years with Saturday’s Game of the Week. Baseball returned to the network for six years, from 1994 to 2000, but had been elsewhere for 22 years.

To younger generations, that may not matter. Baseball has been readily available on Fox, ESPN, TBS, and more importantly, regional sports networks. But NBC always felt like home for the sport with voices including Scully, Mel Allen, Curt Gowdy, Dick Enberg, Joe Garagiola, Tony Kubek, and Bob Costas. Even on a streaming platform, with Sunday’s debut simulcast on a linear broadcast network, baseball being back on NBC (or an NBC product) just felt right.

However, promoting the game’s past and tradition isn’t the best way to appeal to younger fans. MLB Sunday Leadoff seemed entirely aware of that, bringing an energy and excitement to its presentation that made baseball feel vital. Host Ahmad Fareed and analyst Nick Swisher made the broadcast feel like an event, informing viewers of the White Sox and Red Sox and which players were worth watching.

Bringing on popular online baseball personalities like Rob Friedman (aka @PitchingNinja on Twitter) to break down the starting pitching match-up between Chicago’s Dallas Keuchel and Boston’s Tanner Houck was also a nice touch.

A highlights package of Saturday night’s action opened its arms to fans of all ages. Fareed and Swisher narrated the action enthusiastically, making the footage feel as if it had to be seen. (Swisher may have been too enthusiastic for 11:30 in the morning — 8:30 a.m. on the West Coast — but those familiar with him shouldn’t be surprised that he came across as very caffeinated. He’s a high-energy dude.)

Even better, the theme from This Week in Baseball played with the highlights. More specifically, the theme song is titled “Gathering Crowds,” composed by John Scott, and played over the closing credits of the show with a montage of baseball action. Want to get an older baseball fan excited? Play that theme song.

The actual game broadcast was smooth as well. Those who didn’t know otherwise might guess that play-by-play announcer Jason Benetti and analysts Steve Stone and Kevin Youkilis have often called games together. They sounded comfortable with each other in a three-man booth setup that doesn’t always work.

Of course, Benetti and Stone work together on NBC Sports Chicago’s White Sox broadcasts so there was obviously familiarity there. With the plan for Benetti to work with rotating analysts associated with the two teams playing each Sunday, it was a fortunate circumstance to have Stone in the booth. That made a more welcoming environment for Youkilis, who’s new to broadcasting this season on NESN’s Red Sox coverage.

Benetti certainly helped with making Youkilis comfortable, asking him questions about playing at Fenway Park (as a batter and fielder), his approach to hitting, and how he strategized against opposing pitchers. That shouldn’t have been a surprise, considering how many different analysts Benetti works with while calling basketball and football. He’s an utter professional who elevates his partners and makes broadcasts fun.

Sunday’s telecast also benefited from some luck. During the fourth inning, Peacock had Red Sox left fielder Alex Verdugo mic’ed up, a feature that’s worked well on many baseball broadcasts so far this season. Verdugo provided good insight on how he handles playing in front of Fenway Park’s iconic Green Monster, dealing with fly balls, caroms, and throws in a setting unlike any other in MLB.

But the game was delayed when home plate umpire Ron Kulpa was hit by a foul ball off his mask. Kulpa seemed stunned by the impact and was checked by trainers before leaving the game to be examined further. That resulted in a 20-minute delay while first base umpire Marty Foster changed into proper gear to take over behind home plate.

Yet for viewers watching on Peacock or NBC, the stoppage may not have felt so long because the broadcast crew and Verdugo engaged in an extended interview that felt more like a conversation, covering topics ranging from being traded for Mookie Betts, dealing with the wind as an outfielder, and favorite restaurants in Boston. It surely helped that Verdugo has been mic’ed up for broadcasts before and was already comfortable with such a situation. But the timing of it all worked out fortunately for Peacock.

MLB’s new streaming ventures with Peacock and Apple TV+ received heavy attention going into the season. Fans and media weren’t sure of what to expect, while exclusive telecasts meant viewers had to sign up for these services to watch. Of the two thus far, MLB Sunday Leadoff feels like meeting up with an old friend while Friday Night Baseball has been more like going on a blind date.

To be fair, maybe too much was expected of Apple TV+ from the outset. A tech innovator streaming live sports for the first time would surely bring something new to a baseball telecast, maybe even reinvent parts of it. Instead, the game broadcasts — incorporating some who have never called a baseball game before — have felt like everyone involved is still trying to figure out what works best.

Meanwhile, Peacock just produced a solid baseball broadcast, sprinkling in elements that may have been familiar, but also felt fresh. Leaning on nostalgia doesn’t hurt, either. But there’s also less of an uphill climb by not trying so hard to be new and innovative. Comfort is a nice thing, especially on a Sunday morning.

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