In-game entertainment, broadcasters also adjusting to new regulations
By Paul Hagen
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- One of the reliable old standbys during Grapefruit League games at Bright House Field mimics the classic television game show "Let's Make A Deal." A contestant standing on the dugout is allowed to choose between a nominal amount of cash or the contents of one of three boxes, two of which contain gag gifts.
The twist is that if the fan gets the harmonica or the rubber ducky instead of the gift certificates and autographed baseball, the ballpark emcee encourages the crowd to applaud. If they make enough noise, they're told, the fan will get the grand prize.
On Sunday, during the Phillies' exhibition against the University of Tampa, the spiel was cut off mid-sentence by the introduction of the next hitter.
It's not just players and umpires who have to adjust to baseball's new pace of play initiatives, including a clock that counts down from two minutes and 25 seconds -- two minutes and 45 seconds for nationally-televised games -- and dictates that the upcoming batter be announced when the timer hits 40 seconds.
It's anybody responsible for in-game entertainment, on the field or on the scoreboard. It's the broadcasters. It's even the mascots. The examples that follow are specific to the Phillies, but they could apply to any club.
Tom Burgoyne, the Phillie Phanatic's best friend and spokesperson, said the big furry green creature may have to be a little more vigilant than he's been in the past.
"You always hope that if there's any team that has on-field entertainment that there's a little bit of leeway," Burgoyne said. "The pitcher usually walks around the mound once or twice, plays with the rosin bag. There's that gap. I don't know if there's going to be that gap this year.
"The Phanatic likes to go out there and do his thing and entertain the fans. But you've got to stay within the rules, too."
There have been times, to be honest, when the Phanatic's act ran a little long, resulting in a steely stare from a pitcher.
Burgoyne recalled one Opening Day at Citizens Bank Park. Lady Gaga had emerged from an egg at the Grammys and the Phanatic decided to recreate the scene and have Lady Phapha make the same entrance.
"It was great," said Burgoyne. "It went over really big. We were playing the music 'Born This Way.'"
The problem was that the guys in the Egyptian costumes who had carried the egg out forgot to take it off the field. Oops. The ultra-focused Roy Halladay was not pleased.
Mark DiNardo is the Phillies' director of broadcasting and video services. Part of his duties is to create the content for the scoreboard, and he loves what Major League Baseball is trying to accomplish.
"I think it really will get the desired impact where you're going to tighten up the time between innings," DiNardo said. "The rules are still kind of new and everybody needs to go through them, but they're pretty simple."
The standard commercial break of two minutes and five seconds hasn't changed. What's different is that MLB wants the hitter and pitcher ready as soon as that ends. Which means that Kiss Cam, Bongo Cam and the rest have to end on time, too.
"In terms of formatting the entertainment on the field, it doesn't change it whatsoever," DiNardo said. "With things like a Fan Cam, you can take it almost to the end. If it's an edited feature, we always try to end that with at least 30 to 45 seconds to spare. You never want to get too close to the end with that. I think it's going to be a positive thing."
Tom McCarthy is the Phils' television play-by-play man, and he's already given some thought to how this will impact how he goes about his business.
"Just watching as it was unfolding, I was thinking that we're not going to be able to do as much featurey stuff coming out of break," McCarthy said. "Overall, it's not going to impact us at all. But let's say there's a bang-bang play at the plate that ends the previous half-inning. Well, first, we can't show it a lot at the end of the half-inning or at the beginning of the next inning, because we'll have to get to break and get back.
"When we come back, sometimes we'll say, 'Let's show a highlight of a specific play that was impactful from the previous inning.' We may not be able to do that. Or we may have to pick a specific spot to do that. We know that we're going to be away for 'X' amount of time. The only thing is we have to be aware that once we get back, there's probably not going to be much time to, say, build up a feature kind of segment. We have to think about that a little bit."
Gregg Murphy is the Phillies' in-game reporter for Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia. Less time between the end of the commercials and the first pitch, or between pitches when the rules that require a hitter to keep one foot in the box are enforced, would appear to directly impact his rhythm. He isn't sure that it will, however.
"I guess it could," Murphy said. "I'm allowed to talk while the action is happening, but we do try to keep it to a minimum. So we've actually talked about that a little bit, how we're going to have to kind of anticipate better times for me to start a hit and finish a hit so we're not talking over the action a lot.
"That said, I just think the idea of speeding up [the pace of play] is a good thing. I'm on board with it. It will be a little bit of an adjustment, probably more for the producer and director."
By the way, when the Phillies played the Yankees on Tuesday, the "Let's Make A Deal" segment ended with 20 seconds to spare.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.