CMU students getting real-world experience broadcasting GJ Rockies' games on the Internet
Tyler Paulson is a football guy. His dream job is to man one of the cameras at a Denver Broncos game someday.
This baseball gig, though, is pretty cool.
“I’ve never filmed baseball before. I’d never actually watched it because it wasn’t my thing,” said Paulson, one of 11 Colorado Mesa University students spending their summer nights broadcasting Grand Junction Rockies baseball games on the Internet. “I like football, but it’s definitely a learning curve to look through the camera. You’ve got to be right on where it’s supposed to go. ... You’ve got to kind of figure out before the player knows what’s going to happen. You’ve got to think what’s going to happen and be on the ball. It’s a lot easier at this point, but starting up, it was pretty rough.”
The partnership between the Rockies and CMU’s mass communications department gives the students hands-on experience — more than one agreed it’s going to look good on a resume — and the baseball team worldwide exposure.
From setup to shutdown, the students run the show. Associate professor Dan Flenniken and instructor Greg Mikolai are usually on hand, but unless there’s a problem, they let the students handle whatever comes up.
There have been a few glitches, but nothing major.
“That one big storm we had, I was directing, and we have someone on each camera other than the outfield camera,” said Kelly Parkhurst, who, along with Kevin Strong-Holte, is fulfilling her graduation requirement of an internship. All of the students are being paid, with Parkhurst and Strong-Holte also receiving internship credit.
“I was watching (the control panel) before they suspended the game, and I just see black (on the camera 4 panel) and something swinging. The camera fell over, and the cords are just hanging there.
“There’s so much going on when things are loaded and I didn’t notice it at first. There’s a hit, and you go to camera 4, and, ‘What’s going on? Where’s camera 4?’ But everything has gone pretty smoothly.”
Strong-Holte said there were a few technical issues during the first homestand, mainly with the in-house broadcast in the hospitality suite and the concession area.
“We got lucky because they ran fiber cables for JUCO, and we were able to adopt them,” Strong-Holte said. “We ran into little things, the in-house streaming upstairs. That just ended up being talking to a guy to talk to another guy type of thing.”
Then there was the time the students went to set up the outfield camera after the Rockies’ long road trip to Montana, only to discover the cables had been cut. They quickly were replaced before the game started.
CMU uses a four-camera setup, with one camera high above home plate next to the old press box, one on the second-floor mezzanine level even with first base, one behind the third-base dugout at field level and the fourth behind center field.
“We found out that unless we had a higher angle, there’s really only one angle that looks good,” Strong-Holte said of not having the center field camera manned. “We figured we could use that extra person to run graphics, so we have a constantly updated scorecard, plus batter graphics for the Rockies, pitcher graphics and running advertisements.”
Parkhurst and Strong-Holte run the control booth as director/producers, with the rest of the students rotating among the three cameras and running the graphics board.
The directors are constantly watching the four camera shots, deciding when to switch to what camera during a play.
“Because we do a four-camera setup, which is a small number of cameras for baseball, especially compared to the Major Leagues, we get the camera that can cover it the best,” Strong-Holte said. “Center field for the pitch, and then we usually cut to the high home camera behind home plate.
“The mezzanine camera is a high angle, and for runners going around the bases, we cut to third base. It’s more of a glamor shot. It’s close-up, the color on it is a little bit better.
“It’s just four buttons, camera 1, 2, 3, 4. It’s constantly streaming, and the director sees the four streams, and it’s up to them to decide which one they want to go live.”
Unlike some webcasts, the CMU crew has the ability to not only cut to one of four cameras instantly, but run commercials between innings and offer viewers instant replay of key plays. Because the Web feed has a natural delay of a few seconds, about one pitch behind the live action, the Rockies’ official scorer, Dan Kenyon, can take a closer look on radio play-by-play man Adam Spolane’s monitor in the adjacent booth to verify his scoring decision. Radio broadcasters and print reporters also check the webcast to watch a play closely on video after seeing it live.
The crew arrives two hours before game time to start setting up, checking cameras and then lugging them to their positions, whether that means carrying them up the bleachers behind home plate or wheeling a large trunk through the parking lot to the center-field stand.
They check connections and microphone levels in the radio booth with Spolane and make sure his monitor is set up and running.
The director starts up the control booth, checks camera angles and makes sure everything looks good. Whoever is loading graphics gets the lineups and makes sure the opposing team’s logo is entered into the system. Players’ statistics are updated before the game and throughout for the Rockies.
“It’s so crazy how quickly how everybody picked it up,” Parkhurst said. “They’re doing great. They communicate with each other, and that’s where the headsets come in. They can coordinate who is getting what shot, and they’re making our job way easier.”
That’s helped Parkhurst decompress quicker after games.
“The first couple of games I would go home and just lay there,” she said. “Oh, my god, it was so stressful. Now I love coming to work. It’s so much fun. This last week off, I was just ready for them to be back. Our crew is just awesome. Everything is going better than I could even imagine it going. We’re getting a lot of compliments, which is awesome.”
After all of the setup is complete, they do what college kids do — grab a hotdog, nachos, popcorn and a soda and relax for a few minutes until game time.
Then, they lock in on their assignments.
Whoever is on the third-base dugout camera is protected by an L screen, but that doesn’t mean the camera operator doesn’t have to keep an eye out for foul balls.
“That L screen, I tell you what, since we can see home, that L screen doesn’t really save us,” Paulson said. “You’ve gotta watch out, and if it gets tipped your way, you’ve got to be ready to put your hand in front of that camera, because the camera is worth more than your hand.”
They’ve had a couple of close calls behind home plate — one foul ball broke out a window in the old press box near where the camera is set up.
The Rockies get exposure, the students get experience, but the ones who benefit most from the streaming video are the players’ families. Correlle Prime said his mother watches every game, unless she makes the trip from Bradenton, Fla., to Grand Junction to see her son in person.
“She says this one is the best one,” Prime said.
Zach Jemiola’s parents in Temecula, Calif., are regular online viewers.
“They like it,” Jemiola said. “They like this quality the best (of the three Pioneer League teams to offer streaming). They like being able to watch us and see me pitch when they aren’t here.”
They even have a 10-time All-Star watching. Steve Garvey and his wife, Candace, are regular viewers, keeping up with their son, outfielder Ryan Garvey, and the rest of the club.
The quality, Steve Garvey said, is exceptional, especially when you consider college students are running it with only four cameras.
“For the university running it, I think they’ve done a great job,” he said Friday as he watched the Rockies during batting practice. “They’re continuing to learn and work on their camera angles. The biggest thing is anticipation. I think they’ve made great strides. It’s great for us to be able to go online (and watch). Eventually, they add another camera or two and you’ve got a pretty big production going on.”
An even bigger benefit, he said, is if the players go online after the game and watch their at-bats, which is what Ryan Garvey does. The Rockies also have an intern in the press box taking the stream and breaking the film down so coaches can analyze it and players can study film.
The students would like to add another camera angle, and they want to keep improving throughout the second half of this season. They’re not sure what next year will bring, but Paulson knows he wants to be back on the baseball field.
“I like the camera part, but my curiosity has gotten to me, and I want to see what the director’s chair feels like,” he said with a grin.
Suddenly, a gust of wind kicked up, and Paulson’s eyes widened.
“I’m gonna go make sure that camera didn’t fall over.”