CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Dave Miller sits in a dimly lit control room on a Saturday afternoon, eyes locked onto a panel of high-definition screens flashing in front of him. At the moment, he’s drawn to a single screen in the bottom-right corner.
His eyes find the action at just the right time.
“Oh, great catch in Blacksburg!” he says, initiating a chain reaction that sweeps through ESPNU’s headquarters.
“We got a web gem in Blacksburg,” echoes producer James Dunn, sitting to the left of Miller, a senior coordinating producer. Through his headset, Dunn directs the tape room next door to prepare a replay. And within seconds—on a larger screen to the left—Virginia Tech right fielder Mark Zagunis can be seen making a sliding catch in foul territory in both backward and forward motion.
The clip is rewound, cut, packaged and delivered to the main feed of ESPN’s Bases Loaded channel, where commentators Dari Nowkhah and Kyle Peterson present it to viewers in a studio just across the hall.
College baseball fans watching the channel or streaming it on their laptops or tablets can now see the play for themselves. That’s the idea behind Bases Loaded—to collect the best moments from games at 16 NCAA tournament regional sites and ensure viewers don’t miss a single one.
In the process, the channel gives college baseball a level of media exposure it’s never quite had before—every game at every regional is played in front of ESPN cameras.
“What we want to do is make this just like the NCAA basketball tournament,” says Miller, who oversees all of ESPN’s college sports production. “That’s our goal.”
Miller, who is visiting from ESPN’s main headquarters in Bristol, Conn., is a founding father for Goal Line and Buzzer Beater, two similar channels that provide live look-ins to college football and college basketball games, respectively. Bases Loaded follows a similar model, whipping from game to game based on the current situation—the biggest games and most crucial moments are given top priority.
It’s not a clear-cut formula, but Miller said all decisions are made with the viewers in mind.
“The important thing is to follow storylines,” Miller said. “It’s not just action, action, action. You can get overwhelmed if it’s just action . . . Let’s break it down and summarize it. What does it mean? What are the stories?
“We’re storytellers, and we want to build the drama, too. That’s part of it.”
From The Studio
“People like the Bases Loaded,” Dari Nowkhah says from his anchor position at the ESPNU studio desk. “People dig it.”
It’s nearly 2 p.m. in the afternoon, and Nowkhah is getting ready for an entire day of Bases Loaded game coverage. Of course, he won’t be going at it alone. He shares anchor duties with fellow ESPNU host Anish Shroff. And Kyle Peterson, a former Stanford and Brewers pitcher, joins both of them to add analysis throughout the day.
Together, they provide the context for the games and highlights that will make their way across viewers’ screens.
“We’re going wherever there’s an immediate reason to go, but we’re always tracking,” Nowkhah says as the day’s games get under way. “Five SEC teams come into today facing elimination. Smaller conference teams have been doing the damage against the SEC. You got a No. 1 seed who’s playing right now who may not get out of the second day. You got the Towson story, which is a phenomenal story.
“So you’ve got all these individual stories, which we’ll be following, which add another layer for college baseball fans.”
It’s a lot to keep up with, but Nowkhah, Shroff and Peterson have the knowledge base and a full production team to help them navigate it.
While Nowkhah and Shroff switch off throughout the day, Peterson is in it for the long haul—he takes a few breaks, but there are no rotating shifts. An advocate for the college game, Peterson is thrilled with the increased coverage of the sport.
“I think it just shows another step in the growth, which is cool,” Peterson says. “There was a demand for people to see more of it, and now it allows them to see more of it in a way they’ve never seen before.
“Maybe every two or three years there’s a big step that’s been made toward more visibility and more coverage, so this is a huge step.”
The idea for Bases Loaded was born nearly a year ago in an email conversation between ESPN senior coordinating producer Mike Moore and Brent Colborne, director of programming and acquisitions.
“We did six regionals last year, and we had rain delays, and we did this in a real rough form,” Moore said. “But we liked it, and we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could do like 10 or 12 (regionals) and do this?’ ”
So Colborne went to the NCAA and didn’t just get the rights for 10 or 12 regionals but to all 16, and he secured funding for a channel.
Moore said meetings began near the end of March to work out all of the details. An avid college baseball fan, Moore said he hoped the service would be a boon to the sport.
“I’ve been in ESPN for 21 years, and I’ve only worked with college baseball for the first time in the last four,” Moore said. “I really fell in love with it. I thought when I got into it that it was a great opportunity for growth, that there was a lot of potential there, and so things like this will just kind of push it along to see if we can help it grow.
“It’s kind of low-hanging fruit. There’s a lot of good stuff out there that’s not televised.”
On this Saturday afternoon alone, the Bases Loaded channel has already whipped around just in time to see Clemson’s Steve Wilkerson hit a second home run in a game; Virginia Tech score with the bases loaded; Valparaiso score four runs to take a 5-4 lead against Florida and then later eliminate the Gators; and UNC-Wilmington turn a game-ending triple play to eliminate Army—and that’s before the evening’s primetime games even started.
The night before, during the channel’s launch, Bases Loaded captured all three walk-off wins live.
“That’s success right there,” Moore says.
With as many as a dozen games going on at one time, it isn’t necessarily easy to do that.
“Our producers, we’re worn out by the end of the day,” producer James Dunn says, laughing, at the end of his first Saturday shift. “At any given time, I can have as many as six to seven people in my ear. And at that time, you try to prioritize voices.
“It’s tricky. It’s challenging, but it’s fun, too.”
So far, though, the day has gone by without a hitch. In a separate production room, away from Dunn and Dave Miller, Moore stands in front of his own panel of screens, watching the games played at stadiums all across the country.
“It’s fun to see it come to life, you know?”