Siena Blazes Trail by Streaming Fall Workouts
Armed with a chair, music stand, handheld microphone, walkie talkie, and most importantly, the kind of pep in one’s step that comes from going live for the first Siena athletics broadcast since March, Alex Feuz on Sept. 10 took up his post beyond the outfield fence at Connors Park.
His task was to do play-by-play on the livestream of the Saints’ controlled fall workouts, which aren’t exactly full scrimmages, but are close enough to scratch the itch of a college baseball consumer looking to get a fix.
The view for the workouts, which comes from a single camera on a tripod run by a Siena player, is a familiar one in that you are looking straight on at home plate from behind the pitcher, but there are many visual queues that let you know that this is no typical baseball broadcast.
The umpire, a Siena player, is stationed to the right of the pitcher’s mound. The batting practice shell is up around the hitters as they take their at-bats. A coach stands to the left of the pitcher’s mound charting pitches. And while Feuz made sure to describe the action as it unfolded on the field, his call was heavier on player background and fall practice storylines and lighter on game action than would be the case for an actual game.
“You’re not going to call the games per se, but you’re going to still talk about the players, talk about what they’re working on and stuff like that, because there’s still information to put out there about the players,” Feuz said.
Part of the reason the broadcast setup is so simple is that it all came together fairly quickly. Feuz, who doubles as Siena’s team manager, transferred into the school late this summer and has only been around for a few weeks.
And while he is a young broadcaster with a passion for the game and the craft of play-by-play, the idea to stream fall workouts didn’t originate with him. It was actually the brainchild of Siena coach Tony Rossi, who, as the longest-tenured coach in Division I college baseball at more than 50 years, isn’t necessarily the obvious candidate to be a trailblazer by pushing his team to be the first to stream fall practices.
“Probably the reason why the other coaches aren’t thinking of it is because my mind is so old,” Rossi joked. “It’s got all these little things stored up in there.”
Given that it doesn’t take a ton of equipment to set up, doesn’t have a sizable start-up cost and expectations are low for how it will look because it’s a new frontier, it’s really a no-brainer idea in a lot of ways, especially for this particular fall practice period.
Normally, most college programs are fairly open during the fall. Often, the gates are left open during practices to allow friends and family of players, students and fans into the stadium. In places where college baseball is a really big deal, teams are able to sell thousands of tickets to scrimmages against other teams.
But this fall, very little of that will happen. Games against other teams almost certainly won’t take place and many college baseball programs are having to limit how many players they have in the stadium at the same time, which makes it seem unlikely that very many non-uniformed personnel will be allowed in.
Streaming fall workouts won’t fix all of that, but it can help. People who would normally drop in on these workouts can now watch them online, and that’s to say nothing of the benefit for professional baseball. Scouts are also among those locked out of these fall workouts, given that Siena, as is the case in many places, is being cautious about who it gives campus access to. Streaming the workouts gives scouts a way to check in on players they’re following.
It was for these groups of people that Rossi wanted to get this done.
“I wanted to see if I could do this, for one, for the parents seeing their kids, because we have parents from all over the country,” Rossi said. “Two, so that major league scouts could see them as well, because everybody is locked up right now so nobody can go out and see kids. They can go out and see people playing games like youth baseball, like high school and club teams, but they can’t really see the colleges unless they let them on campus and we can’t let anybody on campus. (It’s) also for recruits to see us.”
Technically, college programs don’t even really have to have an experienced play-by-play announcer to make it work. Simply having someone with a microphone to announce who is on the mound and at the plate would likely suffice.
But there’s little doubt that having a traditional play-by-play announcer takes it to the next level, and in that way, Siena lucked out with Feuz, who is several standard deviations more experienced and polished than your typical 20-year-old student broadcaster.
He has called games in college summer leagues like the New England Collegiate Baseball League and the Independent Collegiate Baseball League, and in January, he was hired by the Appalachian League’s Burlington Royals, but the cancellation of the affiliated minor league season scuttled those plans for 2020. His presence makes the workouts, which can admittedly be tough to follow at times, immensely more watchable.
“For a young guy, he’s experienced,” Rossi said. “I even forgot that he said when he was in high school he interviewed me.”
During the broadcasts, Feuz ends up doing a couple of jobs. Not only is he trying to call a game from 400 feet away from home plate, but he also serves as a source of information for a specific section of the viewing audience.
During the workouts, the person running the radar gun will send pitch velocities to Feuz via walkie talkie. Rossi made sure to let Feuz know to share those over the broadcast for the benefit of scouts, but he also gave scouts a more direct line of communication.
“I got a few texts from some scouts who were actually watching,” Feuz said. “Coach Rossi put out my number in case they needed more information.”
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Overall, the experience is similar to the streams of MLB summer camp workouts that became increasingly common as the sport moved closer to a delayed opening day. While some of the broadcasts of team scrimmages looked and felt fairly close to a typical MLB broadcast, just as many felt like a stripped down version of what we normally see on television, because it was.
But no matter the quality, teams streaming workouts and scrimmages became commonplace during summer camp, and fans of the teams that weren’t streaming them as often as others took to social media to voice displeasure and plead with the club to do so.
On a smaller scale, of course, perhaps what Siena is doing can spark something around college baseball and push more programs to put some production behind their fall workouts.
The concept is certainly something that could scale up. In Siena’s first broadcast, the video quickly collected nearly 2,000 views according to the metrics on the Twitter post that accompanied the stream. And that’s for a small college program in the Northeast with minimal advance warning given to their followers that they were going to do so.
How much attention could a major program draw to its fall workouts? Could it become something big enough in those cases to attract advertisers, or at the very least, create content at a time of year when the baseball program isn’t typically front and center?
“I’m interested to see, because I’m sure when you look at the bigger markets, the bigger schools out there, they’re like ‘shoot, why didn’t we think about this earlier?,’ ” Feuz said. “Look, for college athletics in the fall, besides college football, there’s not a lot happening and there are a lot of schools out there that have broadcasters and have those programs (to where) they can go out there and set up and just roll with it.”
Already we might be starting to get some answers to the questions about where the idea goes from here. This week, Nebraska began streaming its scrimmages, complete with play-by-play announcing and score graphics. Just hours after the scrimmage finished, the video had already attracted nearly 40,000 views. It's hard to fight the feeling that the sport is on to something here.
There was a time in college baseball’s history not so long ago where stumbling upon a single televised regular-season game here or there on a regional sports network was at the same time a reason for celebration and reason to wonder why you didn’t see more of it.
Watching Siena’s workouts on Thursday afternoon evoked similar feelings. It’s an idea so simple and yet so untapped.
With college baseball now all over television and streaming services every spring, the days of having to fight to see the sport broadcast anywhere feel quaint. Perhaps in a few years, we’ll look at live streamed fall scrimmages the same way as just a part of the typical college baseball experience that used to feel like a rarity.