Fever Pitch: MLB on TBS Debuts New Studio, Plus Interviews With Analysts Gary Sheffield and Ron Darling and Executive Producer Tim Kiely As They Talk Tebow, Mets, and Diversity In Baseball

By Tuesday, October 4, 2016 Permalink 0


It’s the first week of October, and aside from the aroma of pumpkin spice lattes in the air, the 2016 MLB postseason means fall is officially here.

With the American League Wild Card matchup between the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays set for tonight at 8 p.m. ET, and tomorrow, respectively, for National League Wild Card game between the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants, baseball fever can be felt everywhere — especially on TBS!

The exclusive television home of the 2016 American League Postseason from the Wild Card through the American League Championship Series (ALCS), the MLB on TBS is making sure its viewers feel like they’re part of the game from home. They just unveiled a snazzy new studio that features remarkable upgrades, including: a new top of screen score bar with corresponding graphics, field level vantage points to provide analysis from the dugout, and for the first time, two cameras positioned at the foul poles to sort out the sometimes tricky tightrope walk call between fair and foul home run balls.

See for yourself:

Let’s be clear, with the studio upgrades and analysis from a few of baseball’s finest, the MLB on TBS is definitely the “plug” for your 2016 MLB post season coverage.

Recently, I caught up with former baseball players and current MLB on TBS analysts Gary Sheffield and Ron Darling, along with Turner Sports’ Vice President of Production and Executive Producer, Tim Kiely, at Turner Sports’ MLB media luncheon in New York City. During the intimate gathering, I had a chance to quickly pick their brains about a few baseball-related (and non-baseball) topics.

Check out my conversations below, starting with Gary Sheffield:

Nine-time MLB All-Star Gary Sheffield

Tim Tebow.

(laughs) I knew it.

You knew it was coming! I’m going to talk about the elephant in the room. What do you think Tim Tebow’s chances are of getting called up?

I’m going to be honest with you, watching Tim Tebow hit, people find it hard to believe when I say he has bat speed. They find it hard to believe that he has that sound that so few baseball players have when the ball comes off the bat. He has that sound. And you can’t make it up. I’m a former baseball player, and I know what that sound is like. I heard that with him. The question is, can he do this at 29?

Got it.

That’s going to be the biggest issue. Like I told Tim, “You have to go through the right protocol to understand what’s going on from at-bat to at-bat and pitch to pitch, and know how to make the pitcher throw you what you want. There’s ways to go up to to the plate, and force that pitcher into what you want.” And until he learns that, he’s never gonna hit. As a player, we all know, that we’re going up there with a plan to make the pitcher pitch to our strength.

He has to learn the mechanics of the game.

Right. He has to look at arm angles and know what’s coming.

He definitely has to learn the instincts. Aside from that, what experience do you think he can bring to a team since he’s been on the big stage before, and what does he have to learn?

I think he can demonstrate how to be a good teammate because he’s been that for so many years in football. He knows the leadership role to play and the relationships you have to build. Baseball is a little different than football. I know football players don’t like to share their positions, but it’s more acceptable now: for instance, the running back position. I remember when I was playing shortstop, they [veteran shortstops] would walk off when I came to take ground balls. They weren’t willing to share their position. They see you as a threat, and that’s what he’s going to have to find out the hard way. When he walks out to right or left field and there’s another guy out there, he’s not pulling for you [Tebow]. And you still have to be a good teammate — despite that! That’s what he’s really going to have to learn.

(Seems like Tim Tebow took everything Sheffield told him to heart, because he homered his first professional at-bat during instructional play a few days ago.)

My chat with Tim Kiely:


Turner Sports Vice President of Production and Executive Producer Tim Kiely

Baseball coverage has made improvements with its outreach to its Spanish-speaking fans. How important is this to you as an Executive Producer? 

The broader the audience, bring it on. When we first got Pedro [Martinez], I knew he’d be great because I heard him in an interview, but you can tell he’s always concerned about his English. I said, “Pedro, I want you to speak Spanish.” He said, “What?” I said, “When you are speaking to certain guys [whose first language is Spanish], I want you to speak to them in Spanish — then translate it.” Those things end up being tremendous moments, they end up all over YouTube and the internet. I’d rather have time devoted to that than a stat. Stats are important, but we’re always hustling for time, so if it comes down to a great stat or a video breakdown or an entertaining moment, I’m taking the entertaining moment. We’ll put the rest on websites.

It’s no secret that baseball is a little more conservative than basketball per se. How do you toe the line, if you do, and still have the guys address issues on the MLB post game show on TBS like you do with the Inside the NBA guys on TNT?

I don’t. And I don’t want to. I want to talk about the issues. Don’t miss an opportunity to talk to Gary, because he’ll say what’s on his mind.

Yes, he will!

He really wants to talk about African Americans and baseball. My best friend and ex-high school teammate is the head coach of our high school football team in Pittsburgh. I played with [Dan] Marino, and we were pretty good — well, he was pretty good, I wasn’t — but, my friend is telling me how much they’re [his team] struggling to get kids to come out and play football because of concussions, and that’s a great opportunity to get kids to come out and play baseball. We may see a change in that, and that’s something we may talk about.

Do you get any backlash from higher ups?

Sure, I have bosses, and I get yelled at sometimes, but I don’t run it [topics] by anyone. They tend to say, “do what you do,” and I try to do the same thing with baseball that we do with basketball. When Ferguson happened, we had a 15-minute pre-game for basketball and two commercial breaks, it was really only about 6 minutes of content. But with Shaq, Kenny and Chuck, they can barely say their names within 6 minutes, so I called our sales team and had them bury the commercials just so they could speak about the issues. They [athletes] have a say. I wish we were on the air when all of the Kaepernick stuff started happening. I wish. I’d turn it loose man. I don’t care if it’s basketball or baseball. I’d rather have that discussion than the “he’s a fine young man and he hits great on Tuesday nights with left-handers,” you can get that anywhere.

And Ron Darling:


World Series Champion Ron Darling

Which Wild Card team do you think has the biggest chance to pull off a World Series upset?

That’s tough, but I’ll give my thoughts on the ALCS. I think you have to look at the teams in the AL, because they’ve battled in that AL East all season long, and they’ve been knocking heads really playing post season baseball for the last two months. So I think Toronto and Baltimore have a chance to upset. Toronto, arguably, had the chance to beat the [Texas] Rangers last year, but that didn’t happen. Baltimore kind of has a magical thing happening and a couple of young pitchers that seem to be getting better. So, if you’re in the AL, I’d fear those teams.

What do you think the Mets’ chances are this year?

You have to look at all of the young starters that they’re using. When it’s the brightest of lights, will they still be able to light it up? I don’t know the answer to that, but usually experience has a distinctive advantage in the post season. Last year, they did it with the [Jacob] deGromms, the [Matt] Harveys, the [Noah] Syndergaards. This year, they’re not going to do that. I think it’ll be a much more difficult road for them this year.

Do you think Cleveland is this year’s version of the 2015 Mets?

You know, I was on-board with them up until the last couple of weeks. I was ready to come in here and say the Indians were my pick to be the underdog to make it far because of [Corey] Kluber, [Danny] Salazar, [Carlos] Carrasco, but now because of injuries I think it’s brought them back a notch. I think they would be like the 2015 Mets if the Mets lost Harvey and deGromm before the post season last year. But I think Cleveland’s season has put them in a place where you cannot talk about the best teams in baseball without talking about the Indians.

You’re known to take people there in the moment during the game when you’re doing the play-by-play. What’s your preparation like before a game? 

My preparation is to try to know everything about the teams that I’m covering. I’m trying to honor each team. I don’t spend all year with them, but I know I spend all year with a team [the fans], so I know there’s a dozen moments that happen during the year that are hugely important to those watching. If Hanley Ramirez changes his stance on June 22nd, I have to know that if I’m doing a Boston Red Sox game. Those are the things I try to do. I try to know their team kind of like they know their team — although I never will. I also try to put the people I’m talking to in the position that they won’t know what’s going to happen next. Then we’ll watch and see if the play happens together.

Great advice, Ron!

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for the games to begin!

TBS’ coverage starts tonight!

Photos: MLB on TBS, NorthJersey.com, Sports Business Daily/Video: Turner