On Monday afternoon, ESPN decided to spice up the exhibition matchup between the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Angels. Aside from this being a Joe Maddon reunion game of sorts, it proved to be something far more enjoyable.
The two members of the booth, Jessica Mendoza and Jon "Boog" Sciambi, were joined by two players on the field as a part of the broadcast. For Monday's matinee, it was a pair of Cubs superstars in Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant.
Both players were mic'd up for the first five and a half innings of the game. There were plenty of great highlights. Not only were the players mic'd in the field, as you'll see below, but they were also mic'd during their plate appearances.
Kris Bryant provided plenty of laughs from both the infield and the batter's box:
Not only was Kris Bryant having a good time on the mic, but Anthony Rizzo was telling stories and walking the ESPN crew through his at-bat, which worked out pretty well.
The fun with Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant didn't stop there. During the top of the fifth inning, when Mendoza and Sciambi were interviewing former Cubs' and current Angels' Manager Joe Maddon, the players got to jump in as well and talk with Joe during the game.
It was a set of heartfelt questions from the current Cubs superstars. Aldo Soto summed up the feelings of most Cubs fans pretty well after the exchange between Joe Maddon and Bryzzo:
I'm not crying, you are. I'm kidding, I was all in my feels during that moment as well.
However, aside from maybe the last time your team won a championship or accomplished something historic, when was the last time you felt emotional during a baseball game? Happy, sad, warm-hearted, intrigued, surprised, or even entertained? This has been a real problem for baseball because the fanbase is growing increasingly older and most of the younger crowd gravitates toward basketball or football. Hell, even the NHL is beginning to market the sport of hockey better to youth around the world.
So what does that say for baseball? Well, for starters, they need for inside access to the players, as ESPN did with Rizzo and Bryant. Sure, before the pins that always prick the balloon chime in, this wouldn't be sustainable for a whole game during the regular season or playoffs for that matter. But, short snippets of this kind of content are 100% achievable.
Baseball needs to market its superstars. If Monday's game was an experiment of things to come, they nailed it on the head. Sure, as a Chicago Cubs writer, I may have a biased Twitter feed, but all I saw on Twitter while at my day job were highlights of Bryant and Rizzo mic'd up. That's it. Maybe saw the occasional tweet that is corny but supposed to be motivational, then everything else was baseball.
I cannot tell you the last time my Twitter feed was dominated by baseball. To be honest, it was awesome and very encouraging for the game. It was a Spring Training game, the games that even most die-hards don't care about, yet it was the number one sports event on the internet. You want to capture the attention of young fans? Mic players up more often.
This type of content allows the players to show their personalities and connect with the fans without being in person with the fans. For example, the Cubs Convention is a great place to interact with the players each year, but when you as a fan are fighting crowds, waiting in line, and only have a few minutes to speak to each player, you still cannot make the connection you ultimately want.
Insert players being mic'd up for games. Maybe an inning or two at a time? Maybe even another broadcast that has more mic'd up type content to appease to the baseball purists and the new-age fans. These small moments of connection with the players will not only generate more engagement with those watching games, and hopefully the younger fans, but also improve the ratings for television with the given teams.
The Cubs have done other things such as their YouTube channel to help promote their players and allow the players' personalities to shine. The rest of the league needs to get on board with the idea. There are plenty of outstanding personalities in the league that no one knows about because the MLB doesn't promote their stars well.
These players have personalities, and showing those personalities to the fans will be something that can start trending the game in the right direction, back into relevance among the younger fans across the world. There are plenty of ways for MLB to help return baseball to prominence.
Baseball is a beautiful game, we don't want it to die, but it does have to evolve if it has any hope of surviving. Monday's broadcast is one small sample of something that can grow the game of baseball in today's day and age.