Friday, June 27, 2008

Here's something I wrote in my notebook on Thursday, June 19, but never typed up to post. 

Carolina got off to a hot start, but the game was suspended due to lightning and heavy rain.  I wish they had decided two hours sooner.  

In the morning I read the N&O stories online, and did not have a good feeling about my Tar Heels' chances of winning the game.  Matt Harvey, the scheduled starter for UNC, is a freshman who had a good season (7-2, 2.52 ERA), but the last time he pitched was May 30, a no decision against Mount St. Mary's in the Cary Regional of the NCAA Tournament. Ben, one of my font coordinators for this event, pitched in college at Lynchburg (VA), and he said he didn't buy the long-rest panic theory.  "You can go for long stretches without starting," he said, "but he's still throwing on the side.  Sure, it's not game situations, but it's not like he hasn't touched the ball." 

I still had doubts about my team.  The Tar Heels were coming off a loss to Fresno State. LSU, with its thrilling, 9th-inning comeback against Rice, was riding high on momentum.  Rob, the replay producer for this game, told our researchers that UNC "looked tight" during its morning interview with ESPN.  I couldn't shake my nagging feeling that Carolina was going home without the CWS Title - again. 

The game started with the Heels, the away team, batting first.  Dustin Ackley led off the game with a single and eventually came around to score on Tim Fedroff's 1-out, RBI double.  LSU starter Blake Martin let that get into his head; he hit the next two batters (Tim Federowicz and Kyle Seager) to load the bases, then served up a four-pitch walk to Chad Flack, allowing Fedroff to score Carolina's second run.  Martin managed to throw a strike to Garrett Gore, but home plate umpire Bill Speck stopped the game.  I think it had already been raining, so Speck must have seen lightning.  

We'd been sitting around in the trucks for more than an hour into the rain delay before we were told to go into the stadium.  (I was actually in the catering tent at the time, making a peanut butter sandwich.)  The entire crew packed in together under the stands, but we didn't feel much safer.  If lightning had hit one of the TV trucks, however, we would've been toast. When it was deemed we were in no immediate danger, we returned to the trucks and sat around some more.  Although we continued to inform the viewers that the resumption of the game was imminent, I think everyone in charge new the game would not be played.  Finally, after three hours and five minutes, the game was suspended and rescheduled for the next day.  The reason for the stalling tactic was that ESPN and the NCAA needed to discuss the schedule and how ESPN's programming would be affected by shifting the remaining games down a day. The big issue was where the game would be broadcast; ESPN had a full slate of programming for Sunday with NASCAR and Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN and something else important on ESPN2.  So here's the scenario:  2 North Carolina will pick up where it left off with 7 LSU (Top of the 1st, one out, bases loaded, two runs in, Garret Gore at the plate with an 0-1 count), the double header we were going to do on Friday will be moved to Saturday, and our potential day off on Sunday is threatened if one of the undefeated teams loses during Saturday's double header.  

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We already know what happened the rest of the way.  In the resumption of the suspended game, catcher Tim Federowicz hit a grand slam in the bottom of the 8th to lead Carolina to victory.  My team won the next day, again needing a home run - this time a 2-run shot by third baseman Chad Flack - to defeat Fresno State and force us to work on Sunday.  The rest was heartache for me, because Fresno State, the darlings of the tournament and eventual champions, sent the Heels back to Chapel Hill.  It's hard working a game - especially a tournament - with one's alma mater as a participant.  The games that Carolina played meant much more to me than the ones Rice or Georgia played.  I suppose I cared a little about Florida State and Miami because they represent the ACC, but I don't really like either of those schools, so I can't say I cheered for them.  I felt as if I held my breath with every run Carolina allowed and died a little each time head coach Mike Fox went to the bullpen (which I think he did too often).  It was agonizing to watch shortstop Ryan Graepel, a defensive specialist, make two errors in a game.  I wanted to run out to the field and have it out with the home plate umpire Mitch Mele for his inconsistent calls of balls and strikes during what turned out to be Carolina's final game of the season. There were times I almost forgot I was working rather than simply watching the game at home.  That's the toughest part about working a game that means so much to me on a personal level.

As disappointed as I was about Carolina losing, I feel better now that I can put the season into perspective.  There are 286 Division I schools, and North Carolina finished third.  That's pretty remarkable.  Carolina was 54-14 overall, one of four NCAA Division I schools  - Florida State (54-14), Miami (53-11), and Coastal Carolina (50-14) - with fifty or more wins.  It was the Tar Heels' third consecutive trip to the College World Series.  That feat isn't as easy as reaching the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament three years in a row.  North Carolina's pitching staff had the best ERA in the NCAA.  Going into the College World Series, sophomores Tim Fedroff and Dustin Ackley ranked second and third, respectively, in the NCAA in hits.  The team is losing important seniors and leaders in Chad Flack, Kyle Shelton, Seth Williams, and Rob Wooten; but the future is just as bright for those who remain, namely Fedroff, Ackley, ACC Pitcher of the Year Alex White, and Kyle Seager, the other "Super Sophomore."  Perhaps it's a bit early for me to be thinking about next year, but this is the only thing that can alleviate the disappointment I felt when they lost.  I look to the future and hope for a better outcome.

Reflections of the College World Series



Stanford scoring eleven runs in the top of the 9th to turn a tie game into a blowout.  A dramatic bases-clearing double in the bottom of the 9th by LSU's Blake Dean to send Rice 0-2 and bar-b-que.  Two agonizing meltdowns by Miami reliever Carlos Gutierrez.  North Carolina catcher Tim Federowicz's grand slam in the bottom of the 8th to break a 3-3 tie with LSU.  Home runs. Lots of them.  The all-around performance of Most Outstanding Player Tommy Mendonca of Fresno State. The rain delays.  Glimpses of future major leaguers. The heartbreak of my Tar Heels finishing third, but the promise of seeing them going for it all next year.  These are some of the memories that I've brought home with me from the 2008 College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.  It was a long two weeks of double headers and no days off and bad pitching and great defense and bulldog pups.  



The home of the College World Series


Left field at Rosenblatt Stadium


A view of Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo from right field of Rosenblatt Stadium


One of the adorable bulldog pups used in an ESPN shoot

Thursday, June 26, 2008

STILL Here!

My time in Omaha is ending the same way it began - with bad weather.  Heavy rain and lightning - but, thankfully, no tornadoes - are in the area, delaying my flight and causing me to miss my connection in Chicago.  I'm writing this at the airport in Omaha, waiting for my outbound plane to arrive.  It's scheduled to leave here in half an hour, but I'm thinking that's optimistic.  I've already been re-booked for another flight to New York, so it'll all work out.  Eventually.  The rain has stopped for the moment, so I may finally escape this place.  It's not that I don't like Omaha; I'm really ready to leave!  I need to be home with my husband (who is in Vancouver right now, but will be home tomorrow) and my girls!  I've been here long enough!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

We're STILL here!

I'm still in Omaha.  The wrong Bulldogs won.  The Georgia Bulldogs squandered a five-run lead and lost to the Fresno State Bulldogs 19-10 to force game three of the College World Series Finals and to keep us in Omaha for one more night.  

Despite wanting to leave a day early, I am intrigued by and impressed with the Fresno State team.  Buoyed by great defense and a never-say-die attitude, these Bulldogs have overcome a rash of injuries and an overworked pitching staff to become the lowest-seeded team ever to reach the College World Series.  (I typed that line several times in more graphics than I care to remember.) Their toughness and timely hitting ruined my Tar Heels' chances of vying for the NCAA Championship, but I find myself rooting for these "underdogs turned wonderdogs."  The team that wasn't supposed to be here has hit twelve home runs in the past two weeks, twice as many as any other team.  (Again, this is an example of how the loyalties of TV person waxes and wanes based upon the game situation.  Yesterday I was all for the Georgia Bulldogs; last night UGA's implosion irritated me to the point that I don't want them to win anymore.)

So we're here for another day, and there's nothing I can do but work the game and provide the best statistics that tell the best stories.  After all, I'm objective, right?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Will It End Tonight?

The Bulldog/Bulldog matchup at the College World Series resumes tonight in Omaha with the Georgia Bulldogs one win away from the national championship.  If Fresno State somehow pulls out a miracle tonight, we'll have the deciding game tomorrow.  The entire ESPN crew is rooting for Georgia to win tonight so that we can finally go home tomorrow. It's been a long two weeks! 

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Series Is Over - For Some

Well, I guess that's it.  In a couple of hours the baseball team from the University of North Carolina will arrive in Chapel Hill after being ousted from the College World Series.  The Tar Heels' 6-1 loss to the Bulldogs of Fresno State prevented them from reaching the championship series for the third consecutive year.  The boys had to have been exhausted.  After rain delays and a postponement and the depletion of its bullpen, the team simply looked tired last night.  It was draining for me to watch (and to work), so I can't imagine how my Heels felt.  As they fly home, I'm preparing to go to work; I must stay to do the championship series, in which I honestly have no interest at the moment.  It should be Carolina playing Georgia for the championship, not Fresno State.  Sure, the Bulldog/Bulldog matchup is a great story, but I'd rather be cheering for my team.  As always, I'll do the best job I can possibly do, but I'll be thinking of the Tar Heels and what could've been.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Bleeding Carolina Blue

I'm the only person in the ESPN TV compound who wanted North Carolina to defeat Fresno State in Saturday night's game at the College World Series in Omaha.  If Carolina had lost, the team would've been eliminated from the tournament, and the crew would've had a well-deserved day off.  As much as I wanted a day off, I didn't want it to come at the expense of my alma mater.  

It's interesting how the members of a television crew decide where their loyalties lie.  Coming into Saturday's double header, the Georgia Bulldogs and the Fresno State Bulldogs were both 2-0 in their respective brackets, prompting my co-workers to root for a Bulldog/Bulldog matchup in the championship series.  It wasn't because anyone actually liked either of these teams; it was because that matchup would mean no work on Sunday.  "Sorry, guys, but I want at least one game on Sunday," was my typical response to my callous friends.  Some people understood; they admitted they would feel the same if their schools had been in that situation.  However, other people couldn't believe my loyalty.  "You'd rather work on Sunday than see Carolina lose?" someone asked.  My answer was a resounding YES!  

Georgia did its job in the first game of Saturday's double header, hanging on to beat Stanford 10-8 and advance to the finals.  Then it was up to the other Bulldogs, Fresno State, to put away North Carolina and secure a day for our crew to relax.  Much to the chagrin of my friends - but to my delight - North Carolina third baseman Chad Flack crushed a 2-run home run over the stands of Rosenblatt Stadium to give my Heels a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the 8th.  The Bulldogs couldn't do anything in the top of the 9th against pitcher Alex White, and Carolina notched the win.

The Heels have new life, but reaching the championship series didn't become any easier.  They have to beat the same Bulldogs team tonight in order to advance.  Adam Warren, the losing pitcher in Carolina's loss to Fresno State Tuesday night - which, by the way, seems as if it happened a month ago - will start again.  In his first game Warren allowed nine hits and four earned runs in only four innings.  This time I hope he has more success.  Ironically, so does the rest of the crew.  Mere hours after wanting a Carolina defeat, the majority of my co-workers are pulling for the Tar Heels tonight.  Why?  So that their having to work on what would've been their day off won't be in vain.  Such is the reasoning of a bunch of folks who work in television.

After last night's game, several co-workers playfully needled me.  "I hope you're happy we have to work tomorrow!" they jeered.  My answer was a resounding, unapologetic YES!  Go Heels!

Friday, June 20, 2008

College World Series Recap

I've been in Omaha for more than a week now, and I've discovered how hard it is to write every day.  Between the games themselves and going out with my co-workers, I've had little time to sleep, much less write.  Thus, I'm forced to provide a brief recap of the week at the College World Series.  

Sunday, June 15
Carolina wins its first game, an opening-round, 8-4 victory over the LSU Tigers.  I worked the second machine on that one, meaning I was on the Viz that provides full screens such as brackets and anything with a large headshot.  Building graphics on that machine isn't as intense as on the first machine because there's not as much to build in-game.  So I was able to watch and enjoy how strong the Heels looked.

After the game, I went back to the hotel to have drinks in the lobby bar.  (This is a sad tradition of TV crews; if you're ever looking for a TV crew in a hotel, stop by the bar first.)  Anyway, while I was at the bar, I spotted a man wearing a UNC shirt, so of course, I had to say "hello" to him.  Turns out he's a 1989 graduate of North Carolina  - one year ahead of me - and was in town to run the AT&T booth at the College World Series Fan Fest at Rosenblatt Stadium.  His company brought in former baseball players to sit at the booth and sign autographs, which ultimately led the fans to purchase cell phones and plans from AT&T.  One of the former baseball players on hand was B.J. Surhoff, who happened to be standing behind us at the bar. He was talking to an unknown gentleman, locked in what appeared to be a serious conversation.  For that reason, my new friend and fellow Tar Heel didn't feel comfortable interrupting the former Carolina star and first round MLB draft pick to introduce me to him.  I was sad, but certainly understood.  I mean, what was I going to say to him, other than, "Hi, I went to Carolina, too"? 

After toasting our beloved fathers on this Father's Day, my co-worker Derek -  one of the other Viz operators -  and I walked to The Old Mattress Factory, a new bar a block away from the hotel.  Other than a handful of ESPN people, there weren't many people there.  We still ended up having a good time.  

Monday, June 16
I suppose the good time I had the previous night was too much of a good time.  I overslept.  I woke up ten minutes before I was supposed to be at the truck.  Fortunately, the guys who were waiting for me in the car downstairs didn't care, and I was running the second Viz for the first game, so I wasn't freaking out.  Mistakes were made during the Florida State/Miami game, but nothing that I would attribute to staying out late the previous night.  

During the game between Stanford and Georgia on Monday night, North Carolina head coach Mike Fox was interviewed by Erin Andrews.  He talked about the experience his team has and how you can't teach  experience, but only hope that it, combined with playing good baseball, will help Carolina win the national championship after two consecutive years of being the runner-up.  After his interview, he took out his camcorder and took a panoramic shot of the booth.  Our camera guy was still shooting Fox doing this, so our director put the shot on the air.  Mike Patrick, one of our announcers, wondered aloud if Mike Fox was enjoying his time here in Omaha.  He even asked Coach Fox if he wanted to run camera for our crew.  It was a nice moment.  

*************************************************************************************
There's much more to this recap, but I have to stop here and head to the stadium.  North Carolina and LSU resume their suspended game tonight.  (That's part of the recap!)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

What Exactly Do I Do?

It's hard to describe my current job.  I type graphics for live, televised sporting events.  The best way I can think of to explain what I do is this:  When you watch a game on TV and see a statistic on the screen describing what the player or team has been doing that night or that season or in history, I'm one of the people who types that stuff.  Does that make sense?  I run two different kinds of graphics machines, depending on the network and the show.  They are the Chyron Duet and the Vizrt.  The next time you see a Yankees game, think of me when a graphic that says "Derek Jeter is 1 for 2 with an RBI Double" appears on the screen.


I'm a freelancer, so I work for whomever calls.  Since I've been doing this for quite some time (12 years now), I have a routine from season to season:  College basketball for ESPN in the winter; Yankees and Mets home games (not all of them) for the YES Network and SNY, respectively, in the spring and summer; ESPN's coverage of the College World Series in June (where I am at this moment); Little League World Series for ABC/ESPN in August; college football in the fall (except this coming season due to a 5-week trip to Japan).   It's interesting work, especially for someone who loves sports like I do.  I work the sports I know (basketball, football, baseball) and try to avoid the ones that baffle me (hockey, soccer).  There's a lot of travel during the fall and winter, but having the Yankees and Mets lets me stay home for most of the summer.  

So here's the usual setup for a game.  I sit next to my font coordinator, also known as the associate producer, who does all of the research before game. The producer and sometimes the announcers also make graphics requests as well.  My job is to type all of the information, make sure everything is spelled correctly and looks nice on the screen, and recall the pre-built graphics in a timely fashion.  Speed and accuracy are key.  During the game I listen to my AP, the stats guy, the director, the producer, and the announcers.  Based on what's going on in the game, we call up graphics we've already built, or we type new ones on the fly.  As slow a game as baseball appears to be, there's a lot going on for us.  


Let the Games Begin

The first day of games at the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, is in the books.  We had quite the day!  Stanford scored eleven runs in the top of the ninth to hand Florida State a crushing loss in game one, and in the nightcap the Bulldogs of the University of Georgia scored four runs - also in the top of the ninth - to shock the number one national seed Miami Hurricanes.  

Although I enjoyed being a part of today's broadcasts, I was still looking ahead to the matchup that means the most to me:  LSU vs my alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The game airs on ESPN at 7pm ET.  I'll be there, cheering for my Heels.

Friday, June 13, 2008

College World Series - Day 2

The second day of work in Omaha was a blur. I arrived at the trucks at 9am and typed my fingers off.  We prepped for tomorrow's second game, a matchup between Georgia and Miami. Then I built a bunch of stuff for LSU, North Carolina's opponent on Sunday night.  I haven't typed a graphic for Carolina yet. I hate that my Heels don't play until the second game on Sunday; I don't want to wait that long to see them.  I managed to find a few minutes during the day to run into Rosenblatt Stadium and take a couple of pictures while they were practicing, however.




Yes, I'm sure I should have taken a few more - and of better quality - but there was a lot of work to do.  If I'd spent more time down there, I'm sure no one would have noticed, but I let my work ethic get the better of me at that moment.  Oh well.  It's a long two weeks; I'm sure I'll have another opportunity to see them.

Carolina, at 51-12, has a better record than LSU (48-17-1), but LSU has been hot of late.  I became a little nervous while I was typing individual LSU player lower thirds because at least three players had slugging percentages over a thousand during the postseason.  That's really good.  Not to mention they annihilated UC Irvine 21-7 to win a spot in the College World Series.  The Tar Heels are no strangers to winning, and this is their third consecutive trip to Omaha.  After being defeated by the Oregon State Beavers in the finals of the previous two championship series, Carolina is ready to win it all this year.  And I'm ready to watch them.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Back Home in Omaha

Today was my first full day in Omaha for the College World Series.  The TV trucks were up and ready to go when I arrived at the stadium to prepare for the first of several double headers. Last night my trip to "the greatest show on dirt" had an inauspicious beginning.  I had read on weather.com yesterday morning that there would be heavy storms in the Omaha area in the evening, around the time my plane was scheduled to land.  So I was mildly surprised my connecting flight from Chicago took off and landed on time.  But after landing, the skies darkened, and I had a feeling that our plane was lucky to be there.  I ran into three of my co-workers in baggage claim, and they offered me a ride in their rental car.  As we made our across the street to the rental car garage, we heard a siren and noted the clouds were even darker.  I must admit that the siren unnerved me a little, and when a National employee breathlessly said that "something" was coming and the "clouds were dropping," I was unnerved a little more.  As we drove away in our rental SUV - while Meg, the driver, asked, "Should we be doing this; I mean, should we really be doing this?" -  I wondered if I would actually see my first tornado. Seth, who was seated in the back seat next to me, was so psyched about this prospect that he took pictures of the clouds, which by then had turned green, with his iPhone.  

Upon arrival at the hotel, which, luckily for us, is only a five-minute drive from the airport, instead of checking us in, the desk attendant whisked us away down a long corridor.  We were being escorted into the hotel's tornado shelter.  This seemed serious.  But I was hungry since I didn't have lunch, and the potato chips and water the hotel staff handed out to us didn't really cut it.  When are they going to had out some steaks, I wondered aloud.  After more than an hour of standing around the bowels of the hotel, mingling with other ESPN freelancers as well as people attending some kind of insurance convention, we were given the all-clear.  Emerging from the safe haven, I noticed my suitcase was serving as a doorstop at the entrance of the corridor.  Happy that no one decided to roll it away with my bag, I checked in, dropped my stuff off in my room, called my husband and a friend who were both worried about me after seeing the storm on the weather channel, and had dinner and drinks at the hotel bar where I saw many more of my co-workers.  Aside from the torrential downpour outside, which we could easily see through the hotel's walls of glass, it was almost as if nothing had happened.  I discovered that while a group of us were in the tornado shelter, a select few were in the parking deck, watching the storm approach. 

One would never have guessed that such a violent storm had taken place just a day earlier; Thursday was a glorious day in Omaha.  It was a 10-hour day of prepping the machines and typing graphics for our first game on Saturday (Stanford vs Florida State), lunch at Zesto's (my ONLY cheeseburger of this trip!), and catching up with friends I hadn't seen since college football season.