Come for the Broadcast, Stay for the Mets Game

On a sticky August evening at Citi Field, toward the end of a crucial Mets victory against division rival Atlanta, closer Edwin Díaz threw his last warm-up pitch and began his long, familiar journey from the right field bullpen to the mound for the top of the ninth inning. But something unusual happened: The television broadcast did not cut to a commercial.

Instead, the camera trailed behind Díaz as he walked through the bullpen door, broke into a jog and traversed the outfield grass. The trumpets of “Narco,” Díaz’s beloved entrance song, were fed from the stadium public address system directly into the broadcast, making fans at home feel like they were watching it all happen in person. Or maybe that they were in a bullfighting arena in Spain. Regardless, there were chills.

The broadcasting flourish was designed and executed by John DeMarsico, 35, the game director for SNY, the Mets’ regional sports network.

“We’d covered him coming in before, but we never blew off a commercial break to show the whole thing,” DeMarsico said. “And we’d never sent the camera crew down there to do the dramatic, from-behind shot. I had it in my back pocket all year, and I was waiting for the right game to do it.”

That same game had featured Jacob deGrom’s return to Citi Field after more than a year lost to serious arm and shoulder injuries. DeMarsico gave deGrom, the Mets’ co-ace, his own star moment, skipping an ad break to show his first-inning warm-up pitches. That time, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” piped into the broadcast.

John DeMarsico has created several viral moments this season with directorial choices during Mets broadcasts on SNY.Credit…Michelle Farsi for The New York Times

In both cases, the embellishments had been discussed earlier in the season but were decided upon in the moment, with DeMarsico feeling the mood in the stadium and improvising a cinematic response.

Regional sports networks take their share of abuse, with complaints of streaming blackouts from fans and Major League Baseball’s frequent attempts to build its audience through other alternatives, be it Apple TV+; NBC’s Peacock streaming service; or other platforms. But in a medium that seems antiquated to some, SNY’s theme all year has been innovation.

In this case, the network is building on what was already a strength. The chemistry of the network’s broadcast team — the play-by-play announcer Gary Cohen and the analysts Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez — has long made SNY destination viewing, even when the team on the field sometimes didn’t command that level of attention.

“The team has always been experimental,” said Darling, who, along with Cohen and Hernandez, has held court over broadcasts full of goofy tangents, movie recommendations, and inside jokes that have been going since 2006. Darling sees their interactions as a sign of respect for the viewer. “I think there’s a fear with some broadcasts that don’t trust their fan base to be intelligent enough to see something different. A lot of broadcast teams are fearful of alienating their core fans who will criticize anything outside of the ordinary, especially when criticism in today’s world is so instantaneous.”

Keith Hernandez, Ron Darling and Gary Cohen keep things casual in the booth with guests like the comedian Jerry Seinfeld.Credit…Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images For Netflix

As the comedian Jerry Seinfeld said on one of his many trips to the booth, “It’s a TV show, it’s not just a game.”

DeMarsico, with the producer Gregg Picker’s support, has quietly been helping the visuals of their broadcasts catch up to the quality and innovation of the narration. And like a crafty reliever, he has done it with a formidable bag of tricks.

He uses unusual camera angles, forgoing the typical center-field shot at crucial moments, instead filming the action from behind the right-fielder or near the visitor’s on-deck circle.

He employs split-screens to highlight confrontations between pitcher and batter. In a tense at-bat between Díaz and Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich earlier this season, DeMarsico began the shot with Díaz’s face in the left side of the frame. He then faded in Yelich’s face on the right side, gradually having Díaz disappear. Fans had a chance to truly see the pitcher and the batter staring each other down.

DeMarsico understood that Jacob deGrom’s return was something special. Capturing his warm-ups was turned into art.Credit…Michelle Farsi for The New York Times

These techniques are attempts to tease out the drama that already exists in the game but had previously been difficult to visualize.

“Baseball is inherently cinematic, more so than other sports,” DeMarsico said. “In football and basketball, there’s so much speed. In baseball, there is no clock. The geography of the field is very structured. You’re able to set the scene, and establish the confrontations between batter and pitcher like a duel in a western.”

After decades of baseball games looking nearly identical from network to network, these shots can feel bracingly original.

For DeMarsico, it is a natural collision of his two passions: baseball and film. Before beginning his SNY career with an internship in 2009, he studied film at North Carolina State University. Conversations about his work are peppered with the names of directors, both famous and obscure. He models his methods of creating suspense on the work of Brian De Palma, and cites Martin Scorsese’s famous tracking shot at the Copacabana in “Goodfellas” as his inspiration for the Díaz bullpen moment. He also cites Nicolas Winding Refn — the Díaz-Yelich moment was inspired by Refn’s 2009 Viking epic “Valhalla Rising” — and Sergio Corbucci, who directed some of the most violent spaghetti westerns.

While the concepts of SNY’s viral moments were discussed in advance, they were deployed in the moment by DeMarsico. Credit…Michelle Farsi for The New York Times

In Saturday night’s win over the Philadelphia Phillies, DeMarsico repeated the Díaz bullpen shot, but this time began it in black and white, and then moved to color when the pitcher stepped onto the field, a clear nod to “The Wizard of Oz.”

Then there’s Quentin Tarantino, who influenced perhaps the most lighthearted of DeMarsico’s innovations: the “Kill Bill” filter. The Mets lead the majors in hit batsmen this year, and Showalter’s escalating irritation has been a running joke among Mets fans. The broadcast team ran with it, using the same effect employed by Tarantino in the “Kill Bill” films whenever their protagonist’s thirst for vengeance is triggered: a red tint, a sound known as the “Ironside Siren,” and a double exposure of her face and a memory of the traumatic event.

DeMarsico used the sound and color a few times, but knew something was still missing. So he had his crew put together a montage of the most egregious hit-by-pitches this year and overlaid it on Showalter’s face, implying that the manager was reexperiencing a season’s worth of insults each time a Met got plunked.

Some baseball purists might object to such shenanigans, but it is certainly drawing attention to the network. The clip of Díaz’s entrance went viral and has now been viewed on Twitter more than 8 million times.

How games are shot for regional sports networks has rarely been a hot topic. That has changed with SNY this season.Credit…Michelle Farsi for The New York Times

For a sport that has long battled traditionalism in its effort to attract younger fans, these innovations may come across as avant-garde. But they could also give something of a road map for how baseball could modernize its other broadcasts — a process that began almost immediately when Apple TV+ recreated the Díaz entrance, nearly shot for shot, in its presentation of a Mets game.

But with the Mets on pace for more than 100 wins this regular season, and DeMarsico at the helm of their broadcasts, a little competition is nothing to worry about. “I still have a few tricks up my sleeve,” he said.

That type of confidence could explain why the SNY production team has been given such wide leeway to experiment, even sacrificing some advertising dollars along the way to do it.

“It’s not something we want to do a lot because the commercials obviously pay the bills,” DeMarsico said of the times they stayed with the action on the field. “But there’s a trust factor with SNY. We pick our spots and choose wisely, and as long as it doesn’t become an everyday thing, we can do things like that and make moments that are special for the folks at home.”

He grinned and added: “Maybe 8 million views is worth a commercial break.”

The Mets are on pace for more than 100 wins this season. DeMarsico still has some tricks up his sleeve for the stretch run.Credit…Michelle Farsi for The New York Times
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