Telling the Story of a Walk-Off Homer

Courtesy of John DeMarsico

On April 28, the Mets walked off the Cardinals in the 11th inning. It was a huge moment, made even bigger because the embattled Mark Vientos delivered the knockout blow in just his second big league game after starting the season in the minors. That night, John DeMarsico, director of SNY’s Mets broadcasts, posted a video of the play that was shot from inside the production truck. It’s something he does occasionally, though this video had a twist: the audio from the triumphant final scene of Moneyball was overlaid on the broadcast.

DeMarsico is renowned for adding cinematic flourishes to SNY’s broadcasts, but when I watched this particular video — hearing dramatic music play as the voices in the truck worked together to decide what shot should come next — I was struck by the way DeMarsico is entrusted with telling the story of the game. SNY’s team is universally acknowledged to be one of the best in the business. At any given moment, DeMarsico can choose multiple shots that would look great and tell the viewer what is going on, but his job is bigger than that. His job is to use those images to craft a narrative.

I reached out to DeMarsico, and he agreed to a somewhat unusual interview. We met over Zoom, and I played him the video one shot at a time, so that he could explain the decision-making process behind each cut. “I tend to post those videos when something interesting happens on the field, or it’s a game-ending play or a go-ahead hit,” he told me. “I love giving people a behind-the-scenes look at what we do. Because a lot of the times if you’re doing this job correctly, the broadcast is sort of invisible to the viewers at home. I don’t necessarily buy into that whole-heartedly.”

DeMarsico was enthusiastic and funny. At the end of our conversation, I told him that when I wrote about cleat cleaners, I’d had trouble finding footage of a player actually using one. When the Mets took the field that night, literally the first shot of the game was Camera Fourteen with a closeup of the cleat cleaner; the broadcast dutifully waited more than 30 seconds for Sean Manaea to give it a tap with his right cleat before cutting away. The cross-dissolve in the GIF below is only there because I can’t upload a clip long enough for the entire shot:

DeMarsico’s comments were wide-ranging. He was game for the conceit of the interview, explaining up front that telling the story of the game means, “putting yourself in position to a) cover the action, make sure you don’t miss anything on the field, and b) sort of take a few chances here and there to capture a human moment, whether it’s a reaction on the bench, a reaction from a player on the field, a fan, whatever the case is. What you’re really trying to do and what resonates with the viewers at home, other than the play on the field, are those human moments.”

He talked about the assignments that each camera might have in a given game situation, and lavished praise on just about every aspect of SNY’s broadcast team, saying, “It’s like an orchestra. It just kind of happens. You put in the years of work, and you’ve got the people in the right spots, and you have the experience. You’re surrounded by such talent that the music just kind of flows.” He talked about broadcasting other sports, about when the video needs to do less in order to let the announcers have the spotlight, and about how some broadcasts are have been adversely affected by cost-cutting moves that reduced the size of the production team on road trips.

The text below has been edited and condensed for the sake of brevity. Because I want to let DeMarsico do the talking, my questions are included, italicized, only when they’re necessary to provide context for his answers. At the end, I’ve embedded a video of the entire play as it appeared on the SNY broadcast. We begin with the pitch on Camera Four and the first cut that follows the ball into center field. Take it away, John.

We’ll talk mechanics. So any ball in play, since I have to get to that Camera Two so quickly — that’s the high home camera; he covers the whole field. It’s the most important camera on the field… I don’t have to ready that camera because [technical director Seth Zwiebel’s] finger is already on the button.

The only time this kind of play has a variation is if for some reason, if a guy hits a no-doubt home run in a big moment, I will linger on the center field camera, which is Camera Four, a little longer to see if I can get the hitter’s reaction… That wasn’t the case here, because this is sort of wall scraper. So it’s just a traditional cut to Two on this one, and he pushes to the pitcher for the reaction shot.

There are assignments for every baseball play that each camera has. And on some days, we have upwards of 20 cameras. Not every one of those cameras has a human being behind the lens, but we have up to 20 cameras on a given day. So on this kind of play, once the ball leaves the ballpark, all assignments more or less go out the window. Because you’re not afraid of missing anything on the field, baseball-wise. Because the game’s over. So as soon as that ball leaves the ballpark, I go into what we talked about before, capturing the emotion of the play. Trying to squeeze 30,000 fans, 50 ballplayers, and all of the emotion happening in that building into a 25-second sequence. And so, that’s what separates a walk-off play from a normal baseball play, because if this is a double in the gap in the seventh inning, I’ve got to make sure that I’m covering the action. I have to almost prioritize the baseball more than the emotion of the game.

Each camera position has its own little nuance and what makes it good. That position’s so hard because there’s not really any — it’s really up to the camera operator. I can talk to a guy before a game starts and kind of go through my philosophy on that camera. And on that camera, wide is never wrong because you don’t want to miss anything, but that camera offers a lot of nuance. Especially on home runs, it’s hard because your instinct is to track the ball, and you don’t want to go too high because if you lose the outfielder, you lose the warning track, then fans lose all perspective of where the ball’s going. So an ordinary fly ball may look like it’s going 50 rows deep, and you don’t want to do that.

So on this kind of play, as soon as that ball leaves the yard, as soon as it’s clear that it’s a home run that lands in either a fan’s glove or hits a wall or whatever, I have a few decisions to make. Do I want to cut to a shot of the guy that hit the ball, the pitcher who gave up the home run, or, depending on what my cameras are isolating, the bench or fans? Given what Vientos has been through in the last year, the clear choice here is to cut to the batter’s reaction. And it paid off here. He was ecstatic about what just took place, and it was kind of just the beginning, as you’ll see further on in this sequence, of the pent-up frustration just spilling out of him in this trip around the bases.

You know it’s funny. The Cards broadcast, they stayed on center field, which paid off because his glove fell right down next to him—

Yes, we’ll talk about — there’s a couple shots that I wish that I’d got during this sequence too.

But that also meant that they missed this, because they cut to Vientos when he was rounding second and they were kind of behind him, and it wasn’t, you know, it wasn’t this.

The great thing about this job is there are so many places you could have gone. There are so many ways to capture moments like this. But if you miss something, or you’re late to a shot, or you have 10 different things going on at once, we have instant replay. I mean, these guys, the nuance within these camera shots is sometimes not even appreciated until you see it in super slow-mo. And you really see the artistry of these camera operators and what they’re able to capture, the minuscule moments. It’s not just a matter of point and shoot, when it comes to these kinds of moments. These guys know baseball. They know exactly where their cameras should be in these moments. They know what’s important about what’s in the frame. They know when an outfielder is about to jump, so that you don’t lose the glove, he doesn’t jump out of the frame. They know to linger on that shot of him landing on the ground long enough for his glove to land — that we showed eventually on replay — before whipping to get the hero of the game, Vientos.

So it’s just little things like that, and there’s a thousand decisions made every single game that are decided by microseconds, and you just have to kind of use your instincts and try to put yourself in the best position to convey the action.

So there’s a lot of choices that could go here. If you look at the monitor wall here, Camera Six would normally have the dugout, but because the guy almost robbed the home run and he had the glove flying off, [the camera operator] lingered on the outfielder. Which is fine, as he should. So the shot that we have of the dugout, spilling out over and onto the field is from our low home robotic. So that camera, his responsibilities are doing what we call ‘pitch follows,’ from the pitcher to the batter. And that’s a super slow-mo camera. It’s operated by almost a video game controller back by our trucks. So once the guy hits the ball there, he’s so far away, he doesn’t have enough lens to really go with the ball that far away… So he goes to the dugout there, and it worked out perfectly, because as soon as he lands on the dugout, you get the shot of the team spilling out over onto the field.

And a lot of directing, it’s not necessarily about cutting, you know — your best shot, your next-best shot, your next-best shot. It’s about doing that, but making the sequence visually, I guess aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Because you don’t want to go too often from tight shot to tight shot to tight shot, or wide shot to wide shot to wide shot. You have to be careful, because as good as a shot may be, you don’t want jump cuts. You don’t want things to be jarring to the viewer at home. So you either cut wide-tight, wide-tight, or you cut different things. And some of the shots in this sequence are buffer shots so that I can get to the shot I want to get to, to make it make sense visually for the viewers at home.

That shot is always great on home runs to split up the sequence. I took a shot of the guy hitting the ball, the bench’s reaction. There’s a few choices I have here. And if you look here, Camera Two, his job after [Vientos] hits the home run is usually to go to the apple. I can go to the apple here or I can wait. So before the pitcher turns around, I wanted to get a shot of him, hopefully to get a little reaction. Didn’t react much, but he still had that look of defeat on his face. But what it allows me to do next is set the shot that I really wanted to get to, which is the handheld coming onto the field.

On this play, I’m really trying to capture the chaos of the moment. The way I’ve described this shot before — well, let’s go through his assignment first. His assignment is to get the dugout’s reaction first, and then get to home plate. Basically, put the viewer in the middle of the chaos. We kind of call it the Saving Private Ryan shot. It’s like in the beginning of the movie when they storm the beaches. I want you with the squadron, in the middle of it, capturing the chaos. Everything else is a pretty static shot. This shot is handheld, so it’s going to be a little shaky. And it’s going to be hard to really pick up exactly what’s going on, but the frantic energy really adds to the excitement of the play, for me. So this is part one of his assignment here. So he has the Mets players charging toward the camera, and then [the camera operator is] eventually going to make the turn toward home plate. And I’ll cut off of him to allow the shot to develop.

It’s funny you say that, because when Vientos comes and touches home plate, it’s his camera. You guys are right there. The Cardinals broadcast did it from high home. It was, if you’re staying with Saving Private Ryan, it’s the shot that they do from the machine gunner’s nest. It’s the for-scale shot, but it doesn’t have the energy.

That’s interesting, yeah. I haven’t gone back and watched their broadcast. On that kind of play, the conclusion is over, you know what happened. So it’s really, like I said, you’re really trying to just go into capturing a moment rather than documenting a play… There are different themes throughout every broadcast. And to be perfectly honest with you, a lot of road broadcasts, when they travel, they don’t have as much equipment. They obviously don’t have as much equipment as their home show. So you’re really sort of hamstrung about what shots you can take in those kinds of moments. Although a lot of our feeds from our cameras will be hitting their truck, you don’t have any control. He’s not directing those cameras, so when you jump on one of those cameras live, you’re really taking a chance of catching an inadvertent whip pan or something out of focus. It’s sort of dangerous. So you play it a little safer on the road.

This goes back to my predecessor, Bill Webb. The fans have sort of become accustomed to seeing the apple on home runs. It’s a fun little trinket in our tool belt. It’s cool. Little kids come to the game, they get excited to see the apple come up when the Mets hit a home run because they’ve seen it on TV a thousand times. So there’s very, very few times when I haven’t shown the apple on a home run. Although it is a bit of a buffer shot in this sequence, to allow me to get to the next shot that I really want to take, the tight shot of Vientos, it’s still an important shot within the sequence. Because it’s just part of the fabric of the play, and it allows the viewer’s eye to reset from that chaotic shot of the Mets spilling out of the dugout to a nice, static, calm shot of the apple coming up, and prepare them for the elation that’s going to happen at home plate.

And the next shot is the tight shot before we get to the exuberance at home plate. And what’s different about this home run than most walk-off home runs is Vientos sprinted around the bases. He got around the bases so quickly. A lot of the times, on walk-off home runs especially, they really milk it around the bases and you have a lot more time to get your guys into position and get the shots ready. He got around the bases so quickly, you feel like you’re chasing him at some points. Ideally, I would love to be on this shot about maybe two seconds earlier, a second and a half earlier, as he’s rounding third base, to really get this moment. So this moment’s a little abbreviated, but it’s important in order to get to the chaos at home. And you get — I can’t remember — does he throw his helmet? You get a little emotion right here too. So this is that wide-tight sort of philosophy here. So this is the tight shot of his face, and we’re about to get the wide shot of the group from the handheld.

So you never know how these handheld shots are going to evolve. Sometimes the player will get lost in the scrum and it’s hard for the camera operator to track, because right now he’s not looking through a viewfinder. He’s holding the camera with his hand above his head, trying to keep it steady, trying to keep his balance, while also trying to, you know, capture the moment. So it’s a really hard job; it’s a physical job to be able to capture a shot like this. And so at this moment, I can sense that the scrum is sort of dissipating into solitary moments. Players are starting to walk off. So what I want now is I want to go wide. And if you look at the monitor wall, right now it’s a lot of shots of more or less the same thing. And so in my mind I am trying to vary the shots.

So I’ll cut to Two now, to give that great perspective from behind, fans watching, with the action from down below. You called it the gunship shot, or the turret shot, if we’re still talking about Saving Private Ryan. And it’s just a good contrast to the shot that’s happening right now. And that’s a lot about what this job is: It’s finding contrast, while still storytelling, you know what I mean?

The one thing that I love about Two is they could have been zoomed in closer, but that’s a choice to stay back and show the fans and the whole right side.

Totally. That’s just an experienced camera operator knowing exactly what I need in that moment. So off of Camera Two here, I wish that I cut to Camera Three. Because you got this great reaction of Vientos screaming, which we eventually got to in replay and it was incredible. But that is one of the — my instinct is to go back to the handheld, because he’s on the field. Now this shot is fine, it’s good. He’s on the field, you have the fans in the background, you have the action in the foreground, but you’re shooting backs. So that’s my first sort of regret. I would have loved to cut to Three there, and I’m trying to get there right now. My next cut is to Three, but I just missed the scream. And it’s one of those decisions that is like a half a second late.

So there’s the cut to Three and I just missed it. And that’s the way it goes. This shot’s still good… And in the moment, I don’t necessarily know it, because my eyes are not on the program monitor. My eyes are looking at the cameras. So I’m letting things hit air and I’m hunting the next shot. So I don’t know that I missed it, and I just went back and watched, obviously, and I just missed the money shot. And it happens, you know? In instant replay that reaction is 10 seconds long, but in reality it’s maybe a second, you know? I can’t remember where I go next, so this will — oh, yeah, you can hit play. You can hear me ask for another shot here.

So this is an instance where all of the cameras are shooting the same thing. So I’m on the hero of the game, I’m on Vientos. I don’t want to cut to another shot of Vientos, so I can either cut to the Cardinal dugout or I can get something else set up. So I told Camera Eight, “Get me some fans.” Because that’s a nice buffer shot for me to get to the next hero shot. And we haven’t done that yet really. We have the wide shot from the behind the fans, but we don’t have any faces yet of fans. And so, fortunately for us, Mark, who was on that camera, got this great reaction of a father and son at the ballgame. Who can’t relate to that? That’s one of those moments we were talking about earlier. It’s just capturing a snapshot of a human moment. And it’s a great contrast once again: player to something totally different. It’s the same as the apple shot, it’s the same as the pitcher shot. It’s sort of a checkpoint along the way in these sequences of contrast.

So I took Fourteen and I readied Three, because I was about to cut off this shot. And then you finally do get that money moment where you get the spilling of emotions that you can’t script, you can’t force. But it happened, and it happened so far after the fact that it kind of caught me off guard, that you got this great reaction before he goes down to the dugout. Because at this point, we’re far enough into the sequence of plays that I’m sort of just lingering on what’s going on on the field and the dugout until we get to the replay sequence. Because that’s what’s next in the ABCs of TV. I’m making sure I don’t miss any of the emotion happening on the field, trying to capture the hero, the agony of defeat, before we get to the replay sequence. And you actually hear our producer, Gregg Picker, saying, “No rush, no rush.” Because he knows that when you capture the moments live it’s slightly more meaningful than going back on replay and doing it. It just resonates more. People are hopping up and down at home. It’s nice to give them something to look at that makes them hop up and down at home.

So I readied Three, which was a shot of the Cardinals dugout, and I’ll eventually get there. But I did hang on this shot a little longer than I normally would because you got that great reaction shot of him screaming and going into the dugout.

So now Vientos is in the dugout. None of the players are on the field anymore. So this is me letting the announcers do their thing. Because right now Gary Cohen’s doing all of his stuff, you know, “Mark Vientos, sent down, back up yesterday. Two hits today and a walk-off.” He’s doing his whole thing, so now I’m allowing… So during the action, Gary makes his home run call, and then he lays out and lets the picture sort of tell the story. By this point, Gary has come back in with Keith [Hernandez], and they’re doing their sort of dissertation on what they just saw. So I’m not necessarily trying to make the pictures be the main part of what’s going on. I’m trying to accompany their narration with just some wallpaper shots: the Cardinals in the dugout, I’ll go back to Vientos for another shot. But like I said, it’s really just the buffer to get to the replay sequence next, where you’re going to see everything. I don’t know how long this sequence was, that 25-, 30-second sequence, you really get to slow it down now and appreciate what just happened.

This is from a robotic behind home plate that’s a little higher. And when he shoots the fans, even though the ballpark may not be totally full, it kind of gives the illusion of fans being right on top of each other, which I like. It’s almost like a Where’s Waldo. I really actually like the composition of this shot with the flag in the foreground.

Yeah, even though there’s no players on the field, the fans are still going nuts, so there’s really no place else for me to go right now other than to do fan stuff. And I think I go back to Camera Two for that cool shot behind the fans to give a little perspective from that direction. That’s a little bit of a non-contrasting shot. It’s a little bit of a similar shot. There’s really not a lot of places for me to go at this point. I could cut fans tight, but I just wanted to go back to Camera Two for this next cut.

Davy Andrews is a Brooklyn-based musician and a contributing writer for FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @davyandrewsdavy.

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1 month ago

Excellent behind-the-scene story. If I weren’t a Yankee fan I would watch the Mets just to enjoy their broadcast.

Mike Dmember
1 month ago
Reply to  villapalomares

I’m a Yankee fan and I watch the Mets just to enjoy the broadcast.