Joe Davis won’t be in the same ballpark as the Dodgers when they are on the road, but he’ll still be calling their games on television, for SportsNet LA, one of the unique challenges of playing a baseball season amid a pandemic.
Major League Baseball’s operations manual, the document over 100 pages that contains all the added health and safety protocols for 2020, calls for no television announcers to travel to road games without MLB approval, in an effort to limit the total number of people in a ballpark for any given game.
Radio crews are allowed to travel per MLB, though the Dodgers don’t plan on sending any of their announcers on the road this season.
On the television side, that means Davis and Orel Hershiser will call Dodgers games for SportsNet LA from their booth at Dodger Stadium, whether the team is home or away. When the Dodgers are on the road, they have to rely on monitors to call the action.
“I think they’ll have a couple extra monitors brought in, including one that is basically the baseball equivalent of football’s all-22. It’s a wide view of the field that allows you to see movement shifts, and runners taking off, things like that,” Davis explained via phone interview this week. “It’s still kind of to be determined what else will be on those extra monitors, but you need to be able to see the bullpens, you need to be able to see the on-deck circles. It’s just hard. It’s obviously completely unprecedented.”
Davis, who also calls college basketball and college football for Fox Sports, said he’s called a few football games off monitors before, but only in practice when trying out new analysts. He’s never called a baseball game completely off a monitor before.
“When I’m actually calling the game in the normal world, I watch the pitch on the monitor, so that’s not going to be any different. But as soon as the ball’s put in play, my eyes go up to track the ball,” Davis said. “To not be able to do that, to rely on whatever they have in the monitor for you, to rely on the camera shot, rely on the cuts from the director, I anticipate it being kind of an adventure, calling balls in play with conviction.
“Really calling it with conviction, and trusting that it’s really well hit and it’s got a chance to be a home run, or that it’s definitely going to split the gap. I think there’s gonna be some hesitation there. Hopefully it’s minimal to the point where you’ll only know it if you really listen for it. But it’s going be a unique challenge, no doubt.”
Joe & Orel
One of the highlights of Dodgers broadcasts is the infectious rapport between Davis and Hershiser, which seeps through the television during the games.
They’ve kept that camaraderie going in podcast form during baseball’s downtime, now 14 episodes into the “Off Air with Joe and Orel” podcast. Manager Dave Roberts is a weekly guest, and they’ve interviewed various Dodgers players as well as members of the organization, including Jaime Jarrîn.
The idea for the podcast came during the drive home from Las Vegas, where Davis was planning to call the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament in March before it was canceled due to the coronavirus. This was the same day MLB shut down spring training and delayed opening day. Davis and producer Rick Krajewski came up with the idea.
“We were talking about how you know, who knows how long this is gonna go, but people are going to be starved for baseball, something that they rely on in their everyday life to get into that part of the calendar,” Davis said. “We figured, what better time to start that up? It took a little bit of convincing with Orel. He wasn’t necessarily into the idea at first, but we got him on board, and hopefully helped a little bit of that void that people were feeling.”
Another quirk of the 2020 season are the games on national television. MLB protocols allow for extra space for national television announcers to travel to call games in the stadium.
Fox unveiled their national TV schedule for the season on Tuesday, including games on Fox and FS1, five of which are Dodgers games. All of their games will be called from a studio.
The opening weekend series against the Giants includes three exclusive national TV broadcasts. Thursday and Sunday are ESPN games, so Friday, July 24 will be SportsNet LA’s first regular season broadcast, with Davis and Hershiser calling it from their usual booth at Dodger Stadium.
But Saturday is a Fox game, and even though Davis is calling that game he’ll do so from a studio at the Fox lot in Los Angeles. His partner, A.J. Pierzynski, will be in Orlando.
“It is a little funky,” Davis said. “All the TV executives and all of our bosses are doing their very best to try and make the decisions for what is safest and what makes the most sense based on what we know.”
Back to the grind
Davis and Hershiser will call all three Dodgers exhibition games, beginning Sunday night against the Diamondbacks at Dodger Stadium. Davis said it will be his first time back at the ballpark since Fan Fest in January.
Getting to spend time at home with his wife and two children during the downtime was a blessing for Davis. But being away from baseball made him miss it, too.
“Being at home was a nice thing. And then you get into late May, early June, I started to feel less excited about being home, and more crazy about not having work,” Davis said. “Baseball, it’s every day, and if you lose that structure, it’s a little disorienting. So I got to the point probably in late May early June, where I began to get very excited to get back to work.”
Beginning Sunday, he’ll do just that.