Split-squad games are a necessary tradition of spring training, allowing the abundance of players in camp to get in some game action.
But a split-squad broadcast team? That’s a new one, at least around here.
Actually, what NESN is implementing Friday night in — yes, a split-squad game — against the Pirates is probably more of a combined-squad broadcast team, and it will be fascinating to learn what viewers think of it.
During Friday night’s broadcast, Red Sox announcer Don Orsillo and Pirates announcer Tim Neverett will rotate on the call every two or three innings. Analysts Jerry Remy and Bob Walk (the former Pirates pitcher) will share the booth for all nine innings. There will also be two sideline reporters — Jenny Dell of NESN, and Rob Incmikoski of Root Sports, the regional sports network that broadcasts Pirates games.
Got all that? If you think it will take some getting used to, well, you’re going to have a chance to get used to it. This is the first of five games in which NESN will partner with a regional sports network. It will happen again with the Pirates and Root Sports March 23, as well as three times (March 8, 15, and 28) with the Twins. Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven will serve along with Remy as the analyst on the third mutual broadcast.
NESN spokesman Gary Roy said the chief reason for the mutual broadcasts is to break up the occasional monotony of spring training by having two analysts in the booth talking baseball and offering insight on some of the players on the opposing team. For example, Walk will probably talk at length about Red Sox closer Joel Hanrahan, who spent the past 3½ seasons with the Pirates.
The synergy and symmetry work in that regard, and Roy said NESN vice president of programming and production Joseph Maar recommended trying the combined booth after fans in other markets responded positively when it was implemented.
But I wonder if Red Sox viewership is different. I suspect it is, foremost because Orsillo and Remy are established as part of the fabric. Partners on the broadcasts since 2001, Orsillo and Remy have an uncommonly good rapport, and the hunch here is that after the long winter, the majority of fans are looking forward to hearing their familiar voices again.
And of course, there is a financial aspect. NESN downplays the cost savings as modest, but the two RSNs are using just one production truck in the simulcast, meaning that behind-the-scenes personnel are essentially halved.
Are the savings, however modest, and the desire to add a new element to a broadcast that may not have required one a worthwhile venture for NESN?
Roy said the network believes so, while understanding that there will always be some reaction when something is different. The tenor of that reaction bears watching, perhaps more so than the game itself. And unlike the rosters and the play-by-play voices, I’m not sure it will be anywhere near split.
Picard has his say
A tap of the stick to Comcast SportsNet New England’s Danny Picard, whose long-running “I’m Just Sayin’ ” Internet radio program has been picked up for a weekday show on 1510, the local affiliate for NBC Sports Radio. It debuted Monday. Picard, who began the program as a college student at UMass in 2006, has carried it through various incarnations and outlets, working tirelessly to produce a professional program with quality guests (he has particularly strong ties to NHL players from the Boston area). The program, which will air for an hour daily at 9 a.m. and may expand to two hours soon, is a well-deserved opportunity for someone who made his own break.
Busting with pride
Malcolm Huckaby, the former Boston College guard and current analyst on WEEI’s radio broadcasts of Eagles games, did a nice job in the same role on ESPN’s “BracketBusters’’ coverage last weekend. Huckaby and his instantly recognizable deep voice joined ESPN for college basketball analysis this season, primarily working for ESPNU . . . If you missed it, Prospect Productions’ short film on the legendary T206 Honus Wagner baseball card debuted as one of Grantland’s “30 for 30’’ shorts this week, and it’s worth checking out. The brainchild of Nick and Colin Barnicle, it’s a fascinating and fun look at the most mysterious, iconic — and expensive — item of sports memorabilia there is.
A hopeful tone
Great to hear Rich Shertenlieb back on “Toucher and Rich’’ Thursday morning, two weeks after taking leave to be with his wife Mary, who was diagnosed with a form of leukemia. Shertenlieb has posted encouraging updates about his wife’s condition on Facebook and Twitter, and while he says she has a long road ahead, it was reassuring to hear the familiar energy back in his voice Thursday . . . The best comment I received regarding John Dennis’s fascinating rant Thursday about Sports Hub hosts Fred Toucher and Andy Gresh’s perceived criticism of Tom Brady on a Comcast SportsNet New England program Wednesday came from a local television executive, who wrote: “A NESN simulcast of a WEEI radio show having a raging debate about a Sports Hub personality’s comments on Comcast SportsNet. The lodge is on fire.”