Weirdness aside, NESN’s return to Red Sox broadcasts was well-executed and welcome

The Red Sox-Orioles series showed that Dennis Eckersley and the NESN team have lost nothing off their fastball.

Not that I necessarily mind it, but the dull hum of the artificial crowd noise on NESN’s Red Sox broadcasts is a distraction to the point that I catch myself trying to figure out what it actually sounds like.

A concert crowd’s lukewarm response to an unknown opening act? What the ocean is supposed to sound like in a sea shell? What a live ballgame might sound like if one were ordered to listen to it through a tin can and a string?

OK, so I haven’t found the exact comparison yet. I am taking submissions. But I will say this: I do agree with NESN broadcasters Dave O’Brien, Jerry Remy, and Dennis Eckersley that the slightly-off murmur of the crowd is a better option than no noise at all.

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It’s not annoying so much as it’s just sort of there, a lazy, hazy background buzz. No, the timing and tone aren’t always in correct alignment; a real crowd would have shot at least some boos the Red Sox’ way after Alex Verdugo struck out for the last out Sunday.

And the juxtaposition of hearing the “crowd” against the television image of 35,000-plus empty seats is mildly disconcerting. But NESN deserves time to tweak the formula, and I’ll take what it has used so far over silence without a second thought.

Besides, in this weird baseball season — one that could end at any moment, as the ominous COVID-19 outbreak with the Marlins reminds us — the weirdness of the phony crowd noise is somehow fitting.

Beyond the canned audio, the NESN broadcasts for the first three Red Sox games were a welcome balm for those among us thirsty for sports, or just a hint of normalcy.

Red Sox fans have long favored the three-man broadcast booth that features Remy and Eckersley — former teammates and excellent individual analysts who banter effortlessly and bring out the best in each other — flanking play-by-play voice O’Brien.

The season was not more than a few pitches old Friday night when the reminders started coming as to why they were missed so much. Remy teased Eckersley for his prediction that J.D. Martinez was going to homer off Orioles journeyman lefty Tommy Milone. “You’ve been saying that since 4:30 this afternoon,” chuckled Remy. (Martinez did not homer, but he had three hits.)

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O’Brien does a smooth job of navigating the game while Remy and Eckersley engaged in their pitcher/hitter what-would-you-do-here routine.

At one point Friday, with Red Sox starter Nate Eovaldi sailing along and getting a quick two strikes on an Orioles hitter, Remy set up Eckersley by asking what he would throw if he were the pitcher.

“Whaddaya want to do here, Eck?” said Remy.

“Gas him,” said Eckersley, his enthusiasm apparent as he deployed his unique vernacular.

“Outside corner?” said Remy.

“Just pump it, man,” said Eckersley.

Eovaldi, as if he were listening to the wisdom of the broadcast himself, threw a fastball away, but just missed the plate.

I can’t imagine there are many regional baseball broadcasts — other than maybe the Mets with Gary Cohen, Ron Darling, and Keith Hernandez — where the casual insight from the analysts is so enjoyable. That’s the good stuff right there.

A few other thoughts on the three broadcasts:

▪ As promised, NESN is taking social distancing seriously in the studio. Remy (who looked a bit like Super Mario as he amusingly wore Wally the Green Monster’s oversized hat Sunday) appears to be more than 6 feet away from Eckersley, who is situated between him and O’Brien. On the studio program, Jim Rice was far enough in the background behind Tom Caron and Steve Lyons that he looked like he was in the on-deck circle.

▪ Time to put a moratorium on any cheeky references to the “roar of the crowd.” O’Brien dryly dropped that line Friday when the Red Sox were lighting up Orioles pitching. That’s a one-time-only joke, though, and I heard from a couple of viewers who weren’t sure whether it was meant seriously.

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Also thought it was odd that O’Brien, at the top of the broadcast Friday, said it was “so good to be with you from Fenway,” when the broadcasters were actually in Watertown.

▪ It’s pretty cool hearing the authentic noise amplified — the crack of the bat, players cheering in the dugout, a ball clanging off the Monster. Also, baseball players tend to curse, loudly, when something doesn’t go right. If you didn’t know that before, you’re going to find out. (The most egregious example so far was Verdugo’s four-letter response to whiffing to end Sunday’s game. I suspect a lot of viewers said the same thing in unison.)

▪ Curious to see what NESN gets out of putting microphones on random players and personnel during the season. Jackie Bradley Jr. wore a mike Friday, but it didn’t provide much beyond a brief conversation at second base with former teammate Jose Iglesias in which he asked about “Little Iggy.” As for new camera angles, the look from just behind the Pesky Pole was a sharp one. Can’t recall seeing a shot from there before.

▪ On WEEI radio Saturday, Joe Castiglione and Will Flemming quickly became exasperated at how Red Sox starter Martin Perez was taking his sweet time between pitches. I didn’t hear O’Brien, Remy, and Eckersley lament this on the television broadcast.

▪ I never noticed NESN coming out of a commercial break late or missing a pitch, something that occasionally has been problematic in recent seasons. I wonder if it’s because the network, as the home team, was responsible for the world feed provided to both teams.

▪ Did you see where Elon Musk tweeted that his Neuralink chip could let users stream music directly into their brains? I’d rather have this chip implanted and play the Kars4Kids jingle on repeat than see one more political ad during the NESN broadcast. You know the one I mean.

▪ The 7:30 starts are short-sighted and greedy. But there was just one this weekend, fortunately, and going forward I’m going to take my cues from something Eckersley said this weekend when asked about the changes to the game this year (designated hitter in the National League, etc.): “I’m not going to complain. Remember, I told you I’m never going to complain again about this game.”

That’s how I feel too. It’s all so weird — all of it — but it sure is good to have it back, for however long it lasts.

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