By Hillary Atkin
Baseball is all about the stats, and when it comes to TBS’s coverage of the Atlanta Braves, the numbers tell an interesting story. Two of its four lead broadcasters, Pete Van Wieren and Skip Caray, son of the legendary Cubs announcer Harry Caray, have each been calling Braves games for the superstation for 29 years.
Considering the Braves weren’t on the map of championship contenders until 1991, that loyalty has been amply rewarded in recent years with increased visibility and the excitement of being aligned with a winning team. Both men will be inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame in August.
And my, how things have changed. “When I started out in the 1970s, on the road we couldn’t see the graphics, so we had no idea what they said,” Mr. Van Wieren recalled. “We used to share feeds with the other teams. The only thing we were doing was the sound. It didn’t work very well. We travel with a full crew now, and we’ve made these broadcasts our own. We have the best camera people in the country, because they do more games than anyone else.”
TBS broadcasts about 140 games a season, and Senior VP and coordinating producer Jeff Behnke, who’s been on board for 19 years, is proud of the way the coverage has evolved.
“We have certainly made an attempt every year to do new and different things to keep up with technology, innovation and the Internet,” Mr. Behnke said. “But we always keep the fans at the forefront and make sure our baseball coverage doesn’t move away from keeping our true, core baseball fans.”
That sentiment is echoed by Baseball Hall of Famer Don Sutton, who took his seat in the TBS Braves broadcast booth in 1989, shortly after retiring from a stellar 23-year pitching career. “We’ve started to see a lot more interactive stuff go on, with polls and fantasy tips becoming more and more of the telecast,” Mr. Sutton said. “We have to be very careful not to clutter things up that would take the emphasis off the game itself.”
Many innovations are being showcased on the new “Braves TBS Baseball Friday Night Xtra” which premiered this season, including a camera over the backstop, a camera on the catcher, microphones on players and coaches and graphics that show the path of the pitch and a hit chart for each player. Commercial breaks were shortened and shifted, giving time for fan-friendly pre-taped segments on players’ off-the-field lives and their tips on batting, pitching and stealing bases.
Guest analysts joining announcers Mr. Caray, Mr. Van Wieren, Mr. Sutton and Joe Simpson have included former Chicago Cubs great Ryne Sandberg, two-time American League MVP Cal Ripken Jr. and Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith. The new program has brought higher ratings and a younger demographic.
Also new this season is an updated baseball studio show, “TBS Sports Control Presented by MasterCard,” with host Marc Fein, featuring live cut-ins with scores and highlights during all Braves telecasts on TBS.