So you think you can stand in at the box and hit a John Danks batting-practice fastball?
Ryan McGuffey, pardon you, thinks not. And he’s cooked up the full-color proof that you can’t.
Portage native McGuffey has now joined the significant ranks of video pioneers in the 68-year annals of TV coverage of Chicago baseball. One of Comcast SportsNet Chicago’s top producers, he and Emmy Award-winning producer colleague Sarah Lauch are taking viewers this weekend to where they’ve never gone before — a catcher’s eye view of pitches boring into home plate.
McGuffey and Lauch produced dozens of segments for CSN Chicago on players, coaches and managers in recent weeks at White Sox and Cubs spring training. Many of the clips will be used this weekend as the regional sports network pulls off a first — live baseball games without any commercials. The 9 p.m. Saturday Sox-Dodgers game and 3 p.m. Sunday Cubs-Indians games will air commercial-free.
In the two-minute breaks between half innings will be the segments, including 18 to 20 on Saturday by McGuffey’s estimation. But the history-within-history, likely airing early in the Saturday telecast, will be a clip of Sox’s Josh Phegley fitted with a “Go-Pro” camera attached to his helmet and resting atop his mask as he catches Danks while batters stand in at the plate.
The portable, waterproof camera previously had been used for running and sailing segments. But its employment in batting practice with the ultimate inside-baseball vantage point for the viewer was its first in Chicago team sports.
“Sarah and I really loved the Go-Pro camera because it gives everyone a unique angle,” said McGuffey, a former Portage football player and 14-year veteran of CSN Chicago and predecessor Fox Sports Chicago. “Honestly, I thought at best it was 50-50 going in asking (the Sox) to do it.
“To get live BP was so much more than we ever wanted. I didn’t think we’d ever actually see hitters in the box.”
McGuffey did not have a hard sell for the Sox. They quickly green-lighted the idea. Phegley immediately agreed to wear the camera. The device taped for a half-hour while Phegley caught.
The Go-Pro camera was described by McGuffey as possessing a 2-by-3-inch viewfinder as wide as the camera itself.
“There is a brace that goes on top of the helmet and the camera fits in that,” he said. “There were times where probably Josh forgot he was even wearing it.”
The clip proves that even a pitcher throwing a modest-speed fastball in batting practice is out of the everyman’s league.
“Anybody who thinks they can get in the box against John Danks is out of their mind,” said McGuffey. “When you see the video of (pitches coming in at) 80 mph, it looks like 120 mph. It literally looks like you’re getting into the batter’s box.”
McGuffey and Lauch liked the view from the “Go-Pro” so much they used it for two other segments. South Holland native Roger “Sodfather” Bossard wore it as the legendary groundskeeper tended the Camelback Ranch fields. Sox center fielder Adam Eaton provided an angler’s-eye perspective in a fishing expedition in nearby Tempe.
Given Major League Baseball dramatically expanding replay and doing in-game dugout interviews, the use of the “Go-Pro” as a catcher-cam during a game is the next logical step.
“I think as long as they felt strongly it would not hinder the game in any, way, shape or form,” said McGuffey, “you could see that … not just in baseball, but the future of all sports.
“It really provides a unique view people can’t see at home. It’s so small. In the MLB playoffs, you see these lipstick (container-sized) cameras that are in the front of the pitcher’s mound or at home plate. You can do a lot more with (the “Go-Pro”) in terms of wearing it.”