Gary Cohen is not concerned about calling Mets home games for SNY with no fans in Citi Field. He used to work in the minor leagues, and he has been in many sparsely populated stadiums in the three decades since.
“I have done plenty of major-league games with very small crowds – Montreal, Florida, all sorts of places where crowds have been minuscule,” he said.
“You do games sometimes at 2 o’clock in the morning after a couple of rain delays and there are 20 people in the stands. So I don’t think that that is really an issue.”
The bigger question Cohen has entering the COVID-19-shortened season is what it will be like when he and analysts Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez are at Citi Field but the Mets are not.
When the Mets play on the road, SNY’s announcers will be in Queens calling games off monitors. (For most Yankees road games, YES announcers also will use monitors, but in YES’ studios in Stamford, Connecticut, rather than Yankee Stadium.)
What will it be like?
Cohen had no idea before last Sunday night, when he got a test run for a Mets-Yankees exhibition game at Yankee Stadium. He never before had called a full game off a screen.
He recalled doing part of a game from the previous season off a monitor as part of his audition for the Mets radio job in December 1988. That’s it.
“It was awkward then,” he said. “Now all these years later, we’re doing it for real on the air, and there is a lot about it that I’m going to have to figure out as we go along.”
The SNY announcers will have access to more than one camera angle and thus a broader picture of the action than viewers at home. But there are things about the in-person view that cannot be replicated.
For example, in the stadium, Cohen can judge the trajectory of a fly ball off the bat. Watching on TV, he must wait until the camera view adjusts to where the ball is headed.
“It completely changes the timing of the way you call a play,” he said.
Another challenge is the increased use of defensive shifts.
“For 150 years, you knew where the fielders were,” Cohen said. “Now you don’t even have an intuitive sense of that with the shift.
“A ball is hit in a particular direction and your instantaneous thought used to be: That ball is going through the hole. Now you don’t know where the hole is until the camera angle switches and you see where the fielders are.”
Announcers for road teams also will have less of a direct feel for what images and replays are coming than is normal, because most video this year will be produced as a universal feed by the home crew.
One other logistical challenge is that Cohen will work from the home TV booth at Citi Field while Hernandez and Darling are in the adjacent visiting booth to make social distancing easier.
“I’ve asked them to put in a traffic mirror,” Cohen said, laughing, “like the things they have in parking lots when you go around a corner so you can see the cars coming, so we can see each other and get non-verbal cues.”
So what did Cohen think after getting a taste of all of the above on Sunday?
“It was challenging,” he said. “We had six different video feeds coming into the booth, and I had to figure out on the fly which one to look at and when. Mostly, I think it went OK, but I lost the ball a few times.
“Hopefully with a few more reps, that will happen less. The weirdest thing was that occasionally, by habit, I glanced toward the field to try to see something, only to be greeted by darkness.”
Not that Cohen is complaining. He is eager to get back at it.
“We’re going to be trying to make the best of something we’ve never done before, and I think there’s a fun, challenging element to that, as difficult as it might be, that is appealing,” he said.
The task for analysts should not be quite as daunting, but it still will be different.
“I would imagine the road games will be challenging, to say the least,” said David Cone, who will work most Yankees games for YES. “We’re all figuring it out as we go. It’s definitely trial and error.”
Analysts will have less access to the players than they are accustomed to, and will be left mostly to observe body language and other subtleties.
“We’re all kind of swimming upstream here, so to speak,” Cone said. “We’re trying to figure out as we go what our own individual jobs are and also the bigger picture of how this is going to look and what this means and does this make sense, or can we do this better.”
Both home and away, Cone said he and play-by-play man Michael Kay would try to do right by the unique circumstances.
“It’s exciting, and it’s a tremendous responsibility,” Cone said. “You want to get it right. You want to have the right tone, the right perspective. That’s hard. It’s a hard thing to maintain nowadays with everything that’s going on.”