Baseball has done its best this season to get back to normal, with a full schedule, full stadiums and even some in-person interaction between players and reporters.
But one part of the game remains stubbornly abnormal — radio and television announcers calling road games off monitors, usually while sitting in empty home ballparks.
The recent surge in COVID-19 cases, particularly in parts of the country with relatively low vaccination rates, has complicated things. Caution seems to make more sense than it did six weeks ago.
But again: At a time when normalcy seems to be the goal, this remains an exception.
As fans have learned over the past two seasons, listening to or watching a baseball game called remotely is not the same as one done in person.
For example, in person a play-by-play announcer can anticipate off the bat how far a fly ball will travel — be it a routine out or a home run.
Off the monitor, the view from the centerfield camera is not sufficient; the announcer must wait for the camera angle to change to show the ball’s flight and the outfielders’ pursuit.
One example came last month, when Gary Thorne, subbing for Gary Cohen on SNY, had a delayed reaction to a go-ahead home run in the ninth inning by Michael Conforto.
The strangest remote call of the season also came in July, when Yankees radio announcer John Sterling excitedly called a home run by Aaron Judge in Seattle, only to realize it was a replay of an earlier homer.
"I’m sorry; it’s on the monitor," he said. "What am I supposed to do?"
His partner, Suzyn Waldman, added sarcastically, "This is a great way to do a game, isn’t it?"
Another challenge is that the production itself mostly is out of the hands of the road TV team, so the announcers must do what they can with images captured by the home crew.
(SNY will experiment with sending its announcers to Washington for a Labor Day weekend series using a smaller-than-usual crew of its own, a plan first reported by the New York Post.)
Why has this situation persisted in New York, particularly when some radio announcers around the country are back on the road?
It’s complicated. Money concerns in the wake of the financial bath everyone took in 2020 are part of the mix, but not the biggest part.
A bigger one is logistics. Announcers are not permitted for now on team charters, which means they would have to fly to games on commercial flights.
That presents complications in getting them to games on time, and potentially exposes them to more virus risk. (It’s also far less comfortable, as the rest of us know.)
A spokesman for Audacy, the company whose WFAN carries Yankees games and WCBS carries Mets games, said, "We have no update at this time" about announcers returning to the road.
A YES spokesman said in a statement, "This is a very fluid situation, especially as the Delta variant becomes more prominent and COVID rules and regulations become stricter. We continue to monitor the situation.
"Our decisions are based on number of factors including, first and foremost, the safety and health of our employees; nothing matters more. Also, there are travel restrictions, as well as different health protocols and logistical concerns in each road city."
SNY president Steve Raab told Newsday, "It's a simple question without a really simple answer. There are league protocols, every team has their protocols, ballparks, cities, municipalities. Not only do you have to address those, but I think for us there’s some degree certainly of the safety factor."
While Raab acknowledged the challenges remote telecasts present to announcers and crew, he said, "I think our guys have done an incredible job finding ways to continue to deliver live games at the level that I think is the best in baseball."
He added, "There has been probably as much innovation and testing and things that we didn’t really know we could do over this past year, by far, than anything we’ve encountered over 16 years."
Speaking of which, while New York baseball announcers figure to hit the road again in 2022, lessons learned over the past two seasons likely will lead to new approaches.
For example, directors and producers might work from home stadiums, allowing for a leaner traveling party.
That’s fine. But here’s hoping that in 2022, the only Aaron Judge home runs that John Sterling calls are ones that actually are happening at the time he calls them.