When it began, Karl Ravech worried most about technical logistics, not least praying his WiFi connection would remain intact.
“Oh, my gosh, that kept me up at night,” he said, “and the one thing you can’t do is stay up at night.”
Speaking of which: That continues to be his other concern.
“Look, the sleeping thing has absolutely been the biggest adjustment you’ve had to make,” he said.
But on the whole, Ravech would much rather be the lead play-by-play man for ESPN’s live coverage of the KBO League than not. He is a self-described “diehard” baseball fan, and this beats no baseball at all.
It has been a month since the South Korean league marked a return of live sports to ESPN after the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted its usually busy spring schedule.
From the start, it was viewed as a wee-hours novelty, with games at 1, 4 or 5:30 a.m. Eastern Time – and that largely how it still is viewed.
But Ravech said even if most viewers “are not invested in every pitch,” the games have filled some of the role the sport usually does this time of year.
“Baseball to me is a rhythmic aspect to people’s lives in summer,” he said. “That rhythm was interrupted by this pandemic. This at least creates somewhat of a rhythm. Six days a week there is going to be a baseball game.”
Still, Yankees-Red Sox it is not. So ESPN has tried to expand its mission, often straying from the action to have its announcers discuss with one another and/or guests Korean baseball, baseball in general, even current events.
Doug Glanville appeared with Ravech and analyst Eduardo Perez on Wednesday morning and talked about the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month, and his personal experiences as a black man in America.
“We talked about it early on, before we started doing the games,” said Mark Gross, senior vice president of production. “We told ourselves we have to be broader than calling every pitch.
“We love KBO, but we’re not thinking that all of our fans are glued to every pitch and want great detail on every pitch, every play that’s happening. So it was: How do we broaden out the coverage?”
Said Ravech: “There has to be an acknowledgement that this is serving a variety of roles. On social media we hear a lot, ‘Hey, can you just focus on the game? We’re just watching a baseball game.’ Also, I hear a bunch of people thanking us for the diversion.”
Ravech will host ESPN’s coverage of the Major League Baseball draft next week, by which time he hopes there will be news of MLB and its players union agreeing on terms for a 2020 season.
For now, the Koreans will have to do, and Ravech’s 1941 farmhouse in Connecticut will keep serving as his studio.
He currently is sharing it with his wife, Chris, four young adults and a dog.
“I’m doing the games from a bedroom suite while my wife tries to sleep 15 feet away, separated by a door,” he said. “I am literally in the middle of everybody in a lot of ways. I don’t see the dog on the other side of the door, but I know the dog is not sleeping through this either.”
Ravech usually goes to bed around 9 p.m. and wakes up by 3:45 or 4 a.m. for the 5:30 games. The 1 and 4 a.m. games are more complicated.
“You almost take relief in a 5:30 a.m. start,” he said, “which intellectually makes no sense, unless you’re a person who works a second or third shift and you’re used to doing those things.”
He credited his local cable company installing a dedicated ethernet line to easing his WiFi anxiety, and ESPN’s technical department for keeping him up and running.
Gross said the technological process has been the biggest revelation for him over the past month.
“It’s been incredible,” he said. “We’re doing a game from Korea, we have a play-by-play announcer at their home in one state, an analyst at their home in another state and we have a guest from another country, and it’s pretty seamless. It looks good, sounds good.
“So we’ve learned that we can try things and there is a lot of great technology out there that’s really opened our eyes because of the KBO games.”
Said Ravech, “We obviously need live sports programming. But it was their willingness to try it to get it out there, to literally create this system. As the technician told me, ‘You were the first person we ever tried this with.’ And it’s worked . . . They took a chance, and it’s worked.”