Five Tools In-Depth: Structure

A quality broadcast is delivered in an organized and coherent manner.  You can be accurate, mechanically sound, and have a talent for gathering relevant and interesting stories, but you will fall short of your potential if you are unable to cleanly articulate these thoughts on the air.

In our discussion on Quality of Information, we indicated that with the proper amount of pre-game preparation, you should be able to compile more than enough relevant facts and storylines to fill an entire nine-inning broadcast.  This means some information will be left on the cutting room floor.  While signing off the broadcast with excess information is a great problem to have, whatever is left over should never carry more relevance or substance than what actually made it into the final product.  A structured gameplan allows you to maximize the quality of what information gets used.

This is not meant to imply that a broadcast should be scripted word-for-word (this would be near impossible to execute anyway).  Your gameplan will very likely require some on-the-fly adjustments.  For instance, if the starting pitcher works extremely fast, incorporating all of your supplemental information becomes more challenging.  In this example, you’ll have to be extra selective in what you choose to say so that your best material is used first.

With that being said, structure is an essential component of a quality broadcast.  You should absolutely have an approach heading into each game in the same way the best hitters have an approach heading into each at bat.

A very simple organization tool I use is a “storyline sheet.”  This can be applied game-by-game or series-by-series.  A storyline sheet lists any relevant talking points related to the teams and players in the series.  The bullet points can be as simple as each team’s position in the pennant race, the historical rivalry of the clubs, or general background information on the managers.  You can also list more specific storylines, such as the opposing team’s plan to finance a new ballpark, an individual player approaching a major milestone, or how a manager’s strategic philosophy influences the type of player he prefers to recruit.  As long as the topic has relevance and substance, it’s worth putting on your storyline sheet.

Keep in mind that a storyline sheet is meant to function as a memory jogger, and not an encyclopedia.  You’ll need to familiarize yourself enough with each topic so that you can easily remember all of the key details just by glancing at one of the bullet points.  This requires extra thorough preparation, and you might even have to read the same story two or three times.  The investment is worth it, however, because I can tell you first hand that there are at least one or two instances in every series where the storyline sheet saves me from omitting an important piece of information.

Another structural mechanism that can keep your broadcast organized is something I call the “3×3 spotlight approach.”  For the typical three-game series, I’ll split up the opposing team’s starting lineup into thirds with the goal of spotlighting three players per night.  I’ll also try to spread out the three players in the lineup (one in the top-third, one in the middle-third, and one in the bottom-third), and use the rest of the downtime to talk about the starting pitcher or some of the more team-centric storylines.  Spreading them out prevents anyone from thinking you only care about the star players at the top of the order.

Since lineups often change from game-to-game, the approach is not an exact science, but if you check your league’s box scores on a nightly basis, you’ll at least have a general idea of how to best spread out the three players.  In other words, the cleanup hitter might get moved to the five-hole, but he’s unlikely to get dropped to the nine-hole.

The 3×3 spotlight approach allows you to bring up something interesting about each player on the opposing team over the course of a three-game series (or you can view it as making sure that no one’s story is left out).  This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also research the reserve players (you should), but if your preparation time is limited, past box scores can help you concentrate on who is most likely to play.  Use your best judgment and adjust where necessary for two-, four-, and five-game series.

The process in which you incorporate specific pieces of information also contributes to your broadcast’s structure.  The best baseball announcers not only have the ability to tell relevant and compelling stories, but they are adept at spreading out the longer stories over the course of multiple pitches.  A great story does the listener no good if it’s length comes at the expense of the next pitch or batted ball.  Cramming a longer story into the space between two pitches sounds disjointed, and doesn’t help the listener either.

The transitions from supplemental information to play-by-play descriptions (and vice versa) should sound as seamless as possible.  I’ve always likened it to having two separate, but distinguishably articulate conversations at once.  If you start telling a story and the batter puts the first pitch in play, you can wrap it up before the next batter steps in, or you can save the remainder of the anecdote for the original player’s next at bat.  Either way, you have to make sure you finish “the rest of the story,” or else the listener will be left hanging at the end of the night.  This is one of the hardest elements to master, but it’s another huge differentiator that separates an average broadcaster from a plus broadcaster.

Lastly, the physical organization of your resources directly affects the structure of your broadcasts.  I subscribe to the philosophy that you should consolidate as much information into as few sheets of paper and into as little space as possible.  What effect is a quality piece of information going to have on the broadcast if you can’t locate it in a timely manner?

The total preparation for one of my broadcasts might collect information from 25 to 30 different sources, but everything I plan to use is consolidated into less than 10 sheets of paper.  Even if I don’t have the precise facts committed to memory, I know exactly where to find what I need in minimal time.  The storyline sheet is a good example of the consolidation philosophy in practice.

If a team is 55-0 when leading after seven innings, you don’t have to memorize that exact statistic.  Just keep your “leading after ‘x’ innings” information in an easily accessible part of the booth, and you’ll never have to worry about the fact expiring (i.e. no longer being relevant) when the game advances to the eighth.

If you don’t keep your physical resources organized, you subject yourself to a pair of self-inflicted wounds.  One, you’ve essentially wasted the time you spent researching the quality information in the first place.  Second, and more importantly, you’ve denied the listener from hearing something interesting that could have improved their experience.  The longer it takes you to find a piece of information, the greater the chance it never gets properly utilized.

Ultimately, structure is what glues your broadcast together.  If you or your partner goes off on a tangent, you can minimize the effects of such a distraction by consulting your gameplan.  Think of your broadcast structure like a map.  The shortest distance between two points is always a straight line, but like any traveler, sometimes you’ll have to use the map to find an alternate route.  You’re still moving in the same general direction (adjusting when necessary), and the final destination remains the same (delivering a quality broadcast).


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