Apple TV+ Friday Night Baseball curveball start could still lead to a homerun


Apple knows. It read your messages on Twitter, saw the articles, and is probably even aware of the unkind things former Met First Baseman and longtime Mets announcer Keith Hernandez said about the Friday Night Baseball debut.

At least the evening had everything a baseball fan could hope for. In the first game (there are two per night for a total of 50 games this season), the Mets played the Washington Nationals and endured non-working stadium lights, a 9th inning rain delay, and a bench-clearing near brawl when Francisco Lindor was beaned by Nationals pitcher Steve Cishek.

That last moment should have been (and still mostly was) the story of that game but all people could talk about on social media was Apple TV+ and how it handled the game.

Apple announced the MLB partnership in March and, perhaps, set itself up with the first streamed game between two eagerly-watched teams with, at least in the Mets' case, intensely devoted fan bases. 

Fans, industry watchers, and other play-by-play pros tore into the Apple TV+ team hired to cover the game: Melanie Newman (play-by-play), Chris Young (analyst), Hannah Keyser (analyst), and Brooke Fletcher (reporter). Hernandez quipped during the next Mets game broadcast covered by him and Gary Cohen, that Mets fans had already had one horrible broadcast experience this season. Granted, this is the same slightly tech-phobic fellow who a week later recounted on air how he was almost taken in by a phone phishing scam. 

Comments that complained about how the play-by-play didn't seem to know how to emphasize the importance of the right plays and how they talked over some of them, and sometimes around topics unrelated to the game or baseball.

The thing is, though, this may all be part of the plan.

Mets player Francisco Lindor after being hit by a pitch during the first Apple TV+ Friday Night Baseball game

Mets player Francisco Lindor after being hit by a pitch during the first Apple TV+ Friday Night Baseball game (Image credit: Getty / Mitchell Layton)

Will Apple's changeup work?

Apple is purposely not doing things exactly as they've been done for decades of game broadcasts. It's intentionally widening the diversity and perspective of the typical game announcers. It purposely pulled together teams that offer new faces demographics and fresh perspectives.

That can take some getting used to but Apple, which appears to have grander baseball plans than just this Friday night slot (though we're guessing here),  not only wants the traditional baseball fan to enjoy these games but is also hoping to build the audience beyond the endemic.

Perhaps that's why, despite the strong criticism, Apple is sticking with these game-calling teams. As it listens to and learns from the critical feedback, it will make adjustments but all the while Apple will still try to manage a difficult balance of satisfying the old (some of which had never tried out Apple TV) and welcoming the new. It knows it can't afford to alienate existing fans, but as a tech company, it can't help but innovate America's favorite pastime (by the way, Apple Friday Night Baseball is also streaming to Canada, Mexico, Australia, South Korea, and Japan – all hubs for baseball fanaticism).

The tech hurdles were real for those who have grown up watching games on broadcast TV where pressing a single number on a remote was enough to bring up the day's game. Apple TV and the original content platform TV+ was a new frontier for them and Apple didn't spend any time teaching longtime baseball fans how to access the game.

At least these Friday night games are free for now (no word on when that ends), and if you have an Apple ID you can log into TV+ through Apple TV or a variety of other third-party platforms to watch the games. And really, Mets fans had no choice because, aside from radio, there was no place else to watch that Nationals game (that broadcast blackout will carry through for all 50 Apple TV+ Friday baseball games).

Home run tech

Leaving aside the criticisms and tech frustration, there were some notable Apple touches. Yes, the company splashed its proprietary SF Pro font all over everything to give the proceedings a very Apple feel. 

The company also employed some high-end camera tricks like using the Megalodon camera rig that the NFL and golf games on CBS have been using to great effect. 

Megalodon, which is not a new camera but a collection of technologies (a Sony a7R IV camera mounted on a DJI Ronin-S gimbal, a 6-inch field monitor, and a backpack to carry external batteries and a 1080p wireless transmitter), creates a recognizable cinematic effect. Players, usually walking on or off the field, are in share focus while the rest the of scenery is out of focus. It's a cinematic effect that instantly raises the drama. One could wonder, though, why Apple isn't using it's own iPhone 13 Pro, which also shoots Cinematic video. 

Apple is also employing a Phantom camera to shoot super-high-speed frame rate footage that can then slow down a slider to show what's really happening when the pitcher throws it, the ball bends down and in, and a player swings past it.

Plus, if you noticed that the overall game looked just a bit crisper, it could because Apple is broadcasting in 1080p 60fps. That's above what you'd get from a typical broadcast or cable game. Sadly, no one is delivering these games in 4K, yet.

It's early days in Apple's made scramble from home to first, as it attempts to promote the heck out of these games on Apple TV (the app), TV+, and even in Apple News. It might garner more eyeballs this way, but ultimately, it has to win over baseball fans. It failed to reach first this inning, but there are 50 more this season and, potentially, a long MLB partnership ahead of it to work out a run.



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