the sports section

The Mets Are Great. They’re Also Great TV.

Scenes from SNY’s Mets broadcasts. Photo: Screenshots via SNY

In the seventh inning of the Mets’ August 9 game against the Reds, Cincinnati pitcher Joel Kuhnel drilled outfielder Mark Canha with a 95-mile-an-hour sinker. The Mets have been beaned more times than any team in baseball this season, and their manager, Buck Showalter, was understandably peeved. As Canha took his base, the cameras of SNY, the Mets’ cable network, focused in on Showalter. A red tint filled the screen, and as the siren from Kill Bill blared — the one that indicated Uma Thurman was about to get bloody revenge on someone — viewers at home saw images of past hit-by-pitches flashing over the exasperated skipper.

SNY’s broadcasts have long been highly regarded, thanks in large part to its excellent announcing trio of Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez, and Ron Darling. (A 2020 survey on the Athletic voted them the best booth in the majors, with one respondent explaining, “Being a Mets fan is a tough lot in life, but one thing we’ve got going for us is Gary, Keith, and Ron.”) But the Tarantino gag was the brainchild of John DeMarsico, the director of SNY’s Mets broadcasts, who’s been drawing notice among fans this season for his creative flourishes. DeMarsico, who graduated with a degree in film from North Carolina State in 2009, says he aims to bring a movie director’s eye to the telecasts.

“When I’m not at the ballpark or with my wife or daughter, I’m watching a movie,” he says. “The last thing I want to do when I come home is watch more baseball, truthfully. I take notes on movies, and when I see something cool, I like to think about ways that I can inject that into the broadcast.”

DeMarsico, who started working at SNY right out of college, learned under the station’s legendary baseball director Bill Webb, who also directed 17 World Series for Fox before his death in 2017. This year marks DeMarsico’s third in the director’s chair, but he says it’s really the first in which he’s had the chance to get truly artistic. The COVID-shortened 2020 season lacked fans and any kind of in-stadium atmosphere to work with, and because of restrictions last year, SNY provided camera shots for the visiting team’s broadcast to use for games played at Citi Field.

But now, as the Mets sprint toward the playoffs with their best (and most fun) team in years, he can get a little more inventive.

Consider two decisions DeMarsico made during a game against the Braves on Sunday, August 7. On Saturday, the Mets had taken both games of a doubleheader against Atlanta to extend their lead in the NL East to five and a half games. Sunday’s game was to mark ace Jacob deGrom’s first start at home in 13 months, a moment fans had been anticipating all season. Sensing the electric atmosphere in the ballpark, DeMarsico made the unusual choice not to go to commercial as deGrom left the dugout and took his warm-up pitches before the first inning. Instead, he positioned a handheld camera right behind the mound and let viewers witness the crowd reaction — and hear deGrom’s warm-up song, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man.”

“What I saw taking place as deGrom was about to take the field felt special,” DeMarsico says. “There was a buzz in that ballpark and every single fan in that building was on their feet. And I kind of went with my gut.”

Ron Darling, the former Mets pitcher and current SNY analyst, says the broadcasters in the booth instantly knew what DeMarsico was going for, even though they’d never tried something like it before.

“My thought was, Wow, how good is that?” says Darling. “Because what can I say about Jacob deGrom? Everyone who’s a Mets fan probably knows what kind of underwear he wears. They know everything about him, and anything I could ever say would never move the needle.”

DeMarsico said that thanks to a short rain delay before the first pitch, he had some leeway to adjust the broadcast to include deGrom’s warm-up throws. But later in the game, he opted to skip a commercial break entirely to show the ninth-inning entrance of closer Edwin Diaz, who boasts incredible numbers and an incredible entrance song. Behold, “Narco”:

“If we’re gonna blow off a commercial, it better be worth it,” DeMarsico says. It certainly was in this case: The Diaz video has been viewed 9 million times on Twitter so far. And lots of people are tuning in on traditional TV, too: That Mets-Braves series was the most-watched in the history of SNY, and the Sunday game started by deGrom and finished by Diaz was the second-most-watched individual game ever on the network.

Some baseball broadcasts, like the ones on Apple TV+ with their constant onscreen probabilities, have leaned into a more advanced presentation of statistics, which appeals to a certain kind of savvy fan. SNY’s style seems designed for a more emotional effect — something the game could use in an era when on-field action has dwindled and baseball executives desperately try to appeal to a young, impatient audience.

The approach has already inspired copycats: When Apple TV+ aired last Friday night’s Mets-Phillies game, it also had a camera operator run in with Diaz from the bullpen.

As if to counter, the following night SNY again followed Diaz from the bullpen, this time starting the shot in black-and-white before transitioning to color once the closer stepped onto the playing field.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt DeMarsico’s ambitions that the Mets are having an outstanding season, and that the booth of Cohen, Hernandez, and Darling provides superior insight, genuine chemistry, and humor (plus the occasional bit of accidental music criticism) to go with the visuals.

Darling emphasizes that the SNY broadcasts are a team effort, but he says he’s happy to see DeMarsico get recognized by fans for his work. “John will be known someday by everyone that follows baseball,” he says. “That’s how talented he is and that’s how groundbreaking he is.”

The Mets Are Great. They’re Also Great TV.