Live From MLB at Field of Dreams: Fox Sports Audio Tech Is Cutting-Edge in Dyersville
‘Visual esthetics’ is key in the period-piece production
Tonight, the “Field of Dreams” becomes real. Fox Sports will broadcast a regular-season game between the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox from Dyersville, IA, where Major League Baseball has commissioned a specially constructed, 8,000-seat temporary stadium as an homage to the baseball film classic Field of Dreams.
The new venue is located near the one built as part of the set for the 1989 movie starring Kevin Costner. It’s designed to resemble Comiskey Park, the White Sox’s home from 1910 through 1990, right down to the 400 ft. from home plate to the 12-ft.-high padded centerfield wall.
The ballplayers will wear period uniforms and enter the stadium from a cornfield at the edge of center-right field, evoking the way the characters eerily appeared in Shoeless Joe, Canadian author W. P. Kinsella’s 1982 magic-realist novel that was the basis for the film. In fact, windows were built into the right-field wall to keep the cornfields beyond the ballpark in the picture and to provide views of the movie set.
The game was originally scheduled for 2020, with the White Sox playing the St. Louis Cardinals, but was delayed a year because of COVID-19.
Viewers at home won’t have to strain to hear the game through the megaphone-type speakers that radios featured 100 years ago. However, the audio team will have to work a balancing act to capture as much of the sound of the game as possible while keeping 21st-century technology hidden.
“We’ve deferred to the visual esthetics of this particular game,” explains A1 Joe Carpenter, who is mixing from one of the four units of Game Creek Video’s Encore production truck. “We can’t put out as many microphones as usual for an MLB game, and they can’t go in the usual places.”
What he has done is fit a parabolic mic into the backstop to pick up bat cracks, bury a pair of lavalier mics near the pitcher’s mound, and mount a few more lavs atop the centerfield wall. A2s will hold parabs up along the baselines to pick up plays at first and third base.
The singing of the national anthem will take place from inside the movie-set stadium, which is about 500 yards away and has been operated as a tourist attraction since the movie was filmed there 32 years ago. The sound will be piped in wirelessly and played through a temporary PA system set up in the new stadium by Van Wagner, which also erected an LED video screen in left field.
Needless to say, none of the ballplayers will be wired for sound, although Carpenter expects to be able to put a wireless lav on at least the home-plate umpire.
As old-timey as the game’s vibe is intended to be, it will have at least one cutting-edge feature: Fox Sports is deploying its vaunted Megalodon, the Sony a7R IV mirrorless digital camera that debuted during the latest NFL season and produced what Fox SVP, Field Operations, Mike Davies calls a “cool, cinematic look.” A Sennheiser short-shotgun mic will be attached to it, adding another audio element to the game’s 5.1 mix.
The stadium is essentially a pop-up, built solely for this game. Its broadcast infrastructure was built from scratch to support an estimated 30 cameras with a production budget rivaling that of a typical postseason game, Judy Boyd, SVP, production, Fox Sports, told the Chicago Sun-Times. The audio infrastructure is a mix of Calrec Hydra, Dante networking, and some (appropriately vintage, Carpenter jokes) DT12 cabling.
One additional element will be ubiquitous during the game.
“Corn,” he says, noting that the 159 acres of the 10- to 12-ft.-high DeKalb crop surrounding the field will have its own LED lighting. “Corn everywhere.”
Updated Friday, August 13, 2021
Besides wireless lavs embedded in the bases, microphones were placed within the cornfield itself to pick up the sound of the White Sox players entering through the 12-ft.-tall plants.
“Corn stalks whispering in the wind make a very distinct sound,” Carpenter notes. “I knew we were going to do a ton of drone and FlyCam low flyovers” and the whispering would provide a soundtrack to those shots.
In addition, cicadas in the cornfield became yet another audio element in the game’s soundscape.
“I had problems with the level of bug noise in the corn,” says Carpenter. The occasionally intense buzzing picked up mostly by the bat-crack microphones, he nots, which, unlike the ones placed in the cornfield, couldn’t be muted. “I tried for two innings to eliminate it but was eventually forced to go with the old ‘if you can’t beat em, join ’em’ philosophy.”
However, the quaint baseball setting did have its unique sounds. One of his favorites was the creaky ladder from which a worker manually updated the antique scoreboard. “You heard the ladder creaking,” he says, “and that gave the sense of the old-timeyness. That was cool.”