Mississippi Turfgrass – Barry Stewart, Ph.D.
On April 20, Dr. Jay McCurdy and I participated in a very interesting activity with the Curriculum Unit at Mississippi State University. We along with several other stakeholders met to begin the process of creating a high school curriculum in Turf Management for Mississippi High Schools. We made good progress and the plan is for this new course to be available to high schools in the fall of 2023. It will be part of the Vocational Agriculture Curriculum and will be an excellent way to introduce more students to turfgrass management as well as educating students who may be ready to enter the Turfgrass Management workforce or pursue more education in Turfgrass Management.
Will Arnett and Danny Smith of East Mississippi Community College also attended and contributed to this meeting. Toward the end of the meeting Will got a phone call regarding working in the broadcast booth for the SEC Network/ESPN at the MSU vs Auburn softball game on April 29. He was unable to fulfill this request but knew that I have been a softball fan for a while and attended most of the games. He gave me a phone number to call, and I called the guy and he was happy they had found someone willing to work and that was vaxxed and boosted (ESPN requirement). I had to call another person, and I was hired to fill the Dual Role of Talent Stats and Booth Coordinator.
I spent the week filling out paperwork to be hired by the company that hires people for ESPN/SEC Network. I was told to show up two hours before gametime at the broadcast booth at Nusz Park. The week zips by and it’s Friday at 4 pm and I walk into the broadcast booth. There I meet the MSU broadcast team who run the cameras and provide the production for the broadcast. The production studio is actually in the North Endzone of Davis Wade Stadium, so all the various feeds are routed there. My job was to relay stats to the broadcast talent and have the play-by-play announcer read advertisement of upcoming ESPN programming. I think there were four such reads this night. The announcers this night were Tiffany Greene and Kayla Braud. These ladies were very professional and had obviously done a lot of homework in preparation for the game. They did not need me for much. I was on a headset with the broadcast crew and relayed information to the announcer via notes or hand signals. During the game I was able to point out that MSU 3rd baseman Paige Cook was the 2nd toughest SEC player to strike out and the shortstop Madisyn Kennedy tended to have long at bats. It was an excellent game and MSU won 3 – 2. It was fascinating seeing how a game broadcast comes together.
The next week I got an email about performing the same role for two baseball games against Florida. I could not resist seeing what the broadcast booth at the Taj Mahal of baseball looked like. Baseball is a much bigger production than softball and I had to visit Mr. Bennie Ashford MSU’s broadcast manager to get a press credential. Again, I had to be in the television booth two hours prior to game time. There I met Tom Hart and Kyle Peterson, SEC Network/ESPN announcers. Nice men, and they are treated like baseball royalty. They left the booth to go talk with teams and visit the Left Field Lounge. This was the first time ESPN announcers had worked baseball on site at MSU since 2020, and maybe even 2019. All the pandemic broadcasts featured announcers in their homes, so this was a big deal. They were treated to ribs and Everett Kennard’s Lounge box and Coach Polk came over for a visit before the game. Tom Hart asked me to keep a score book and keep track of the pitch count, which I did. It was the same set up as softball: get Tom Hart, the play-by-play announcer, to do the in-game reads and find an interesting stat or two. MSU lost both games.
My final game with SEC Network/ESPN was the Tennessee game on May 17. My role for this game was called “official stats”. I was the eyes and ears for the announcers, again Tom Hart and Kyle Peterson, who were in their homes. I had the same headset as before, but now I sat before a laptop computer, in the front row of the MSU Press Box, on a Zoom call. Tom Hart was in his home in Atlanta and Kyle Peterson was in his home in Omaha. One job for me was to keep track of pitchers warming up and other substitutions. This was the 27 – 2 win by Tennessee, so there were a lot of pitchers to keep track of. It was fascinating to see the announcers try to keep this game interesting. I was excited as Tennessee’s starting pitcher Chase Dollander had a perfect game through three innings. He was working on a 1 walk no-hitter when he left after the 6th inning. I’ve never been to a baseball no-hitter live.
I have had a great time doing this little side hustle and learning how games are produced. I hope they call me again next spring. I tried to get in some information about our turf program and will try harder next time. Both announcer teams said they were always impressed with the beautiful fields at Mississippi State.