When Dan Shulman and John Kruk take their places at Fenway Park for ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball" broadcast in two days, not only will they be looking at a drastically remodeled Red Sox roster, the broadcasters will be offering their perspective on the changes from literally a different perspective.
Shulman, the superb play-by-play voice, and analyst Kruk will call all nine innings — weather-permitting, of course — of the Sunday night matchup with the Yankees from a makeshift broadcast booth atop the Green Monster.
It's the second time this season that ESPN, in celebrating "Sunday Night Baseball's" 25th anniversary on the network, has had the broadcasters call a game from on-location-within-the-location.
In May, Shulman and Kruk called a Cubs-Cardinals game from the Wrigley Field bleachers.
Not only did they survive the experience unscathed, they actually enjoyed it.
"It felt like a couple of buddies talking about baseball with their friends,'' said Kruk. "It really did. I mean, we were definitely aware the fans were around us, because we had [TV] monitors and every time there was a close play, you could see and feel the fans peering over our shoulders there to get a look at the replay. That was the fun part. And they were asking us, 'What, was he safe, was he out, c'mon?' Oh my gosh.
"Wrigley was a great time, and we're looking forward to Fenway, for two reasons. One, it's a different vantage point and the game becomes more conversational. And two, we don't have to wear suits."
"We're both golf shirt guys,'' said Shulman, who acknowledged that being situated among the fans naturally gives the broadcast a looser, more casual vibe, something he is familiar with from his college basketball broadcasting duties on the network.
But the Green Monster crowd shouldn't be intimidating when you've already dealt with, say, Duke's Cameron Crazies.
"At a basketball game, I'm used to having people around me,'' Shulman said. "I'm just not used to it at a baseball game. But when you put a headset on, you've got the monitors in front of you, and you've got a producer talking in your ear, you kind of don't really have any choice but to lock in and focus."
ESPN will assemble the makeshift booth in Section 9 of the Monster seats. Additional security will be provided in case the fans do get rowdy, and a traditional booth will be set up in the press box just in case the weather does not cooperate.
With the Red Sox in last place and in the aftermath of a roster shakeup and the Yankees only on the fringes of a playoff spot, there's not as much buzz about the rivalry as there usually is this time of the season.
But the decision to add the twist of calling the game from the Monster seats is not a reaction to perceived lack of interest, but something ESPN has been considering for months.
"We started talking about this awhile ago, and I think we would have done it no matter what the situation was in the standings,'' Shulman said. "This is a little bit unusual, with how the season has gone for both teams. But these teams struggling is almost bigger news than having a good season. Either way, we won't lack for things to talk about."
Shulman and Kruk have both checked out the vantage point from the Monster before. Shulman took a tour of Fenway with his son a couple of years ago, while Kruk popped up before a past Sunday night broadcast.
Kruk said he has a fear of heights, but his only actual concern is one related to the game: home run balls headed his way.
"I've got to find a glove from somewhere,'' he said. "Maybe I'll borrow a glove from a lefthanded player on the Red Sox. Whatever is the biggest one that they've got."
Smith is sorry
Stephen A. Smith's eventual apology did come across as heartfelt as . . . well, as he told us it was at the end of it. He has faced some small consequences. ESPN is forcing him to take a weeklong "break" from his duties as the chief co-caterwauler on the execrable "First Take" and his radio program.
But when you read and, in utter disbelief, re-read his words regarding the NFL's pathetic two-game suspension of Ravens running back Ray Rice for allegedly punching out his then-fiancée, now-wife, you keep coming back to one point: How could he ever have said such a thing in the first place, under any circumstances?
Here, if a reminder is required, is what Smith said: "In Ray Rice's case, he probably deserves more than a two-game suspension . . . But at the same time, we also have to make sure that we learn as much as we can about elements of provocation. Not that there's real provocation, but the elements of provocation, you got to make sure that you address them, because what we've got to do is do what we can to try to prevent the situation from happening in any way."
Now, I do find Smith an entertaining personality. He has countless peers who swear by his generosity and good nature. But even given the he-who-is-most-outrageous-wins culture of "First Take,'' I still can't understand how those words ever escaped his mouth, genuine apology or not.
Minihane off CSNNE
Don't expect to see Kirk Minihane on Comcast SportsNet New England for a while, if again. The WEEI morning co-host, suspended for a week by the radio station after Fox briefly pulled its advertising from all Entercom stations in response to Minihane's comments about reporter Erin Andrews, is a frequent guest and host on CSNNE programming. While industry sources say CSNNE hasn't formally suspended him, he won't appear on the network's programs until the fall. That's if he chooses to come back at all.
Good Scully news
The Dodgers announced Tuesday night that legendary broadcaster Vin Scully will return in 2015 for his 66th season with the franchise. As someone who more than occasionally listens to Dodgers broadcasts on the MLB package just to marvel at the 86-year-old Scully's remarkably sound voice and mind, this is the most wonderful baseball/media news of the week. No one has a deeper reservoir of anecdotes — Scully debuted as the Dodgers broadcaster in 1950, three years after Jackie Robinson debuted as a player. Now that's a living legacy.