Matt Vasgersian knew this would be the most scrutinized booth in which he’d ever worked. And then the first game happened.
“There was a lot of dead air and staring at each other and I was like, ‘Jesus, this is going to stink,’ ” Vasgersian said of the ESPN debut he had with Alex Rodriguez and Jessica Mendoza during a Yankees-Twins Grapefruit League game just days before the regular season started.
The scrutiny is still there for the “Sunday Night Baseball” booth after he and Rodriguez replaced Dan Shulman and Aaron Boone alongside Mendoza this offseason. Vasgersian said he believes improvement has come steadily for the trio as it nears the midway mark of the season.
“Are we polishing our shelf space for Emmys? No, not quite yet, but we are a lot better than we were on that day,” Vasgersian said, while preparing for their first Sunday night Yankees-Red Sox game of the year.
“We’ve learned how to prepare for [each other]. I know I have some stuff I can tee up Alex, I can flip to Jess where we can get some conversation going and they are doing the same thing for me.”
Vasgersian is the experienced one among the three and said he feels it is his responsibility to set the tone for the broadcast. He spent 27 years working his way into this prestigious gig: from the minor leagues to the Brewers and the Padres. He’s had national experience with Fox Sports, MLB Network and was the lead voice for the XFL’s lone season on NBC.
“When I first started my big-league career in Milwaukee, I was kind of a [jerk] on the air,” Vasgersian, 50, recalled. “I didn’t really care what people thought because I was doing it for me, I wanted to enjoy my time in the booth. … Now, the stakes are a lot bigger, there are more people watching for sure.
“I am more aware of being more presidential on the air. I am not a presidential person by any stretch, but there’s a very fine line between casual and sloppy and I try to be mindful of that. I never want to come off like I don’t care or I am disinterested because I am neither of those things.”
Now his boothmates are the ones who are learning. A-Rod had been in the booth for exactly two games before this season and this is Mendoza’s third full year on Sunday nights. Vasgersian said the three are close, but their varying levels of experience have made jelling a “different process.”
And Vasgersian knows there will be some who dismiss the analysts automatically, no matter how much they improve.
“I am sure there are people on social media who are built in detractors based on Alex being a controversial figure, based on Jess being a woman,” Vasgersian said. “I get it. There are a lot of people who want it to sound like your father’s broadcast and that’s not our game, that’s not our booth.”
What is their booth? Vasgersian describes himself as loving the water-cooler conversations about the sport he grew up obsessing over. He has been impressed with A-Rod’s willingness to dig into the minutiae of the last player on the roster and reflect that to the audience. And Vasgersian said Mendoza — an Olympic softball gold medalist — thrives when it comes to the growing ways to quantify the sport.
“There are things we are all learning about each other that once we reach that completely familiar point the ceiling on the broadcast will go up a little bit, but we are not there yet,” Vasgersian said. “We are still figuring out each other’s cadences. I am still figuring out what Jess is passionate about. Alex is still figuring out when to jump in when I’ve taken a beat or a pause. So that part of it is not a complete work yet, but we are getting there.”
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