August 4 visit to the Nationals’ control room

We cashed in some Red Carpet Reward points for a visit to the control rooms. It’s actually four separate rooms, not counting a few offices. The large room has about a dozen people and forty video screens. The tasks are very carefully subdivided. There is a specific person capturing plays to be used for the “highlights of the game” video, another person running the ribbon boards (i.e. the clapping video), another updating the statistics each time there’s a run or an at-bat to update the video board, another doing the closed captioning. The huge board at the end of the room shows all the feeds from all the cameras so the director can choose what’s on the big video screen.

The scoring process is worth going into some detail. Anyone who’s ever been at the park has wondered “why does it sometime take so long to fill in the type of play on the video screen?” The official scorer sits in the front row of the press box, all the way to the third base side. There’s a woman in the video control room wearing headphones directly connected to the scorer. She’s the one who actually enters the HBP or 3u, etc. on the video board. Typically, she can just enter it as soon as she sees the play, but sometimes she has to wait until she hears from the scorer. So, the more likely it is that there’s a controversial play (error or hit?), the longer it will take to get the score on the board.

The announcer room, a small room off to the home plate side of the video room, actually has two more people in addition to Jerome Hruska “the voice of Nationals Park.” We wedged ourselves in there to chat with Jerome. There’s one person who keeps score as well, so Jerome can say “One run, on one hit, no errors, and one runner left on base” without thinking about the details. Jerome, who is a teacher, loves working with the kid announcers (his “scorer” is also a teacher). He has each kid sign the inside of his locker. He’s very proud of how the Nationals and their announcers keep the game moving along within the parameters set by MLB (there’s a chart behind him on the wall, but he says he never looks at it, because he focuses on keeping a rhythm). Last week, for the first time, they almost had a foul ball fly into the booth.

We’ve all heard the Nationals’ klaxon horn for home runs. Many of us know that it’s a Navy submarine horn, replacing the fireworks that were outlawed after the bits fell on the DC Fire Chief. The horn was given to the Nationals after the Navy removed the identifying marks: the Navy assured them it was a used horn, but no more details. The sound is now recorded (I’ll get to that in a minute), but it used to be a hand-cranked horn in the announcer room with the sound going out over the announcer mike. IT WAS REALLY LOUD IN THERE. The horn started to die, so they recorded the sound and now it’s just in a hot-key on the audio board.

Speaking of the audio board, that’s another small room down a hallway. The DJ has a huge (~24 x 18) screen with song titled displayed for easy access, and hot keys for all the player walk-up music. He also has a four-split screen so he can see other people he needs to coordinate with (i.e. the organist). When the organist just had an electric keyboard, he was in the same room with the DJ. The windows are open: they, like the organist, do occasionally get the birds landing on the windowsill, but haven’t had one inside.

There’s a separate server room: I think it has about the same number of racks as the Cape Canaveral historic Apollo launch room (yes, I’ve been in that room, too).

Oh, and as we were leaving, our “tour guide” pointed out that the Nats had started scoring when we arrived, so come back again!

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