When Twins manager Rocco Baldelli shows up twice a day to do his pre and post-game Zoom sessions with the media, he looks largely the same to the video conference call’s participants: well-lit and well-centered in front of a navy blue backdrop checkered with Twins logos and US Bank advertisements.
To the outside observer, everything looks professional — so much so that you would never guess what the scene on the other side looks like.
“There’s a lot of times it’s like us and a dozen and a half insects in some of these rooms,” Baldelli said.
To limit in-person interactions because of COVID-19, Major League Baseball teams started conducting interviews over the video conferencing software at the start of the 2020 season, a practice that has carried over into the current season and has provided its fair share of funny, light-hearted moments.
And since ballparks obviously weren’t constructed with Zoom rooms in mind, the Twins have found themselves often Zooming from some, well, interesting places over the course of the past two seasons.
“You’re sitting on a bucket or a random chair that they found. It’s like, ‘Don’t touch this because it’ll fall over,’ ” reliever Tyler Duffey said. “Literally it’s like rakes and … trailer parts and whatever else and it’s like, ‘Yeah, here’s your Zoom room.’ It’s like, ‘OK. Cool.’ ”
The Zoom rooms
Having spent years traveling to ballparks around the league, Twins senior director of communications Dustin Morse found it kind of fun to arrive at a park for the first time in the COVID-19 era and go on a hunt for the Zoom room.
“We would find ourselves walking down hallways, opening doors that we never knew existed, whether they were broom closets, irrigation rooms, massage therapy rooms, auxiliary clubhouse, a clubhouse attendant’s office, behind a kitchen, mechanical rooms,” Morse said. “It just every time was like ‘Oh boy.’ ”
When they arrive at a stadium, Morse and communications coordinator/Spanish interpreter Elvis Martinez remove the Twins backdrop from a duffle bag and set it up, taking great care to make sure everything is in place. One or the other will sit down, testing out the lighting, camera positioning and the sound to make sure everything is good to go.
Where they’re doing this setup varies vastly by city.
When players are talking to the media at Comerica Park in Detroit, the Zoom setup is located in the club’s irrigation room. While talking about an exciting win or devastating loss, the view for players and Baldelli might be field rakes and dirt in a somewhat damp, smelly area of the ballpark.
“It’s where all the heavy Home Depot-type stuff is,” Baldelli said.
On the Twins’ recent trip to Wrigley Field, visitors to the Zoom room were surrounded by heavy electrical equipment while discussing the Twins’ two wins over the Cubs.
“There’s definitely a lot of radiation at Wrigley,” Baldelli said. “A lot of heavy machinery in the room.”
And at Fenway Park in Boston, a member of the ballpark operations staff’s office doubles as the Zoom room, with clothes in one corner of the room and family pictures nearby. The space was so small, Martinez recalled, that their backdrop didn’t fit properly.
“Boston is kind of like ‘Office Space’ where they put you in a little tiny office with papers and notes and pictures and all kinds of stuff,” Baldelli said. “There’s not one empty piece of wall anywhere in the place. Basically you can’t breathe. … You feel kind of like Milton.”
In Cleveland, the Zoom room at Progressive Field is situated right next to the dugout. It sounds convenient — except the door to the room won’t close and postgame fireworks shows can make for an undesirable Zoom environment.
The Rays’ visiting Zoom room at Tropicana Field is small. But nothing the Twins have seen is smaller than the Brewers’ setup, Martinez said. During Zooms at American Family Field at the beginning of this season, the Twins’ Kinexon devices, which were carried for COVID-19 contact tracing, kept buzzing over and over again, interrupting the video calls.
Globe Life Field, the Rangers’ new stadium, gets high marks for its setup.
At Target Field, the visitors have taken over an office near their clubhouse. On the home side, Twins have converted a conference room right next to the batting cage into their Zoom room. The back half of the room doubles as the advanced analytic team’s work stations.
Among the items in the room, there’s a framed Tom Kelly jersey on one wall, a big monitor for players to look at while talking in the middle of the room, a Bomba Squad bobblehead and a podium, which has little sticky notes on it. On them, Morse has left little sayings and smiley faces, reminding everyone to smile while on camera.
Morse sits off to the side with duel monitors. Probable pitchers, statistics and the injury report are pulled up for Baldelli to reference when needed.
Dan “Rocky” Baldelli didn’t like what he was looking at. His son, Rocco, would try to make eye contact with the reporter speaking to him during Zooms, but on television, that’s not how it appeared.
“His dad came to town and his dad yelled at me,” Morse said. “Rocky, he’s like, ‘You’ve got to tell my son to look at the camera, to look into the screen. He’s always looking to the sky!”
Starting pitcher Griffin Jax has had the same issue, often noticing that it appears as if his eyes are looking off center when he’s trying to look at the reporter asking him a question. Figuring out who is talking to him when reporters often are masked has also been a challenge for Jax at times.
Adjusting to interviews on Zoom was tough initially for many reasons for everyone involved.
For Duffey, he found himself missing the human interaction. Though he brought some of that to his Zooms, it wasn’t quite the same. He also found the sight of himself talking “weird.”
“It’s fun to be able to banter, give people hell here and there (and) have fun with it,” Duffey said. “I don’t think (Zoom is) gone by any means. I think it’s going to stick around, but I do hope that some point, it’s back to somewhat normal.”
For Morse, the most challenging part was making sure the lighting was correct. In trying to avoid shadows and make things look perfect, sometimes he would get a call from the television truck telling him it “looks like Rocco’s forehead’s on fire.”
Another concern was getting “Zoom bombed” by an uninvited guest. The Twins use the same Zoom link for all interviews and at this point, it’s been widely shared.
“Sometimes I’m fearful that we just have random fans in our Zoom room and then I think to myself, ‘Well, at least they’re muted and they’re quiet,’ ” Morse said. “… Sometimes I laugh to myself when Rocco asks me who that was, and I’m like, ‘I’m not exactly sure.’ ”
There were plenty of adjustments to be made on the media side, too, with COVID-19 limiting the number of interactions between players and reporters, especially in 2020 when all interviews were conducted over video — in 2021, players now often do interviews on the field before games — making it harder to vary coverage.
That, Duffey noted, has led to less of the game being recognized, with a few players appearing on Zoom each day rather than an entire clubhouse being open and a whole roster of 26 players being available to chat.
“It’s something that we never thought that we would have to do in our profession,” Morse said. “Where it goes next year or the year after, it’s probably here to stay for a portion of what we do.”
Only on Zoom
Over the past two seasons, there have been plenty of “only-on-Zoom” moments to provide levity and laughs.
One time, as outfielder Jake Cave sat at the podium in the home Zoom room, eyes transfixed on a monitor filled with the faces of reporters and team radio broadcasters, Willians Astudillo stood off the side, doing his best to distract him.
As Cave answered a question about Pirates pitcher JT Brubaker this April, Astudillo mimed a batting motion. When Cave, in his answer, gave Astudillo a shout out, the utilityman threw up two peace signs and bumped his chest with his fist.
It’s only natural, Cave said. The two are constantly joking with each other.
“If I was to walk by the Zoom room and I see him doing an interview, I’m definitely going to try to talk some smack to him, just like he’ll do the same thing or dancing around like he was, trying to get me to say his name in the interview like that,” Cave said.
Various players are often off to the side while their teammates are talking, having their fun in the Zoom room.
Miguel Sanó, Morse recalls, once showed up for a media session shirtless after already removing his jersey top. He grabbed the nearest shirt to him and put it on, ready to answer questions. One problem: It bore the logo of the Twins’ opposition. Sanó wound up doing the interview with that shirt flipped inside out, Morse said. While waiting for his teammates to do Zoom, Sanó often can be found in the corner of the room, flexing or making silly faces, and he once dropped in to the media’s Zoom session with Nelson Cruz when Cruz returned to Minneapolis as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Duffey admitted he likes to mess with his teammates when he gets the chance. Like Astudillo with Cave, Luis Arraez can sometimes be found trying to prompt his teammates to talk about him, Morse said.
One time in St. Louis last year, while former Twins pitcher José Berríos was addressing the media, Astudillo was in front of him peeling a banana and waving around the peel, Martinez remembered.
That trip was the one time the communications staff forgot to pack the familiar backdrop in a duffle bag, something which Morse and Martinez realized on the flight there. To compensate, they hung up two gray Twins jerseys.
While the Twins strive to provide a consistent backdrop, reporters’ locations often vary.
Last September, one reporter was cut off while driving and then lobbed a curse word at the offending motorist. Unmuted, the moment was caught over Zoom — and still remains Baldelli’s favorite Zoom moment to this day.
Another time, a toilet flush was heard over Zoom. And once, Morse said, in the background of one Zoomer was a man who had just gotten out of the shower, wearing only a towel.
To one reporter, who occasionally Zooms from a couch, Arraez will yell “wake up” and “stop sleeping,” a bit he started early in the 2021 season and carried on during subsequent trips to the Zoom room.
But for all the adventures in the Zoom room over the past two years, count Baldelli among those who wouldn’t be sad to see Zoom — and everything that has come with it — go.
“Some of the rooms are real damp and kind of nasty and maybe a little smelly, and some are not too bad. It’s like everything else,” the Twins manager said. “You get a little bit of this and a little bit of that, but we get a chance to talk to you (guys). Yeah, you guys make it all work.”