Note: The commercial has since been released, seen above
Beyond regular duties over the weekend, I spent the majority of Mississippi State’s three-day baseball tournament in the Left Field Lounge with an ESPN/SEC Network production team. With several new hires from elsewhere in the athletic department lately, I volunteered as a Starkville native to serve as tour guide for the group.
The eight-person crew is in the process of finishing a hefty project for the worldwide leader: producing unique 30-second commercials on all 14 SEC schools as part of promotions for the soon-to-be-launched SEC Network.
At each stop, they’ve found something special to that place to build a short piece around. At MSU, they picked the Left Field Lounge, the tailgater’s heaven surrounding the outfield wall at Dudy Noble Field.
None of the group had been to Starkville before, and most had never even been to Mississippi, so the entirety of the experience was new to them, not just the cobbled together multi-level rigs (“I have no idea how some of these stay up,” one of the producers said. “Magic, I guess.”) or the smorgasbord of meats from all walks of wildlife stuffed with more ingredients than an executive chef’s cupboard.
Most of the crew was up before the sun on Saturday morning to fly into town, including the portion of the group from New York who were out the door by 3:30 a.m. Upon arrival and setting up camp under the third base line bleachers a couple hours before first pitch, I took them on a quick tour of the Lounge.
To that point, they’d only seen a couple pictures and heard broad, general descriptions.
“Projects like this sometimes sound really cool on paper but end up being kind of lame once you get there. I sort of of thought this would be one of those,” one of them admitted. “When we heard ‘Left Field Lounge,’ I thought it was just a few of them in left field.”
Oh no, I told him. It’s called left field, but there are nearly 100 trailers stretching from bullpen to bullpen.
“I was way off,” he said. “This is amazing.”
By the end of the initial walkthrough, half the crew walked back to their mini production area with homemade and grill-cooked egg and cheese biscuits in hand, the only non-carnivorous meal of the day.
Once the games began, we spent the entirety of the doubleheader wandering from place to place, shooting video, taping interviews, recording sound and trying to find a way to translate that uniquely-Mississippi scene to 30 seconds of television.
But not without participating along the way, of course. Mostly by way of food.
“I’ve never eaten that much meat in a two-day span in my life,” one member of the crew said at the end of the day Sunday.
But with a crew mostly from outside the region they are tasked with documenting, much of the outfield menu was new to them.
Some tried crawfish for the first time, yelling for water moments after licking their fingers.
A 30-minute conversation ensued when a few of us tried to explain boudin to those who were unfamiliar.
Throughout the gluttonous day, the unwritten rule of Left Field Lounge was not once broken: never ask for food, and never turn it down when offered.
Explained one impressed member of the crew in wonderment, “No one says, ‘Here, try this,’ and just gives you a bite. They say, ‘Hey, come make a plate.’ They’re offering you an entire meal.”
By the end of it, another crew member said – while being sure to praise the open doors and welcoming faces across the southeast – that this was probably the best experience they’d had in terms of hospitality.
Hours of footage later, the crew took their final shot around 9:30 on Sunday night, the lights shutting down on Dudy Noble Field for the weekend.
All 14 SEC pieces, I’m told, will be done by mid-April (which they acknowledged was a regrettable deadline after the couple-dozen invitations to return for Super Bulldog Weekend). From there, the 30-second commercials, for lack of a more apt description, will be shared with the schools and used in promoting the SEC Network.
The best ones, the director said, will be run nationally on ESPN as brand spots.
The difficulty now, with the filming done, is to translate smoke, smells and sounds to the screen.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” one of the videographers said.
“There’s nothing like being here, I would say,” another added. “It’s difficult to catch on camera.”
But hopefully, he said, they managed to do it.