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Controlled chaos keeps PNC fans entertained

Controlled chaos keeps PNC fans entertained
Eric Wolff saw trouble coming.

Three innings into the Pirates' home opener at PNC Park on Monday, Houston Astros pitcher Brian Moehler was hurt. There was a pow-wow at the mound, delaying the action. Then, with no one warming up in the bullpen, Moehler came out of the game.

For the in-game entertainment crew, downtime on the field is space that needs to be filled.

"Can we get the 'Family Guy?' " Wolff asked into his headset from his corner seat of the control room at the top of PNC Park, with one eye on the field and the other on a wall full of video monitors, buttons and levers.

Almost immediately a cartoon clip appeared on the video board of Stewie Griffin saying, 'Ooh, ooh, play that sad walking away music from the 'Incredible Hulk,' to Peter Griffin, playing piano, as the perfect accompaniment to Moehler walking off the field.

Cheers and laughs from the sellout crowd, and a cut to crowd shots for distraction during pitcher Tim Byrdak's warmup.

Well played.

Wolff is the Pirates' manager of in-game entertainment, and like a symphony conductor it's his job to keep a crew of 25 engineers, statisticians, graphics people, technicians, camera operators and others in-synch. Fifteen of them spend every home game squirreled away in a room with so much technology and terabytes they could probably launch a shuttle into space.

Whether it's cuing the music, cuing the replay, getting the right combination of graphics, stats and video on the screen or writing the closed-captioning of the public address system, there are a lot of jobs being done behind the scenes.

"Everyone's so specialized about what they're doing on game day, and I think we've all been doing it for so long that we all know how to work together," said Jennifer Reilly, 34, who was a technician for yesterday's game. "It's amazing how it's all coordinated and how it all comes together."

To get ready for yesterday's opener, the crew did two full rehearsals last week using a broadcast game to simulate live action. There were still some glitches ? they weren't getting their out-of-town score feed, for instance.

"But we did work out a lot of bugs," Wolff said. "First rehearsal, I had two pages of things we had to fix. Second rehearsal, I had one. After (Monday), I have about a half a page, so we're getting there."

Another of Wolff's duties is picking the music fans hear at PNC Park.

"Music's the toughest thing," Wolff said. "It's so subjective. But you try."

The players pick their own batting music.

Some, like Jack Wilson, have had the same song for years (Wilson's is "Jumpin' Jack Flash" by the Rolling Stones, of course). Zach Duke's alternated yesterday between Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" and "Let It Rock" by Kevin Rudolf. Some have four songs, while others change daily, Wolff said.

"We got a call at about noon (Monday) that Freddy Sanchez wanted to change his (to Flo Rida's 'Right Round')," Wolff said. "Even a few years ago you had to send the intern to the mall to buy the CD. Now, you can download it in a matter of minutes."

It's all part of trying to make the game as entertaining as possible during breaks in the on-field action.

That includes incorporating new technology, such as having fans send in their camera phone pictures to show on the video board.

"This is my 25th season running scoreboards, and the industry has gone from a lot of simple things and showing simple stats to showing everything and having to entertain, be creative, be fresh," said engineer Marty Corbett, 46, of Morningside. "We're given a lot of rope to hang ourselves, if you will. That's probably the best way to describe it. We have to keep doing something that impresses everyone."

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: April 15, 2009

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