For 22 years, he has been the dugout reporter for Cincinnati Reds games on Fox Sports Ohio. Jeff Piecoro has specialized in the postgame interview after victories, and occasionally that has meant dodging Gatorade showers, pies directed at players’ faces and, on the best and rarest of days, the champagne spraying around the clubhouse when the team clinched a division title.
As the Reds prepare to play Friday evening against the Detroit Tigers in their delayed Opening Day, Piecoro is ready for another year as part of the broadcast crew with play-by-play voice Thom Brennaman, analyst Chris Welsh and fellow reporter Jim Day.
What does a dugout reporter do, though, when not allowed near the dugout?
“It’s going to be different. I think the biggest thing we’re going to miss — that I’m going to miss, Jim is going to miss, and I think the fans at home are going to miss — is we won’t have that walk-off, one-on-one interview,” Piecoro told Sporting News. “You can almost call the story: the end of the Gatorade era in baseball. Because I don’t think anybody’s going to be dumping Gatorade on anybody for a walk-off home run.
“Are they going to be able to celebrate? They’re not supposed to.”
There still will be work for Piecoro and Day to do, and for their colleagues handling the same duties for other MLB teams. Piecoro said vice president of media relations Rob Butcher will be the one person not directly related to baseball performance granted access to the dugout, and he will arrange for postgame TV interviews that will be done by headset, as is sometimes done in NHL telecasts.
“Let’s say Joey Votto hits a walk-off. So Butcher will go down, grab Joey, put the headset on him. And I’ll ask him a couple questions,” Piecoro told SN. “But I’ll be up in the booth. We’ll still do in-game updates on players and things like that, but it’s going to be different because we won’t be on the field. We won’t have that feel of being right there.”
A year ago, Piecoro would sit adjacent to manager David Bell.
“He’s two feet from me most of the game,” Piecoro said. “I can hear him talking to the pitching coaches, hitting coaches, bench coach: ‘What do you think about this guy? Is he losing it?’ That kind of stuff. Now we don’t get that.”
He still will be able to move around the stadium, though not in the lower bowl. There will be no fans with whom to converse; that has been an occasional feature of his reporting. The broadcast team will be more dependent than ever on effective communication from the Reds media relations team to provide injury updates and other developing information.
“Those of us that are going to be at the stadium, I think Butcher is going to have a lot more impact on what we do,” Piecoro said. “It makes our job a little tougher. I think what makes it better for me and Jim is we’ve been around these guys so much, for so long.”
Baseball is a sport fueled by conversation. Most of what people read from baseball writers or hear on the local and national broadcasts is generated from conversations between media members and the players, coaches and scouts who linger around the batting cage hours before the game, or during open clubhouse periods that will not exist this season.
This is a vast improvement, though, over four months without baseball.
Piecoro’s contract pays him by the game, so the absence of Major League Baseball has had an impact. He did 159 games a year ago, missing only those that occurred during his father’s funeral.
He has filled the time, and the economic void, by working with One Source, a human resources firm based in Cincinnati, helping to develop new business. He has enjoyed the work and the opportunity to be occupied.
“Hell, I had to do something,” Piecoro said.
Also the color analyst on the UK Sports Radio Network for football, Piecoro knows there is some uncertainty about the Wildcats playing in the fall, as well. So the certainty of baseball’s return is a blessing, and he’s excited about the team’s potential given the return of a significant starting pitching staff and star first baseman Joey Votto, along with additions Mike Moustakas, Nicholas Castellanos and Shogo Akiyama.
Piecoro told SN that he had been planning to reduce the number of games he worked even before all of this. He has an adult son who is autistic, and his daughters — one a senior in high school, the other a new college graduate — will be around less to help with care. He did not want to place the entire burden during a 10-day road trip on his wife and younger daughter.
“I’ve missed so many recitals and ballgames and shows they’ve done, cheerleading and all that kind of stuff. So I said to myself: Let’s start to back it off a little,” Piecoro said. “But I didn’t think I’d be home seven days a week!
“I’ve watched the ’96 World Series, the 2000 World Series, the ’76 — how many times can you watch? I’ve already seen it all. You don’t realize how much it takes away, not having live sports. It’s just the background of everything you do. It’s not there, and gosh you miss the heck out of it. I am so excited to be back. There’s so much gloom and doom going on in the country, being able to have live sports will be great.”
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