Ahmed Fareed used to mimic Detroit Tigers great Lou Whitaker’s batting stance as a high school player in Sparta, Michigan.
“He was my Tiger,” Fareed said while talking with the Free Press recently, joking about Detroit’s “Who’s Your Tiger?” campaign that debuted in 2005.
Fareed, a Grand Rapids native, hosts “MLB Sunday Leadoff” on NBC’s Peacock streaming service. At the midpoint of its 18-game debut season, the program will test a new delivery when it carries the Tigers’ series finale against the Kansas City Royals at noon Sunday.
Peacock won’t have commentators in the television booth for its experimental presentation, titled “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Instead, former Tigers outfielder and current Bally Sports Detroit analyst Craig Monroe, NBC Sports’ Britney Eurton and Fareed will host in an organic fashion from Comerica Park’s stands and concourses.
“I think it’s something that we don’t even know exactly what it’s going to look like and what it’s going to be,” Fareed said. “And some of that is by design. We want to live in the moment for this game. This is something totally unique that we’ve never tried before.
“I think all we’re looking at it as being is, ‘Let’s try a new idea, let’s try to execute it.’ And then when we get done with it, then we can assess if that was a cool one-time event, it’ll never be done again, or if it’s something that we can do maybe more regularly, or just once a year for this event. I think we’re going into it with an open mind, really. Just, let’s do it, let’s try something new on a holiday weekend in Detroit and see what happens.”
Fareed is a former Sparta quarterback who worked for stations in Lansing out of college before landing at NBC Sports. His enduring Tigers fandom stems from his mother and grandmother, who were also Detroit diehards.
Tiger Stadium was at least a two-hour drive from Grand Rapids, but they’d occasionally make the trip. Donning his Whitaker No. 1 jersey, a young Fareed cheered on “Sweet Lou” and watched his other idol, Cecil Fielder, blast home runs.
The goal of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” is creating similar memories for at-home viewers. The distinctive broadcast will include a ballpark tour, enhanced audio and special camera angles. It’ll also feature July 4 celebrations and interviews with Detroit superfans, among other guests.
“The idea is that we’ll be experiencing the game, watching the game as if we were a fan in the stadium who had the luxury of meeting a lot of the key people that put on a game and make baseball what it is; so, lifelong fans, vendors, perhaps writers who have been following the team for a long time,” Fareed said. “Maybe we’ll spend a half inning up in the right field seats and watch a couple of at-bats from that camera perspective.
“I mean, the idea of it is ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game.’ So we’re going to try to take people from their living room, plant them throughout Comerica Park, and sitting next to a bunch of really interesting people, trying to learn their stories while we all enjoy a baseball game together. We’re not going to ignore the baseball game, of course. We’re gonna be watching it the whole time, we’re gonna be commenting on it, but it will be a different broadcast than what we have ever tried before.”
The Tigers’ public relations staff has helped the NBC team pinpoint spectators and vendors to interview during half-inning segments. The TV crew has also discussed micing up a player for a half inning and sitting as close as possible to their position on the field to emulate a fan-player interaction.
And if there’s ever a lull in the action, the charismatic Monroe can deliver some energy. He might even ride the carousel in the food court along the first-base line.
“Multiple people have said that,” Fareed laughed, “And so now he has to do it.”
“Take Me Out to the Ball Game” will also focus on youth baseball and softball. MLB Sunday Leadoff always plays youth highlights during its pregame shows, and it will have a young fan announce the starting lineups for Tigers-Royals.
“I think on the NFL side, we’ve kind of seen the success of the Nickelodeon Game on CBS,” Fareed said, referencing the football league’s experimentation with a playoff game broadcast on the children’s network. “I give them a lot of credit, I watch some of that with my son. So as much as we can get faces and voices that look like my 8-year-old son and my 6-year-old daughter on the broadcast, I think that will help get the younger fans a little more interested.
“But I always think of this too, is that there’s all this talk of ‘How do you get the youth fan into baseball?’ And I think back when I was a kid, that was what got me into baseball, it was that my mom and my grandmother really loved the Detroit Tigers and enjoyed watching them on TV and listening to them on the radio. And so as a kid, it became very important to me because it was very important to them. … We want to serve the current baseball fan and hopefully that fan will then share it with their son or daughter who will find it worthwhile.”
MLB Sunday Leadoff’s crew believes pre-planning too much or commentating excessively in-game could detract from the program’s authenticity, which is why they haven’t nailed down every detail. Given that flexible approach to Sunday’s show, Fareed is cleared to ditch his usual necktie while roaming Comerica Park.
Even if Sunday’s broadcast isn’t a rousing success that demands an encore, moments like Fareed’s potential shopping spree at the team store, or Monroe’s spin on the carousel, could make for an unforgettable television experience.
“That’s ultimately what I want,” Fareed said. “I want there to be a handful of moments where you say, ‘Wow, I’ve never really seen anything like that, and that was kind of cool.’ Whether that’s us talking to the beer guys or the peanuts guy as he makes a great catch, or if it’s Craig Monroe on the carousel, I just want there to be some memorable moments that the viewer will never forget, that us doing it will never forget, because we really have a huge opportunity here to try something different.”
Contact Mason Young: MEYoung@freepress.com Follow him on Twitter: @Mason_Young_0