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Wednesday August 17th, 2022 7:29AM

ESPN's 'KayRod Cast' looks to blend conversation with game

By The Associated Press
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Seven months after Peyton and Eli Manning provided a template on how alternate broadcasts could succeed, Alex Rodriguez and Michael Kay think they can improve on it.

The “KayRod Cast” with Rodriguez and Kay debuts Sunday night on ESPN2 when the Boston Red Sox take on the New York Yankees. It will be the first of eight this season that will take place while “Sunday Night Baseball” airs on ESPN.

“Well, we’re presently in the legal maneuverings to get adopted by a pair of people so we can actually be brothers, so that will give us more of a ‘Manningcast’ feel,” Kay said jokingly during a conference call earlier this week. “I thought the ‘Manningcast’ was great. I think we’re going to pay a little bit more attention to the game.”

Alternate broadcasts can go off the rails because the game becomes secondary to the interviews and personalities, but baseball might be the one sport that can blend both due to the pace of play.

While Rodriguez and Kay aren't related like the Mannings, they are longtime friends. Kay has broadcast Yankees games since 1992 while Rodriguez spent 12 of his 22 major league seasons in pinstripes.

Rodriguez has managed to transition into broadcasting despite some controversies on and off the field. While he has been engaging while doing studio work for Fox, he struggled as an analyst during his four seasons as an analyst in the “Sunday Night Baseball” booth.

But Rodriguez thinks he did some of his best analyst work during a short stay in the “YES Network” booth with Kay and David Cone during a 2019 game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“I think it was the best four innings I’ve ever done on TV because I was in the middle of two very close friends, and it was going back and forth," Rodriguez said. “Michael knows exactly how to set me up because he knows me so well, so I think this format will do well for me.”

Rodriguez also thinks his suspension for taking performance-enhancing drugs — and the criticism he got from many, including Kay — helped prepare him for his new opportunity.

“That’s what’s going to make this show really, I think, good, is because you’re going to get forthrightness from both him and I,” he said. “Honestly, pre-suspension, I think the show wouldn’t have been as good because I wasn’t as comfortable. I think I’m just more comfortable in my skin today, and we’re going to let it rip.”

Mark Gross, ESPN’s senior vice president for production and remote events, said guests during the broadcast are likely to lean more toward players who played well on Sunday afternoon or during the past week. It also will include batting and fielding demos by Rodriguez.

Sunday’s show will have Kay and Rodriguez together at ESPN’s Seaport District Studios in New York. Some subsequent broadcasts could take place remotely, depending on their schedules. Rodriguez is spending most of his time in Minnesota as part of the ownership group of the NBA’s Timberwolves.

When it comes to ratings, comparing “KayRod Cast” to “Manningcast” would be unfair. The “Manningcast” averaged 1.58 million viewers per game last season. By comparison, “Sunday Night Baseball” was up 18% in 2021 according to Nielsen, and averaged 1.46 million.

A better gauge might be audience percentage. Last season, 12% of the total “Monday Night Football” audience watched the Mannings compared to the main broadcast.

Ratings aside, Kay said his main goal is to get Rodriguez to project his natural personality.

“I want to get Alex Rodriguez to be the Alex Rodriguez that I used to speak to in front of a locker where there wasn’t the confinement of this has to be done for television, you have to look here, you have to break here, because I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody who knows more baseball than Alex,” he said.

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