For a coming ESPN feature on Los Angeles Angels superstar Mike Trout, longtime baseball reporter Buster Olney was disappointed that an anecdote about how the Millville, N.J. native runs the bases ended up on the cutting-room floor.
Retired All-Star "Torii Hunter referred to Trout as 'The Digger' – because he's so big and so fast and runs with such intensity and effort, and Torii said that he leaves the biggest divots on the base path of anybody in baseball, and one of our cameras caught that perfectly, the dirt flying up behind him," Olney told the Inquirer and Daily News. "I asked umpire Mike Winters about that off camera, and he said that when Trout runs, it's like a rooster tail is in place behind him, because he's throwing dirt 12-15 feet in the air."
Olney's piece on Trout, which will air this Sunday on ESPN's newsmagazine E:60, actually began shooting during spring training in March 2017, with the original plan for it to air later that summer. But Trout's thumb injury pushed back production, and both ESPN and the Angels decided to wait until this summer to air it.
The network certainly lucked out in terms of timing. Trout has been in the news recently because of comments made by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred about the superstar's problems with marketability. His devotion to the Eagles during their Super Bowl run also provided a timely new storyline for the production to mine.
Olney, seen weekly as part of the network's Sunday Night Baseball broadcast, spent hours with Trout during spring training in Tempe, Ariz., and in Southern California during the regular season and three times visited his home in Millville, where among other things he spoke to Trout's longtime barber, Christian Tipton (whom Trout took to the Super Bowl). Olney also got the ordinarily stoic outfielder to choke up about his marriage to his high school girlfriend, Jessica Tara.
Sunday's episode of E:60 also will feature a profile of Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and the outsized role his older brother, Eagles all-pro center Jason Kelce, played in his life.
Lisa Salters, the sideline reporter on Monday Night Football and a King of Prussia native, handled the reporting duties on the segment, which began with filmed interviews of Travis last summer, continued when the brothers played each other in September, and picked up again this past spring with additional interviews with Jason and other family members. There's also plenty of footage of the brothers as kids growing up in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.
The piece is surprisingly emotional, revealing Jason as a responsible older brother looking out for his reckless and menacing sibling. It's an insightful juxtaposition to the perception of Jason as a wild man after his epic post-Super Bowl speech on the steps of Philadelphia Museum of Art, dressed head-to-toe in Mummers garb.
At one point, Travis chokes up while recalling being kicked off the team at the University of Cincinnati after testing positive for marijuana. Jason, a senior at the time, talked then-head coach Butch Jones into giving his younger brother a second chance. Jason also vouched for his brother to Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who overcame concerns about scouting reports that highlighted Travis' history of bad behavior to take him in the third round of the 2013 NFL draft.
"My brother came in like he was Superman," Travis Kelce told ESPN.
Andy Tennant, the executive producer of E:60 and Outside the Lines, said the Philadelphia-centric nature of Sunday's show was purely coincidental. But he's also aware the city's profile in the sports landscape has never been greater.
"As they say, strike while the iron is hot — Mike Trout. Jason Kelce. A Zach Ertz profile coming in August," Tennant said. "And if Joel Embiid is interested, we'd profile him, too."