MLB draft undergoes an L.A. facelift with an eye on fan growth

Major League Baseball has been trying to get more fans involved with its product for years. MLB hopes that one of the ways it builds that commitment is by keeping its amateur draft live so fans can come and see the future of the big leagues.

“It’s exciting for me and I know it is [the prospects]. … And so we just look at it and it’s all beautiful,” said Percy Smith, 62, a longtime Dodgers fan who watched the draft on Xbox Plaza at LA Live with his wife Marilyn, 69.

The Los Angeles Smiths began their day on the other side of the barrier to the main catchment area and ended up being one of the lucky few to enter the seating area. Numerous others watched Day 1 of the event from this barrier.

MLB holds the draft during All-Star Week and believes the event had its most public presence since it was first held.

“We just keep growing every year,” said Marc Steiner, executive producer of MLB Network. “You know, you want to make it a bigger and bigger event. And as time goes by, fans get a lot more interested in the prospects and the young players in baseball.”

Jeremiah Yolkut, vice president of global events at MLB, adding that he has held several All-Star Week events, including the draft, in a public space like LA Live, “It’s an important message that this is probably one of the most accessible all- Star games is what Los Angeles has hosted and that is something that is of paramount importance to us, to give our fans the ability to get to the events any way they choose.”

The Baltimore Orioles mascot salutes fans during the 2022 MLB draft at LA Live on Sunday.

The Baltimore Orioles mascot greets fans during the MLB draft at LA Live on Sunday.

(Jae C Hong / Associated Press)

MLB seemed to spare no expense in the production other than how many viewers could fit in that main area shown during the broadcast.

Several former big leagues were in attendance including Shawn Green, Nick Swisher and Rollie Fingers and all talked about their playing tenure and how different this draft is compared to their time at the same position.

T-shirt throwing ensued throughout the event. While the teams were on the clock, corresponding team songs were played and mascots mingled with the fans, taking photos and heating up the crowd. Three giant screens were mounted on towers around the pitch, allowing fans in the area to see parts of the show as well as images of the selected players.

Fans attend the MLB draft at LA Live on Sunday.

Fans attend the MLB draft at LA Live on Sunday.

(Jae C Hong / Associated Press)

The MLB draft was broadcast live on the MLB Network in 2009, having previously aired on ESPN. But it wasn’t until last year – when the event took place during All-Star week at Colorado’s Bellco Theater – that fans were able to see the draft in person.

A relatively small percentage of prospects have personally participated in their designs since 2007 – eight were in attendance on Sunday. All prospects this year largely grew up in a world where draft was an event they could attend to hear their names called.

“It was always a childhood dream to have my name put there,” said 21-year-old Campbell University shortstop Zach Neto, who was picked as the No. 13 by the Angels on Sunday. His mother, father, younger sister and older brother flew in from Miami to attend the call-up. “Being out there has just been a huge blessing to me and my family. … Coming here was just for the experience for the moment.”

This year’s top three picks, Jackson Holliday, Druw Jones and Kumar Rocker, were absent. The first player selected to be in attendance was Georgia High School product Termarr Johnson, who was promoted to the Pittsburgh Pirates as a No. 4 player. He had about 20 of his Atlanta friends and family at the draft.

The next player present who was selected was only No. 11, catcher Kevin Parada. He was selected by the New York Mets. Parada, who was born in Pasadena and attended Loyola High School before going to Georgia Tech, also had about 20 of his friends and family present. He was among the players with local ties selected on Sunday. Others included Mikey Romero (Boston Red Sox), Justin Campbell (Cleveland Guardians), Cooper Hjerpe (St. Louis Cardinals), Brooks Lee (Minnesota Twins) and Drew Thorpe (New York Yankees).

The New York Mets mascots perform during the MLB draft on Sunday.

The New York Mets mascots perform during the MLB draft on Sunday.

(Jae C Hong / Associated Press)

“To be drafted in and have all my family and friends here,” Parada said, “it’s one of the best feelings in the world to be able to look them in the eye and say, ‘Thank you for everything.'”

Most viewers stayed until the 40th pick, when the Dodgers made their first pick, University of Louisville catcher Dalton Rushing. He was loudly cheered even though he wasn’t there.

After his name was called, many fans got up from their seats and left while others watched from the barrier that was allowed to fill their seats.

The first 80 picks were scheduled for Sunday. The draft will resume with the start of round three on Monday, and a total of 616 players will be selected.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2022-07-17/mlb-draft-fans-accessible-growth-los-angeles MLB draft undergoes an L.A. facelift with an eye on fan growth

Emma Bowman

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