Behind the scenes with the MLB Network morning show trying to make baseball fun again

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The MLB Central hosts: Mark DeRosa, Lauren Shehadi and Robert Flores. (MLB Network)
The MLB Central hosts: Mark DeRosa, Lauren Shehadi and Robert Flores. (MLB Network)

The thing about a morning show is that it can’t just be a show that informs or entertains you, it has to be a show you’re willing to bring into your home every day — with people you’re willing to make part of your daily routine.

It’s the same whether you’re a person who flips on “Good Morning America” when you open your eyes. Or who drives to work listening to the same radio show every day. Or, if you’re a person reasonably obsessed with baseball, whose mornings include “MLB Central” on MLB Network.

It’s about comfort, really. It’s about finding room in what is often the most hectic part of your day and deciding to make a group of strangers on TV a part to it — until, of course, they’re not strangers at all.

And this is something about which Lauren Shehadi, one of “MLB Central’s” hosts, is acutely aware.

“In the morning TV space,” she says. “Authenticity is paramount. If you walked in here, you wouldn’t know if we were filming or not. It’s people chatting, talking baseball, talking about the night before. There are highlights of course — you get your morning coffee and you want to see highlights — but what sets us apart is you want to see it delivered in a fun, entertaining way.”

Shehadi and co-hosts Robert Flores and Mark DeRosa have done particularly well this baseball season to bring a different vibe to morning sports TV, and MLB Network’s lineup in particular.

They’re not screaming at fans. Or talking down to them. They’re trying to be friends with them. And, hopefully, having fun with them.

“When we’re laughing and having fun,” Flores says, “it lets people who are watching think, ‘I want to be a part of that. I want to be hanging out with them. I want to be talking baseball.’ ”

‘That’s the good stuff to me’

With baseball season winding toward a close, this is the last week of new shows for the “MLB Central” crew — so as the first round of the postseason begins to take shape, Flores, DeRosa and Shehadi will be the ones offering insights the following morning.

DeRosa, as always, will come from a player’s perspective — he played 16 years in the big leagues, with the Braves, Giants, Rangers, Cubs and others. Shehadi and Flores both come from a broadcasting background, with Flores joining MLB Network from ESPN in 2016 and Shehadi being a fixture on a number of MLB Network shows.

This is the trio’s first year doing MLB Central together and they seem to have a rapport together that fans are responding to. According to Nielsen, the show’s ratings are up 12% over last year.

This season, they’ve also taken the show on the road, doing their first live broadcast from Yankee Stadium and they debuted their own bobbleheads.

“I think we give you everything,” DeRosa says. “We give you honest baseball analysis, but we also hit you with the funny. I played in every division from coast to coast and got a feel for what different organizations believe in.”

So that’s why you get a mixture of content like this on MLB Central — deeper breakdowns of players and moments, but also fun interviews, games with MLB players and things like trying to hit a paper airplane with a baseball bat.

DeRosa says he particularly loves when MLB Central can bring players into the studio and let fans get to know them better.

“There’s a lot of good people in this game,” DeRosa says. “Everything is going the whole analytical route. I love Brian Kenny and I love Brian Kenny’s show, but if everything is just an algorithm, we just spit out who is the best player without taking into account that they’re human beings. Being on busses and planes, what their family life is like, why they grow a beard and why their hair is long — that’s the good stuff to me.”

‘Somebody at home will learn something’

In the age of the Twitter and Instagram, the straight-ahead highlight show is starting to get extinct. People don’t wait to see highlights anymore. They can see them a few minutes later on their phone.

So the challenge for a morning TV show is different.

“Everybody knows everything,” Flores says. “It’s not like people haven’t seen those highlights, but if we can give them our take or our spin on them — maybe make them laugh or point out something they haven’t noticed — that’s when we’re effective.”

“This is the one show,” DeRosa says, “that allows the players to come in and show their personality.”

“We’re the casual fan,” Shehadi says. “There are so many shows where everybody knows everything.”

She has an example: If DeRosa matter-of-factly talks about why a pitcher is going to throw a certain pitch in a certain situation, she can stop him ask, “Why?”

“Somebody at home will learn something,” Shehadi says. “This is the show where it’s OK to ask questions.”

To ask questions — and, of course — to have fun. Especially in October.

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Mike Oz is a writer at Yahoo Sports. Contact him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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