MLB Central will feature a slightly different lineup in its fourth season on MLB Network. Robert Flores is replacing Matt Vasgersian alongside Mark DeRosa and Lauren Shehadi. The three-hour weekday show is a late-morning/early afternoon buffet of highlights, interviews, and analysis serving as the fixings.
Flores is taking over as co-host with Vasgersian getting the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball job this offseason and is hoping to replicate the type of chemistry the previous trio built over the past three years.
“The reason [the show] worked is because you could tell they enjoyed working with each other,” Flores tells The Big Lead. “That came across to just a viewer sitting at home. I’ve filled in a couple of times and one thing that I take pride in is being able to work with everyone, try to be a point guard and facilitate things and make others shine when possible. I’m hoping to slide in and fill that role.”
“The biggest challenge will be getting up in the morning,” he adds. “I have not had to consistently get up this early since I was a freshman in college.”
Perhaps he can get a few pointers from DeRosa, who has traded the grind of playing for the somewhat less taxing, but still everyday duty of morning television. Or Shehadi, who tells us she aims to bring the same energy to the first moment of broadcast as the seconds after it happened the night before.
“[Four years ago] I didn’t know Lauren and we built an amazing relationship,” DeRosa says. “I didn’t even know Matt Vasgersian and we built an amazing relationship. It takes quick wit it and takes knowledge of the game to stand out there for three hours. With Matty being gone, Robert’s the one guy, if you watch him, he’s always got the one-liner and the ability to have a conversation and go any direction. I don’t expect us to skip a beat.”
It’s no secret that the morning-show basepaths are perpetually loaded. With no shortage of sports, news, and entertainment options for viewers to browse, Central seeks to bring a little of everything to the table. Shehadi cites authenticity as the number one requirement for succeeding in the crowded field, and credits the show’s diversity for creating large-tent viewership.
“If I was to sit down with my entire family — from my grandma to my sister to my brother to my mother — every single one of them would have a little something for them.”
Perhaps the thing Central does the best — and not by accident — is serve as a showcase for the game’s brightest personalities. If there is one show that pushes back on the idea that baseball is struggling to market its players, this is it.
“We have stars like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, they’re larger than life to us,” Shehadi says. “They have personalities and brands. It’s not just a hard-nosed baseball player working hard every day. Sure they do that, but there’s endorsements and all kinds of money players make. They’re well-spoken and charismatic. I think our show just gives them a platform to show that.”
That opportunity manifests itself in many ways, from playing Pictonary and other irreverent games, or actually going deep into the strategy of the game, which mirrors the overall direction of the show: that it’s comfortable going down a multitude of paths.
“The players are the show,” DeRosa says. “I know they are watching, so that’s my singular focus. I want to do right by them. I think there’s a lot of good guys in the game and I want to keep the focus on them. Ninety-nine percent of the time I’m looking for the positive. I’ve been in the clubhouse with over 2,000 players. I know there’s a lot of good people in there. I know that their stories don’t all get told.”
The trio speaks of feedback they receive from players — some positive and some responding to criticisms — when covering games, a result of its presence in locker rooms.
“I get paid to have an opinion, that’s what I tell all the players,” DeRosa says. “They ask me about them and bring them to my attention. But I get paid to have an opinion.”
To hear Shehadi tell it, the opinions and banter doesn’t magically transform into a ready-for-television product when the red light comes on. She says the conversation is largely the same on- and off-air.
“We like to keep the mornings light and fun. We talk shop. We talk baseball.”
A re-tinkering of the lineup will be the biggest change in Year Four, as the group intends not to deviate too much from what’s made the show what it is to this point. There will be some minor tweaks, but no re-invention of the wheel.
“The one thing I’ve always tried to do no matter what show is make it conversational,” Flores says of his first-year approach. “My job is to ask good questions of our guests, of our analysts, of my co-hosts. I am familiar with this space of the morning show. I was set to do the SportsCenter morning show when I left so I’m used to this format and I’m used to this space. It will help me hit the ground running and the learning curve won’t be too steep.”
MLB Central is part of MLB Network’s 17-hour consecutive coverage of Opening Day on March 29.