Sports, Baseball

Student-Filmed ‘Birdball’ Docuseries Brings Unique Perspective and Behind-the-Scenes Action to BC Baseball

In the top of the fourth inning of Boston College baseball’s series closer at Pepperdine, senior outfielder Daniel Baruch discovered the perfect sunflower seed. 

“I think that was like one of the most perfect moments of the show,” Cyrus Rosen, MCAS ’25 said. “He’s just setting it up perfectly. He’s like ‘yeah, if [Barry] Walsh gets a hit, I’ll eat this thing.’” 

Looking down at his right arm—sporting chrome shades and the classic BC baseball cap—Baruch moves his wrist to the side, just so he can pick up the seed from the dugout railing.

Bobbing their heads up and down, Baruch’s teammates, Andrew Roman and Bobby Chicoine, listen to his proposal. 

“That’s a perfect sunflower seed,” Baruch says. “Now, what are the odds I eat it?” 

It isn’t all too often Rosen gets to capture a moment this innocent and warm on camera, he said. But this particular one just could not miss, according to Rosen, no matter what Baruch did with the seed. These are the kinds of moments that videographers Rosen, Matthew Ionescu, MCAS ’25, and Runzi “Harley” Cheng, MCAS ’23, capture for BC baseball’s Birdball docuseries.    

“Ok, this dude’s about to eat a sunflower seed off the ground just for the pure joy of Walsh getting a hit,” Rosen said. “Like, you can’t make that up. That’s how when you film someone, you bring them back down to Earth.”

Baruch wanted as much reassurance as he could get.

“That’s a nice one,” Roman says, fully zoned in.  

And then comes Chicoine’s verdict.  

“If Barry gets a hit, you gotta eat that,” Chicoine says. 

Stalling for just a split second as the camera pans onto his fingers holding the seed, Baruch didn’t need to hear anything else. He was in full agreement with the proposal. If Walsh got the hit, he was putting the seed straight into his mouth. 

“That’s like a dare you make with someone on the third grade playground,” Rosen said. “And then boom, next thing you know, Walsh hits a dinger.”

With a medium-framed shot, Rosen flips the camera around in anticipation of the hit that would keep the narrative alive. Loading his front leg off the ground with California palm trees in the backdrop, Walsh swept his bat under the ball, raking a shot to deep right center.

“That’s a homer!” Baruch said, waiting for the ball to leave the park, scanning it through the clouds. “Yeah!” 

Listening through Baruch’s point of view (POV)—Rosen has him mic’d up—the ball goes over the right field fence, tying up the game for the Eagles. The camera flips back and forth between Baruch’s reaction and Walsh’s trot to home plate. There’s a high-energy celebration waiting for him in the dugout. The whole squad exerts a ferocious “boom” as Walsh struts back down the steps. 

“That was one of the tastiest sunflower seeds I’ve ever eaten!” Baruch says, putting an emphasis on the “e” in “eaten.”

(Photo Courtesy of Matthew Ionescu)

Independently hired by BC head coach Mike Gambino, the trio coordinates the shots, clips, and scenes behind Birdball and sends them off to an independent offsite production company, MadFish Productions, to compile and produce the film, according to Ionescu. The trio said the operation is perfectly in sync with the Eagles’ historic season this year, and the videographers have become just as much a part of the BC baseball family as any of the players, coaches, or staff is. 

What was initially a hobby for them has become a family, according to the trio, and Ionescu, the leader of the videography team, is currently in his second season working for the Eagles. 

“He really makes an emphasis more, just from my experience, he makes a really strong emphasis on making everyone feel part of the team,” Ionescu said of Gambino. “Even though we’re not technically players, or on his roster, or even on his full-time staff, he makes sure that we feel like we’re part of it. He calls us the Birdball family.”

There was a time last year, according to Ionescu, when Gambino exhibited these traits in a way that particularly stood out to him. From that point on, Ionescu knew he wanted to continue working for Gambino until he graduated, he said. 

“Last year, I remember Liam, one of our student managers—he does a lot of work—so there was a time last year when Gambino went up to him, he goes, ‘Hey you know you’re part of this family, you’re part of the Birdball family, go in there and get some food!’” Ionescu said. “So he makes a huge emphasis on making sure everyone feels, you know, together. It works so well for the film we’re putting together.” 

Rosen and Cheng started working for Birdball under different circumstances—Rosen said he happened to tag along to Harrington Athletics Village with a professor in the engineering department who is partnering with BC to establish a baseball engineering biomechanics laboratory, and Cheng met Rosen through Hollywood Eagles, a student film club. Cheng said he was introduced to Gambino shortly after that and hopped on board. 

“I was like ‘Oh, what are you doing [at the baseball field],’” Rosen said of what he asked his professor. “And he was like, ‘Well, I’m pretty much bringing a high-speed video camera, we’re gonna train the pitchers when they’re pitching and see if we can get into the pitching mechanics.’ And I was like, ‘Well, that sounds awesome.’ I was on board right away.”

(Photo Courtesy of Cyrus Rosen)

The trio said the same about Gambino and the feeling of family while shooting Birdball.

“He’s a really cool dude,” Cheng said. “Really welcoming. He treats us like we’re literally part of the team. I also talked to Cyrus about this, I feel like he does everything. Which is something I didn’t expect from a coach. He’s the game manager, he’s the coach, he takes care of the facilities, he arranges a lot of stuff.”

That doesn’t mean that it hasn’t come without hard and frequent work, Ionescu said, whether BC was on an 18-game road streak or playing at Harrington Athletics Village in Brighton, Mass. One of the videographers is showing up to film most of the time and capture the camaraderie in the clubhouse. 

“It’s definitely a lot of pressure,” Ionescu said. “It’s a lot of work, because [if] you don’t get the shot, there’s nothing to use. A lot of athletes use the phrase ‘you gotta be locked in on stuff.’ But you kind of do have to for this too. But you kind of like that, because then you’re always on it.”  

The players needed an adjustment period before getting used to the camera being around them often, according to the trio. But the trio said it has already become comfortable with taking a GoPro along with it during road trips to catch POV angles and more intimate shots. Room tours, facility tours, and site seeing are now all common scenes in the docuseries, which can be found on YouTube

“Yeah, yeah, it was pretty funny,” Cheng said of his first interactions with the team. “Cyrus and I first went to the [Pete] Frates facility trying to film some of the players, and they had that awkward little look, like a peek at the camera and then quickly look away, like a grimace. It was pretty funny. But after a few weeks, they sort of just got used to it. They’re very friendly. They’ll come up and say hi and treat us like one of the boys.”

(Photo Courtesy of Harley Cheng)

A classic scene where the players started to become more used to having the camera around emerged in the second episode when power hitter third baseman Nick Wang and infielder Owen Deshazo brought a selfie stick with them to an ice cream shop while playing on the road.

“I’m gonna get a medium cotton candy with rainbow sprinkles,” Wang said, face smushed into the camera lens, dripped out with a backwards hat, chain, and pink hoodie. “Yesterday I got a small cotton candy with rainbow sprinkles and today I struck out three times. So … I gotta get more.”

This shot of Wang was exemplary of the idea of Birdball—getting to look into the everyday lives, routines, exercises, and lifestyles of the players.

“There’s different things when we travel,” Ionescu said. “Like say we’re going on a team dinner or when we went to Bristol Motor Speedway—we’re gonna shoot that obviously. But a big thing is giving the players their time to know that they have some time to be free. We’ll give ‘em a GoPro when they wanna go out to dinner, so they can shoot if they want but that’s in their control now. I’ll set it on auto, they press record, start/stop, and it’s all theirs.”

(Photo Courtesy of Matthew Ionescu)

Ionescu said he focuses on the gameday operations—his specialty is shooting highlight film and quick, jolty shots on the field—while Rosen and Cheng said they focus more on the story aspect of the docuseries.

“So, catching the moment, really, you’re looking for emotion,” Ionescu said. “One video comes to mind, we’re at Florida State with Chris Flynn pitching … this is gonna be the last time on the mound for him in the game, called strike three, you know you gotta keep the camera locked on it ‘cuz he’s gonna have a crazy celebration coming off the mound. So you lock on him, and you usually follow the wave of emotion.” 

Rosen and Cheng said they are excited about the videography work that Ionescu brings to the team, specifically how he is geared toward creating social media content and taking cinematic b-roll and creating an experience from it on Twitter, Instagram and TikTok for marketing. But without the storytelling side which Rosen brings to the team, there is no Birdball, according to Cheng and Ionescu. 

“That stuff was very impressive to me, not something that I do personally with my work,” Rosen said. “But my stuff is much slower, in a sense. My kind of style of filmmaking is much more, like, hanging out in the back of the third wall. Kind of playing with zooming in on obstacles facing other peoples’ eyes, finding ways to capture the emotion of these moments in sports as opposed to the hype and excitement. It’s about getting below the surface for me.”

And for the three of them, the recent growth in the presence of sports docuseries—Ionescu and Rosen cited HBO’s Hard Knocks as a catalyst for this trend—is something they think can benefit the image of a team, a player, or a coach. It’s just about finding the right moment to highlight. 

“I guess for athletes, especially if they sort of had a reputation already, we will always expect them to be performing at their maximum efficiency,” Cheng said. “But it’s also just important to understand how they’re also students, they have many roles in life, and sometimes there are ups and downs that mess with their performance on game days. And I guess the whole purpose of the documentary is just to show them. Show them who they are.”

April 30, 2023