Boston Daily Goes Inside Sox Appeal

1217877858On a sweltering evening in mid-June, I watched a couple go on a date at Fenway Park. It’s a scene that plays out throughout the ballpark during every home game, but most couples don’t have a television crew huddled in a tent nearby, watching their every move. Of course, most couples don’t meet on Sox Appeal.

The oft-maligned dating show kicked off its second season last night. If you’ve never caught an episode, the premise is simple. One “hero dater” gets prime seats on the right field roof deck and spends two innings with three potential suitors. After the seventh-inning stretch, the dater chooses who he or she wants to spend the rest of the game with.

Many fans disparage the show as yet another way the Pink Hat Fans have ruined their enjoyment of the game, but NESN director of programming Len Mead says that ratings for the show remain strong, so somebody’s watching it. He also adds that casting the second season of the show was much easier than the first.

“This year, you could start a conversation with ‘Are you familiar with Sox Appeal?’ At worst, you’d say, ‘The Red Sox dating show’ and they’d say they knew that,” Mead says.

But for those of us who treasure their privacy, it’s hard to understand why anyone would want to appear on the show. I ask dater Bern Prince what he expected from the experience. To meet the love of his life? To be able to brag that he’d appeared on NESN?

“I’m looking for good stories. Low expectations yield high results,” Prince tells me shortly before taping starts.

The network also wants a good story. Executive producer Eric Korsh, who worked on Bravo’s hit Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, tells me the crew views it as a bad sign if the daters start talking about the action on the field. Sure enough, as I watch hero dater Devon Dopfel on her date, she and her suitor talk about their jobs and where they grew up, not the Sox-Orioles game taking place below them.

Sox Appeal writer C.J. Kaplan listens to the audio feed on a headset, furiously scribbling notes about the interaction between Dopfel and her first date, Joe Gagnepain. Narrator Jimmy Dunn stops by to watch some of the taping, and marvels at the story Gangepain tells his date about thwarting a crime by using jujitsu.

“What is he, Captain America?” Dunn asks.

After some more behind the scenes snarking, Kaplan suggests that Dopfel ask her date what superhero he would choose to be. Korch radios over to a member of the production crew, who writes the request on a white board while standing slightly off-camera. During the next lull in conversation, she asks the question.

Later in the extraordinarily long first inning, the NESN crew has the personal trainer test her date’s physical prowess by having him do some exercises. Dopfel expertly works their requests into the flow of conversation after reading them on the white board, and her date goes along willingly, doing several tricep dips on some nearby stairs in the 90-degree heat.

It seems that dating on Sox Appeal is almost like going on a first date with all your friends coaching you on how best to conduct yourself. But with much better seats.

The date Boston Daily witnessed live airs on August 24 at 5 p.m. on NESN. Sox Appeal logo from