The clock on this mid-July afternoon was ticking past 5 p.m. He needed to work fast. His first thought? This will be big. REALLY BIG. Get something to the masses as quickly as possible. They'll devour it.
With his brain flipped into hyperdrive, the 30-year-old New Jersey man and full-time New York Yankees fan started digging into his bag of software editing tricks. He sensed a duty to help explain to those who followed him -- and even to those who didn't -- just what exactly happened during one incredibly bizarre scene at Yankee Stadium.
Check screen No. 1. Rewind. Listen. Read lips. Listen harder. OK, got it. Cut the clip. Check screen No. 2. Fast-forward -- no, wait, rewind back a little more. What in the hell was Brett Gardner doing with his bat? Cut the clip. Go back to screen No. 1. Fast-forward again. Wait. Stop. Stop. Stop. Did Aaron Boone just say what it sounded like he said?! Listen hard. Read lips. Wow. He did.
Cut the clip.
Some 15 minutes after Boone, the Yankees' second-year manager, was tossed from the first game of New York's July 18 doubleheader with Tampa Bay, O'Brien -- better known on social media by his Twitter/YouTube handle of "Jomboy" -- had shared with the world a simple subtitled 21-second video that would become a defining piece of the team's season.
It's all because of what Boone said in the now-viral video to first-year umpire Brennan Miller as he bemoaned what he believed was a missed call. The rant, one of the more memorable in recent baseball history, ultimately fired up the Yankees fan base, leading to the now-infamous "Savages in the Box" rallying cry.
However the Yankees' season ends, this saying will carry them throughout. They can thank O'Brien for that.
"My guys are f---ing savages in that f---ing box, right?" Boone said to Miller in the second inning of the game. "And you're having a piece of s--- start to this game. I feel bad for you. But f---ing get better. That guy is a good pitcher, but our guys are f---ing savages in that box. Our guys are savages in the f---ing box. Tighten it up right now, OK? Tighten this s--- up."
O'Brien's video[WARNING: Sensitive, uncensored language]gave the internet a rare up-close glimpse of what life on the field sounds like. All season, he's found similar peeks into on-field baseball life at other ballparks too, thanks in large part to an ambient-sound feed provided by Major League Baseball.
When O'Brien -- who has turned his passion for sports into a full-time gig -- sits down each night as first pitches are thrown around the country, he does so in front of an elaborate multiscreen setup. He has two computers and one television, all tuned in to baseball -- typically that night's Yankees game. On the television: the live feed of the game. On the computers: the local streaming feeds -- YES Network for the Yankees and the regional broadcast partner for their opponent. When he happens to spot a quirky moment he thinks could be enhanced by the ambient-sound feed, he switches over to that. All of these streaming feeds are easily accessible to anyone with an MLB.TV package.
Once O'Brien sees action he considers worth sharing, he goes to work, using his self-taught method ofcutting, splicing and editing digital video.
"You know the scene in 'The Social Network' when the decoders go at it? With him, it's about two hours -- of that," said Jake Storiale, O'Brien's longtime friend and Talkin' Yanks podcast co-host. "The hard work is what people kind of don't get about what he's doing. It's not, here's some video, here's some audio. It's not that."
O'Brien's video editing background isn't the only thing that has helped his creations take off. So too has his and Storiale's belief that they can create a groundswell of fresh interest in the sport.
From brawls, to contentious back-and-forth at-bats, to pitching mechanics, to random ballpark machinations across the league, O'Brien, with the help of Storiale, plus an intern and an army of volunteers, offers what he calls "breakdowns," which feature mostly humorous, sometimes obscene and often easy-to-digest commentary. His longer, two-minute, 23-second breakdown of the Boone ejection came later in the evening.
Not everyone is thrilled about these videos. Some in the sport think they could be dangerous. But others see them as a burst of joy amid baseball's marathon nine-months-long season.
"I know fans want to be involved as much as they can," Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge said. "They like seeing the inside part of the game, because a lot of times they don't get to see that stuff."
For O'Brien, that's precisely the point of everything he has done since he revived his once-dormant Twitter account two years ago.
"To educate the fan base sounds lame and like I'm an old-school teacher, but that's how you get the entertainment going," O'Brien said. "Fun, with a little bit of education."
O'Brien is no stranger to wanting to be part of the action on the field at Yankee Stadium. Family members still lovingly tease him about the night when, as a 7-year-old, he ran up to his big-screen TV and pretended he was jumping into the dogpile on the screen as the Yankees celebrated winning the 1996 World Series. A couple of years later, while briefly living in Australia, he'd watch World Series games on VHS tapes. Since the games came on when he'd be heading to school in the morning, his mom -- under constant threat of being muzzled so she wouldn't spoil the results of the game -- would record them for the family to watch later in the day.
Recording game video goes back a long way in the O'Brien household.
And it has borne a few surprising consequences.
For starters, last month's glimpse into Boone's in-argument persona led to a burgeoning boom for startup companies like O'Brien's Jomboy Media group, which has nearly 300,000 subscribers on YouTube, up from just 2,000 two months ago. There are at least three different versions of "Savages in the Box" T-shirts, all created by different entities. Some have even been worn regularly by players at Yankee Stadium, where there are now similarly branded T-shirts and caps for sale at the team store.
Along the way, Boone has earned an added measure of respect from many in the Yankees fan base, thought he'd prefer to have earned it in a different way.
"I had some choices of words that weren't great, especially in a public setting where kids are going to get a hold of that stuff, so you're not necessarily proud of that," Boone said the day after his tossing from Miller. The manager, whose cap made contact with Miller's, was suspended for a game.
Regardless of how remorseful Boone was in the immediate fallout from his ejection, his players and staff still loved every minute of what they later saw on O'Brien's "Jomboy" Twitter feed.
"Boonie had some mixed thoughts about it right away, because there obviously are some things that you don't want out there," Yankees assistant hitting coach P.J. Pilittere said. "Sometimes mantras for teams can happen organically that way, and that's kind of, I guess, the social [media] world got to see behind the curtain a little bit of what we really believe that we are."
Pilittere was so struck by O'Brien's wit and baseball savvy in the few breakdowns he'd seen, he decided to reach out. He wanted O'Brien to know that he and a few others in pinstripes were watching -- and approved of what they were seeing.
Whether it was Boone's eruption, Trevor Bauer's tossing of the ball from the pitcher's mound over the center-field wall in Kansas City or the Pirates-Reds pre-trade-deadline brawl, Yankees players have joined their coaches in glancing at O'Brien's videos when they hear, by word of mouth, of something they need to check out.
"When you do something that creates a stir within the principals in the sport, usually that means people outside of it are going to enjoy it too," said Ryan Ruocco, YES Network play-by-play announcer and co-host of the R2C2 podcast with Yankees starter CC Sabathia.
Ruocco said it was Sabathia who first put one of O'Brien's original "breakdowns" on his radar.
"All the stuff he does is different and funny," Sabathia said.
Two years ago, as the Yankees were making a somewhat unexpected run toward the postseason, they embraced the thumbs-down sign. It was a nod to the Mets fan who went viral after being caught on camera showcasing his displeasure at a Yankees home run during a Yankees-Rays game that had been moved to Citi Field as Hurricane Irma struck Central Florida.
While embracing the thumbs-down, the Yankees posed for a clubhouse picture. O'Brien ended up offering his lighthearted take on how various players were sporting their thumbs in the picture.
"I zoomed in and I was like, '[Tyler] Wade, good form, tight fist.' I was like, 'Clint [Frazier], looking the wrong way, not ready, just got called up,'" O'Brien recounted. "I kind of just made jokes. One was like, 'Judge, your knuckles are loose, buddy. You've got to tighten those knuckles up.'
"And then on the next R2C2, they talked about it. And I was blown away. You don't realize the internet can go far. CC was like, 'I keep telling Judge to keep tightening those knuckles up.' That was like heart eyes for me."
There has been some concern in the upper levels of the Yankees organization about what might happen if the ambient-sound mic catches players or coaches on any big league team saying something more regrettable and less funny than "f---ing savages in the box."
On at least one occasion, weeks before Boone's blowup scorched the internet, Yankees officials contacted MLB to inquire about how it might better legislate the way O'Brien or anyone else uses audio from the games -- particularly games in which players, coaches or umpires are not specifically miked up.
The league has yet to respond to the Yankees' inquiry.
When ESPN reached out to MLB regarding the way its broadcast feed has been used for the types of videos O'Brien has been making, the league declined to comment.
O'Brien has been given permission by those running the league's social media channels to continue posting his content, but they could claim certain videos for their own if the situation arises, since he's technically using their broadcast footage. He's fine with that.
As generally mum as the league has wanted to stay on this issue, its disciplinarian and chief baseball officer, Joe Torre, did address the growing hot-mic concerns Tuesday when he was at Yankee Stadium promoting his foundation.
"It wasn't supposed to be that clear," Torre, the former Yankees manager, said of the ambient-sound feed fans can access. "It shouldn't happen. That's just crowd noise and stuff." Added Torre, who was recently surprised that a 37-year-old video of one of his own profanity-laced managerial tirades surfaced: "[Arguments are] not something you're proud of. There is an entertaining value when you go nose to nose, as long as it ends there. ... When it starts getting personal, that's dangerous."
In his capacity with MLB, Torre spoke to Boone during his visit about keeping his composure, as well as the hot-mic issue.
Still, Yankees vice president of communications and media relations Jason Zillo says the team wants the league to do more about what O'Brien has been creating.
"[I] certainly appreciate and respect where we are in 2019, where part of growing the game is giving some of that personal and intimate dialogue and baseball give-and-take over a nine-inning game through mics," Zillo said. "But there has to be some type of guardrail to mitigate or eliminate what could become a very dangerous situation, where if players or teams aren't made aware that there is the potential of some type of live mic picking up any and all sound throughout the game, that could really become a slippery slope and it could be damaging to a team. It could be damaging to a player's career.
"Again, I appreciate, and we effort to acknowledge that intimate moments, when used with discretion and with oversight -- whether it be Fox or ESPN and/or [Major League] Baseball -- clearly there's a window for that and it should be pursued by all parties involved because it is part of growing the game. But again, when there isn't that type of oversight and you're just kind of floating out there without a parachute, that's some really treacherous, dangerous ground that could be really personally damaging to a player, and also for the team -- and for the league, for that matter."
Boone echoed Zillo's sentiments, saying just this week he believed the hot-mic videos to this point have been executed fairly and without malice. But he did also think more could be done by all parties involved to ensure that continues to happen.
"There's a responsibility to be careful with it and careful with how do you use that, and how do you protect certain things," Boone said. "For the most part [it's being handled responsibly], but everyone could probably do a little better job of making sure."
O'Brien understands those concerns.
"If I see or hear anything that can damage someone's reputation I usually shy away from it," O'Brien said, "but to be honest, that really hasn't happened so far. I think, in most of the dustups, the overwhelming reaction is that the players and umpires are human and get swept away in frustration and emotion the same way all of us do."
Judge contends that's why, whether the dugout microphones are hot or cold, he's going to play with the same level of fire, emotion and passion.
"I'm working. So if I say something that's not supposed to be out, I mean, I'm competing out there," Judge said. "Sometimes when you're competing -- and this is our livelihood, so we're out there trying to compete as best we can -- things are going to come out. F'n savages or things like that, a couple of cuss words and stuff like that, but that's part of it. We're working. I never want to shield what I'm saying."
A link with content creators like O'Brien could be an opportunity for MLB as it seeks to bring the game back to prominence among younger generations -- the same generations subscribing to O'Brien's YouTube channel at an accelerating pace.
"That's the thing that's crazy about the YouTube channel and tying it all to baseball," Storiale said. "The people that subscribe to the YouTube channel are the young, target demographic. And if one of those gets posted, it's going to get six-figure views -- at minimum."
O'Brien's channel in fact received more than a million views for each of his breakdowns of Boone's ejection vs. the Rays, as well as the ejection Gardner got just last week in Toronto. It also got about 550,000 views for a video O'Brien did tracking the epic and entertaining 13-pitch at-bat last Sunday between flamethrowing Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman and Blue Jays rookie Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
MLB's video of the Chapman-Guerrero battle earned just shy of 170,000.
"If I was Major League Baseball, I would actually consider hiring him," Ruocco said. "Because I'm sure with their resources, he'd have even more material to work with, and have him pump out the same kind of videos for them, but be able to do them at even a higher technological level."
Ruocco believes O'Brien has left his imprint firmly on this Yankees year -- even if some with the club are uneasy about that.
"He will forever be tied to the 2019 season," Ruocco said. "When we look back at 2019, we're always going to think of Jomboy blowing up and creating entertaining content for us to enjoy."
Sabathia: Boone saved his players from an ejection
CC Sabathia says manager Aaron Boone came out of the dugout to argue with the umpire so that his players didn't and in turn earned an ejection.