Just after 7 one recent morning, Jimmy O’Brien zipped up the elevator to his office in Midtown Manhattan, iced black coffee in hand and one thing in mind: the Rocco Baldelli ejection.
“Individuals are going to be upset if we don’t put that one out first,” O’Brien said.
For the following two and a half hours, he squinted through the early-morning glare in his corner office as Baldelli, the manager of the Minnesota Twins, fumed and fulminated on the 2 screens in front of him. O’Brien scrutinized every syllable of Baldelli’s interaction with the umpires as if it were crime footage.
Pause. Rewind. Slow motion. Pause. Rewind.
“Oh!” O’Brien shouted.
He exhaled, having cracked the code by reading Baldelli’s lips, and continued: “He says: ‘It’s the rule. They only don’t call it.’”
He typed the sentence right into a script he would later narrate. The YouTube video went on to gather greater than 1,000,000 views.
Relative to other manager tirades, Baldelli’s confrontation was decidedly milquetoast — a low-stakes outburst over a detailed call at home plate in the course of baseball’s dog days. But O’Brien doesn’t miss many opportunities to entertain — and sometimes enlighten — his growing audience of baseball worshipers. He has built a digital sports media empire on it.
Jomboy Media, a start-up that sprouted from O’Brien’s GIF-laden social media feeds after which grew exponentially due to its coverage of a baseball scandal, has nearly tripled its work force to 64 since 2021. It recently closed a $5 million funding round led by the Creative Artists Agency that included a handful of athletes and celebrities. It’s the kind of legitimacy that might spoil something born of affection, but up to now O’Brien and his company have managed the transition from hobby to big business without getting away from what made them relatable in the primary place.
From their vibrant, white office space — where the partitions are adorned with poster board, mock plaques and frog images (an organization mascot) — Jomboy employees fill the corporate’s feeds with sundry sports clips for 1.6 million YouTube subscribers and a further 900,000 or so followers on Twitter and Instagram. The corporate’s podcast network now includes nearly two dozen shows. In March, Jomboy signed a partnership with YES Network, which broadcasts Yankees games, to provide content and simulcast shows.
At the middle of all of it is a sports media personality who never intended to be one. O’Brien, 33, has graying hair, sharp blue eyes, a thick beard and a husky voice fit for sports-talk radio. Except he never had an interest in broadcasting.
“I’d never call myself a reporter,” O’Brien said. “I’m still only a biased fan. And I don’t plan on changing.”
O’Brien and Jake Storiale, his best friend and artistic partner, co-host a podcast, “Talkin’ Yanks,” that they tape after Yankees games. In August, because the first-place Yankees swooned, the tone of the show became increasingly somber. But they reject comparisons to the rant-filled, take-driven sports commentary on the radio dial.
“I believe what we offer are conversations that individuals feel like they’d actually be a part of with their buddies,” O’Brien said.
Negativity just isn’t a part of the vibe here.
The corporate’s rise, from friends having fun to full-fledged media outlet, could be traced to a single viral moment. In November 2019, The Athletic broke the story of the Houston Astros’ sophisticated scheme for tipping pitches to their hitters. But, in some ways, it was a video breakdown by O’Brien, during which he read lips and identified other cues in a game between the Astros and the White Sox, that offered fans the primary visual evidence of the sign-stealing scandal.
The video took off on social media, catapulting Jomboy’s account right into a must-follow for baseball Twitter. O’Brien was three years faraway from working full time as a marriage videographer who delivered food in his spare evenings and wondered what he was going to do together with his life. He was a yr into doing the podcast with Storiale, who worked in marketing for an electrical products conglomerate in Denver.
Suddenly, followers were clamoring for more of O’Brien’s editing artistry. He has since done breakdowns involving cricket, lacrosse, pickleball, “Wheel of Fortune” and Will Smith’s slap of Chris Rock on the Oscars.
As the corporate has grown, O’Brien and Storiale have kept up the positivity and energy that made them popular in the primary place. Their banter adheres to their utmost principle, which O’Brien calls being “fun, not funny.”
“The simplest strategy to get laughs sometimes is to knock other people down or go negative,” he said. “That isn’t really our vibe.”
This could be construed as an attempt at virtuousness, but he insists it’s nothing out of character for them. He and Storiale just generally don’t like confrontation.
“We’ve each been diagnosed as conflict averse because we now have older sisters who fought their mothers,” O’Brien joked. “We were the peacemakers.”
They call themselves the “clapping company” because they cheer a lot for his or her co-workers. When the team traveled to Los Angeles to film and to network during festivities for this yr’s All-Star Game, it rented Airbnbs moderately than hotel rooms.
“Twenty of us all stayed together,” said O’Brien, who lives in Bloomfield, N.J., together with his wife and 10-month-old son. “We eat meals together. I grew up in an enormous family. That’s just how I grew up, and that’s what I like. Everyone wakes up at a unique time and goes within the kitchen and there’s bagels out. That’s what we do. We’ll see how long we will do it.”
It has thus far landed them in the great graces of Major League Baseball and plenty of of its players, including Ian Happ, an outfielder for the Chicago Cubs who hosts a weekly podcast on Jomboy’s network. It has also resulted in loads of goofy content that’s clearly engineered for generating traffic — Storiale wandering across the office asking employees random questions, for example — moderately than sophisticated discourse.
Joe Favorito, a sports industry analyst and lecturer in Columbia University’s sports management program, contrasted Jomboy’s goofier, more inviting approach to the trail forged by Barstool Sports, the insurgent media group now value greater than half a billion dollars.
“They’re the less edgy premise of what Barstool is overall,” Favorito said. “They’ve taken that unique, irreverent position while also being respectful of baseball — with some really good insight.”
Jomboy’s escape from the toxicity and polarization on social media is what attracted some big-name investors, including Alexis Ohanian of Reddit and Seven Seven Six, who joined in its latest funding round.
“The pendulum has swung back,” Ohanian wrote in an email. “People crave the great vibes.”
He added: “They’re making the game of baseball accessible to a whole generation. I believe that lands beyond the Yankees fan base. I’d like to see them expand even deeper into other sports.”
Expansion like that may require extra homework for O’Brien, who still selects, edits and narrates the favored “breakdown” videos by himself, at a mean of three to 4 hours per video.
His preternatural ability to read lips is a mystery. There is no such thing as a deafness within the family. O’Brien says he just has a knack for it.
“After I would watch games with my dad, if a pitcher was coming off a mound yelling and screaming, he would pause it and rewind it and ask me, ‘What did he say, Jim?’” O’Brien said. “And I’d tell him.”
Some visual cues are easier to decipher than others. O’Brien, for example, struggled for hours attempting to pin down a particular phrase screamed by Yankees Manager Aaron Boone when he was ejected for arguing a strike call in July.
“I’m taking a look at it and I’m like, ‘I’m pretty sure he’s saying, ‘buffer zone,’” O’Brien said. “We Googled it, and there had been an entire article out recently about how M.L.B. umpires get a two-inch buffer zone on the perimeters of the plate.”
He produced the video, which included a proof of the buffer zone and why Boone was about to burst a blood vessel arguing about it. It has been viewed 735,000 times.
“He’s an incredible storyteller,” said Andrew Patterson, the previous senior director of recent media at MLB Advanced Media who was hired in July as Jomboy Media’s first chief executive. “What he finds aren’t all the time highlight moments. They’re often the little moments which are neglected. And he draws out a story that individuals find compelling.”
Jomboy, which still doesn’t have its own website, has continued to construct its large social media presence. Last month, O’Brien cut and posted a video that quickly topped his record for Twitter views (37 million impressions). It was a 58-second highlight of an Oklahoma Little League player comforting the pitcher who had just hit him in the top with a pitch.
O’Brien was riding high that day for another excuse. He had received a message from a friend who was near Baldelli, the Twins’ manager.
“He said Baldelli told me to let you know, ‘You nailed it,’” O’Brien said.