Friday, February 19, 2010

Head games

4:30 p.m.

Ring! Ring!

What the heck is that?

Ring! Ring!

Do I have a phone? I didn't know they put a phone in this place. Where's there a phone?

Ring! Ring!

That doesn't really sound like a phone. I've never heard a ringer like that before. Huh. Where could it be? Ah, there it is. Why would they have put it on top of the fridge?

Ring! Ring!

Nope. This one's not plugged in. Weird. Where the heck is that coming from?

Ring! Ring!

Ah, second bedroom. There it is. Really, what the heck kind of ringer is that?


"This is Mary from the St. Petersberg Times..."

"No thanks."


Ugh. I'm here five minutes and I already get a sales call?

4:30 a.m.

Beep! Beep!

Uggghhhh. Now what? Maybe that was in my head. Yeah, it's gone. Back to sleep...

Beep! Beep!

Nope. That was very real. [sigh, sits up in bed, waits a minute]

Beep! Beep!

Smoke alarm. Great. They couldn't put new batteries in the smoke alarms? [walks to hallway outside bedroom]

Beep! Beep!

Not this one. Why would it be this one? That'd be too easy. [waits another minute]

Beep! Beep!

Living room. Gotta be the one in the living room. Oh, geez. That's high up there. Lord, why did you make me so short? [drags chair across room while sleep walking]

Beep! Beep!

Wow, that's loud. At least I know it's this one. All right. Oh, this things got wires? Aannd, unplugged. That'll do the trick.

Beep! Beep!

Guess not! OK, the nine-volt is out. Now, shut up. I'm tired.

Beep! Beep!

Ummmm. [looks at battery in hand and then at smoke alarm in the other]

Please don't beep again. I don't want to have to call an excorcist.



Welcome to your home for the next six weeks.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Jetta > Hyundai

This post is dedicated to my fellow baseball scribe and blogging friend, Marc Carig. He is, after all, the inspiration behind my finally sitting down and starting this blog for myself. In a recent post, Mr. Carig laments the fate the Baseball Gods bestowed upon him: a crappy Hyundai for all of Spring Training.

It is true, the rental car process is a critical element to spring. Last year, I grabbed my keys and hurriedly toted my stuff to my assigned parking space, where I stopped dead in my tracks upon seeing my vehicle -- a Crown Victoria. A Great White Behemoth of a car that might have done as well floating across Tampa Bay as driving around it.

"No way," I said outloud, with no one around. "No chance."

I marched back into the rental place and sat patiently until they found something better for me. It paid off. I wound up with a Jeep Liberty.

Normally, rentals during the season are no big deal. But, in the spring? This is your car for six weeks, or longer in cases like last year when the World Baseball Classic threw everything off. Getting a quality automobile, if at all possible, is integral to your comfort level, especially when facing the long road trips of the Grapefruit League.

I happen to be a "Fastbreak" member with Budget, due to my loyalty to their rental service over the years (they even sent me a Christmas card this year, I kid you not). A lot of times, this allows me to bypass the whole waiting-in-line thing. During the spring, though, when your rental contract is longer than three or four days, you have to wait in line and do more paperwork at the counter at the Tampa airport.

After grabbing my luggage from baggage claim -- The Art of Packing is destined to be a post on here at some point -- I headed out the doors and headed to the building where Budget is located. I walked inside and, of course, every rental company has no line except for the one I was renting from.

And I'm not talking just any line. This was a guaranteed hour of waiting. The line wove back and forth through some dividers and the mass of people just kept going and going and going. I decided that my best bet was to play dumb and avoid standing there like an idiot for God knows how long.

Veteran move.

I headed to Level 3 inside the parking garage at the airport and headed to the Fastbreak booth.

"This is where Fastbreak members check in, right?"

"Yep," said the girl behind the counter.


"You know," I began, "you're always the one working when I come into Tampa. It's so great to see familiar faces when I travel all over the country."


She smiled, reached for some keys and handed me my receipt.

"Thank you," I said, smiling back.

And, sinker.

"Hey, was I supposed to check in downstairs since it's a long-term contract?" I asked, keys firmly in my hand.

"Yeah, but don't worry about it," she answered. "See you again soon."


And, to top it off? I was awarded the shiny, white Volkswagon Jetta in the above picture. Sure, it's no convertible or anything fancy, but it is the exact car my wife and I drive back home. Ours just happens to be red. Any time you receive a rental car that is at least of equal value to what you usually drive is a win in my book.

Tough break, Carig.

An Ode to Spring

Penned this while waiting to board my plane this morning:

Goodbye, wife. Goodbye, son.
Goodbye, Barkley. I won't be long.

Goodbye, car and goodbye, home.
Now, in rentals and Marriotts I'll roam.

Goodbye, closet and all your space.
All I need's in this suitcase.

Homecooked meals and good night's sleep,
down the road, again we'll meet.

Goodbye, winter. Goodbye, snow.
I won't miss you, truth be told.

For it's time for sunshine and baseball games.
That is, unless of course... rains.

Friday, February 12, 2010

At the Hurt's locker

I was in all-out panic mode in the pressbox.

Frank Thomas dropped his piece of rebar -- that strip of metal he swung before at-bats, adding to the intimidation factor -- and sauntered toward home plate. The Big Hurt began shifting his massive body into the batter's box, right hand in the air to signal for a brief timeout while he settled into his famous stance.

Happy with his positioning, Thomas lowered his hand and gripped his bat, bringing his arms forward to point the lumber at the pitcher before locking his weapon into place above his right shoulder. It was the eighth inning, and Thomas was one swing away from launching the 500th home run of his storied career.

This was all well and good -- I was actually looking forward to witnessing the milestone. I grew up in Chicago, where Thomas was the Michael Jordan of baseball, so having the opportunity to write about the feat -- one that would ensure his place in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown -- was an honor in some ways.

The problem was that Blue Jays starter Dustin McGowan also had a no-hitter in the works.

One or the other, fellas.

Blasting No. 500 meant a long list of sidebars -- extra stories to commemorate Thomas' achievement. Stories about the reactions of Thomas' teammates and that of the players on the opposing team, maybe a separate story on the pitcher's reaction, too. A story on the home run itself, one for Thomas' place in history, and on and on and on.

A no-hitter? More reaction. More sidebars. There's the game story, the story about the other team, maybe a piece about the perspective from the catcher, one for the no-hitter's place in the team's all-time feats, a separate about the pitcher and his background. Teammate reaction. If you can reach mom and dad, too, give it a shot.

For a typical night game, us reporters might be working in the pressbox until midnight. This was an afternoon game, and I was beginning to think I might still wind up staying that late. Covering a great moment in baseball history is fine. Being faced with covering two on the same day? Without a second writer to lend a hand?

The only fun in that comes much later when you can tell the story.

This time, though, the Baseball Gods were simply pulling a prank on all of us scribes.

Thomas went down swinging on six pitches. History averted. In the ninth inning, McGowan took the mound and sent a 94-mph fastball buzzing over the inside corner. It was a fine pitch -- the type he'd used to own the Rockies all afternoon. But, Colorado's Jeff Baker finally solved the young righty, drilling the pitch up the middle for a single.

Sighs of disappointment on the field. Sighs of relief in the pressbox.

The Blue Jays won the game and left town for a road series in Minnesota. The road trip had three legs, the second in Seattle and the third in Oakland. I skipped the four-game set against the Twins and caught a flight to the West Coast on the day the Jays were wrapping up their stay in Minneapolis.

When I stepped off the plane, flipped open my phone and turned it on, it began to buzz with a slew of voicemails. Thomas had belted his 500th home run, leaving a pile of sidebars for the reporters who were covering the Blue Jays in my absence. The funny part? I was disappointed that I wasn't there to see it.

Here we are, a couple years later, and Thomas is officially announcing his retirement from baseball. The Hurt finished with 521 career homers, currently 18th on baseball's all-time list. Thomas will be known best for his time with the White Sox, who boasted one of the game's most fearsome hitters when he was in his prime.

It's rare that a reporter is starstruck, but I'll admit that part of me was exactly that when Thomas rolled into Spring Training with the Blue Jays for the first time. When we sat down at a picnic table for our first one-on-one interview that spring -- we both sat on the same bench, creating some fear that the table might flip -- it was a thrill. He was an icon in Chicago when I was a kid.

Thomas' time in Toronto was brief, but he was easily one of the best players I've covered. Win or lose, Thomas was always at his locker ready to field questions, a veteran move that took pressure off some of the younger players. In this age of cliches and media coaching, it was also refreshing to have an athlete who didn't mind talking about himself. Thomas was always great for in-depth baseball conversations as well.

In April of 2008, I wandered into the Jays clubhouse early on a Saturday morning. As part of the daily routine, I checked that day's lineup and Thomas -- mired in an ugly, persistent slump -- was not listed. The manager confirmed that Thomas was being benched indefinitely, the Big Hurt vented frustration, and one day later, he was released.

It was an unfortunate ending to Thomas' stay with the Blue Jays, but it will hardly take away from his impressive career.

See you in Cooperstown, Hurt.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

No harm, but still foul

PR man:

"Kaz Matsui will be undergoing surgery
to repair an anal fissure."


"Ugh. Why couldn't you have
just said it was an ankle sprain?"


Writing about baseball isn't always as cut and dry as some people think. Take the exchange above, for example. We were sitting in the pressbox at the Astros' spring ballpark in Kissimmee a few years back, when the lovely media relations team decided to be completely open and honest about the nature of an injury suffered by Matsui.

As a kid, when I dreamed of being a journalist assigned to follow a big league ballclub, I imagined writing about epic games, witnessing miraculous events, having the opportunity to pen inspiring stories, and to break news that would shape the future of the game. What I did not do was wonder how I would someday describe a tear in anal tissue.

That part of the job was not covered in my Journalism Ethics class at Michigan State.

And, yet, these are the types of issues us reporters face every so often. I've had long, detailed conversations with players about broken fingernails, injured fingers, fractured toes, swollen ankles, wonky knees, "sports" hernias, groin problems, hip issues, abdominals strains, shoulders, elbows, forearms, wrists, stiff necks, blurred vision, sore backs and even had people describe vomit, puss and blood.

Flip open a copy of Gray's Anatomy of the Human Body, and chances are, us baseball scribes, at some point in time, have had to write about the body part you're viewing on that page.

These are the things you don't think about when you say, "I want to be a baseball writer."

Why do I bring all this up? Earlier today, I was reminded of something that happened inside a clubhouse during a recent season. I couldn't help but laugh at the memory and the predicament nearly faced by the group of media standing by for this potentially catastrophic event.

One ballplayer -- names of athletes and writers will always be removed on this blog for obvious reasons -- thought it would be funny to blast a particularly crude song over the clubhouse sound system. The game was still hours away, a few guys were playing cards, others were sitting at their lockers, and one wandered to the stereo and cranked up the volume.

Heads around the room began to nod to the beat and the song's hook began referencing a certain part of the male anatomy. Now, boys will be boys, especially when the boys in question are ballplayers. Captain Volume began dancing his way over to a table in the middle of the room, where a few pitchers were in the middle of a quiet, calm card game.

The player moved his arms and bobbed his head and shuffled closer to the table, a smirk beginning to creep across his face. You could almost see the light bulb go off. In a split second, he dropped his shorts to his ankles, leapt onto the table and shook what the Good Lord gave him in the faces of the card players.

As the pitchers groaned and shouted, leaning back in their chairs to hopefully avoid any unwanted contact, the weight of Sir Shake-a-Lot began to tip the table like a seesaw. Shouts became louder, the player jumped off the table -- still fully exposed -- and the large, wood table crashed back into place.

The player fell to the ground. The room grew silent -- except for the music.

And then... laughter. Lots of laughter.

The players, the coaches, us reporters -- even Dancy McNoPants -- laughed at the whole scene.

Let's be honest, though. The laughing was that nervous kind, the type that is enjoying the fact that, as embarrassing as the near-accident was, it was not nearly as bad as it could have been.

For us reporters, it was also a major relief that the player escaped his prank unscathed.

After all, how would we have written that?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Bring on the spring

During a recent Spring Training...

Reporter: "We'll only ask you 1,000 questions today."

Player: "I can only throw so many cliches at you guys."

Reporter: "Come on, you've got to get in mid-season form."

Player: "If that was the case, I wouldn't be talking to you."


It's almost here. Spring Training. I booked my flight today and can already picture the drive across the Courtney Campbell Causeway, the long strip of pavement that slices through the waters of Tampa Bay and leads to the beginning of another baseball season.

The palm trees. The sunshine. The beaches. The ballparks. The tiny clubhouses. The cramped pressboxes. The cheap press meals. The shoddy wireless.

Ahhh, Spring Training.

Now, don't get me wrong here. I am not complaining.

It's a six-week retreat from the frigid north and, while much of a reporter's time is spent standing around and waiting, we're standing around and waiting in the comforts of Florida in the spring time. After the offseason, and it's seemingly endless string of unexpected events, a return to the routine is welcomed with open arms.

The first few days of Spring Training are often used for catching up. There's the required, "How was your offseason?" or "How's your family?" It's also the only time of year when it's completely appropriate to compliment another man on his physique: "Did you lose some weight?" or "Looks like those offseason workouts paid off!"

Everyone is "in the best shape of their life." Well, maybe not the reporters.

For reporters and players alike, though, it's a great time of year. Everyone's in a good mood. And why not? Writers haven't had to write on deadline in months and players enter the clubhouse without a line of stats for everyone to scrutinize. Optimism abounds and a funny thing comes with that: players and reporters get along swimmingly.

Of course, this might not be true across the board. For the most part, though, even the standoffish players who use long, postgame workout sessions during the season to avoid the lingering vultures that are The Media, even they are accommodating in the spring. It's the best time of year to strike up a conversation with just about anyone.

Once Opening Day arrives, some players put on a six-month game face. Their reason? They were available as much as you needed them during the spring. Sometimes it can be funny to see how a player's personality does a 180-degree turn once the calendar flips to April. This isn't the case with every ballplayer. But, it's something a reporter deals with every year.

This is one reason I always look forward to Spring Training. You can arrive as early as you want, be the only reporter in the clubhouse at times, and you can wander around, stop at just about anyone's locker and shoot the breeze. It's such a relaxed environment and conversations are not always about baseball.

That can be refreshing. During the grind of a full baseball season, we all need a break from the game from time to time. Right now, though, I'm looking forward to diving kneedeep into another year on the beat. The offseason can be exhausting, and the best cure is that first drive across the causeway from Tampa to Clearwater.

See you in eight days, Florida.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Chonicles of Sarnia

The phone in my condo started ringing a few days ago. This is an event that always, without fail, catches us by surprise.

So much of my life is spent on the road, hopping between U.S. cities and their airports and hotels, that I've never had the need for a land line here in Toronto. My wife and I -- both Americans -- still have cell phone numbers with numbers from the States. We spend most of our time in 416, but in our house, I'm from 517 and she's from 708.

When the phone that hangs on the wall in our kitchen begins to ring, it can only mean one thing: our doorman is calling about something. I picked up the receiver and said hello. Through the static, it was hard to understand him. His thick Middle Eastern accent didn't help matters. It wasn't hard to figure out his message, though.

"Mr. Bastian... (inaudible) ... crackle ... there is... pop... (inaudible) ... package."

"I'll be right down."

I returned with a beige envelope -- one we'd been anxiously waiting to receive. Inside were our Canadian documents. One piece of government-issued paperwork for me, explaining that I work for a U.S. company and my job requires me to be in Toronto and, no, I'm not stealing an occupation from a Canadian, everyone calm down. Then, there was one for my wife, allowing her to work here, too.

And, then, one for my 5-month-old?

That cracked us up. We weren't aware he was going to have his very own piece of documentation for crossing the border. Beyond his birth certificate, of course. We scanned his paperwork and learned that A) Yes, Hayden is allowed to be in Canada with us, and B) No, he is not allowed to seek employment. Those child-labor laws are killer!

We have to go through this application process every year. It can be stressful -- hoping that our paperwork comes in before I head to Spring Training -- but in the end it's great, because one flash of my documents at the border and I'm waved on through.

Well, sometimes.

There was the time my flight arrived at Toronto Pearson roughly 40 minutes before the clubhouse doors opened for pregame on a day I was scheduled to cover the Jays. What did the immigration officer do? She made me sit and wait in a little room, because "something doesn't seem right." Turns out, everything was right after all. And I was a few minutes late to work.

Fortunately, I've learned what to say and what not to say when coming into Canada.

Where do I stay in Toronto? My company set me up with a condo here. Saying you have your own place here only creates more questions. What's my purpose? It's ALWAYS business. Even if I'm not working on this particular trip, I'm in for business. Saying I work in Canada is also a big no-no. I work for a U.S. company and I am stationed in Canada from time to time -- nevermind that I live north of the border for most of the year. Wife? Kid? Dog? Avoid. Avoid. Avoid. Unless asked.

Did I mention I have to go through customs and immigration every time I fly into Toronto? Yeah, funny story. I'm flagged in Canada's system for life and there is nothing I can do about it.

Back when I was a good-for-nothing intern, paid by the hour with no benefits, I headed up to Toronto with my new bride and our Chevy Cavalier (The Blue Bomber) packed to the gills. Awaiting us was the luxurious studio-apartment life on Toronto's far north side. We had an air mattress, no air conditioning and a TV that stopped working before the end of the hottest summer we've experienced since living here.

Before we could even begin living that lifestyle of the poor and anonymous, though, we had to cross the border.

After driving into Sarnia, Ontario, we were asked to head into Immigration to explain our predicament. I told them all about the internship, how I was subletting an apartment from an old Albanian woman for the summer and how my lovely wife and I were just wed and excited about living in Toronto.

They -- well, the kid in the officer's suit that looked like he was fresh out of high school, complete with the cauliflower ear leftover from his days on the wrestling team -- asked for proof of the exact amount of money we had in our bank accounts. He also wanted information about our health coverage. I was an intern. I didn't have any.

After he disappeared into a back room for about 10 minutes, he came back, printed out some paperwork and then emphatically slammed a stamp down. There, in bright red letters, surrounded by a red box, was the heart-stopping word: REJECTED. He admired his work for a couple seconds and then brought his eyes up to meet my own.

"I'm sorry, sir," he began, doing his best to restrain his maniacal laughter. Maybe not. That's how I remember it anyway. "It is in my opinion that you will become a burden to Canada. An officer will escort you back into the United States."

My wife began to cry. She was already dreading a summer spent in that crappy apartment I found. She was already wondering if her husband's decision to pursue journalism would really put food on the table or money in the bank. She was putting her career on hold so I could follow my dream, and they wouldn't even let us in the stinking country.

We were branded for life as burdens.

We crossed back into the United States, stopped in the immigration department on the American side and told them what happened.

"They did what?" said the American officer, not even trying to hold back his laughter. "Whatever. Never heard of that before."

Since I attended college at Michigan State University, I still had some friends who lived in the East Lansing area. We crashed on a buddy's futon for the night, got some temporary health coverage from my old car insurance place in the morning, printed out some bank information and drove back to the border. This time, prepared.

A funny thing happened, though. We drove up to the customs booth, told the woman our reason for coming to Canada and she waved us right on through after glancing over our passports. No questions about insurance. Nothing about how much money I was going to make, or how much I had in savings, or where we planned on living.

Nothing. It was Canadian roulette. And the only bullet in the gun had been fired the day before.

These days, I step off the plane with my passport and paperwork in hand. I scan the lines in customs and now recognize some of the officers. If I head all the way to the right, the lines are always shorter. I tell them I need to head into immigration to speed the process. When I get in there, I know all the key words and phrases to get through swiftly.

They'll often ask, "Ever have any trouble at the border?"

I smile and say, "Yeah, years ago. Sarnia. I was rejected because nobody likes interns."

Other times, the officer will flip through my passport and see stamp after stamp after stamp from my countless trips into the country.

"Gee, come here often?"

I've heard that one a few times.

"Yes. Yes I do."

Friday, February 5, 2010

A wise man once said...

At the beginning of every baseball season, an intern is assigned to work alongside me on the beat in Toronto. Their duties include fetching me coffee, laughing at my jokes and heading over to my condo between the fifth and sixth innings to let my dog, Barkley, out for some fresh air and a visit with his favorite tree.

Fine. I made that last part up.

When these eager, inexperienced college reporters join me for the first day of work, obviously nervous and way too excited, I always offer up the same bit of advice I received when I was a lowly intern myself. The four little words that welcomed me to the job and quickly brought on a whole new journalistic perspective.

I came in that day with a big blue binder, filled with stats, and contract details and printouts of stories for background and names of potential sources and mugshots of players and important e-mails and spreadsheets and whatever else I deemed totally necessary to help me -- the intern with his name spelled wrong on his ID badge -- stand out.

Also inside my overstuffed messenger bag was my brandnew, state-of-the-art digital recorder. It was sleek. It had lots of buttons. And it had a very small, and completely pointless, digital camera built in to the end.

My new boss watched me take it out and set it on my notebook. He looked at the recorder and then he looked at me. A smirk crept across his face as he gathered up his tools of the trade and prepared to head down to the clubhouse.

"Before we head down," he said, "I've just got one piece of advice."


I wondered what wise, veteran advice was about to come from my mentor, the man charged with instructing me in the ways of reporting Major League Baseball.

"Yeah," he replied. "If you're going to use that recorder..."

He paused. I listened.

" pictures of wangs."

Welcome to the big leagues.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

No cheering in the pressbox

Toward the end of phone interview with a player this offseason, when the discussion had moved beyond the question-and-answer portion and into conversation mode, I was hit with an all-too familiar inquiry. Another question us baseball writers hear often.

"Hey, real quick, one last thing."

"Sure," I said.

"Is it true that reporters don't root for the teams they cover?"

Now, as far as my experience goes in my time as a beat guy in Toronto, friends and family and fans typically haved asked it this way, "So, do you root for the Blue Jays?" The fact that the player worded it differently revealed that he had learned about our dirty, little secret and he was having trouble believing it was true.

"Yes, it's true," I replied. "But, it's not that simple."

Don't get me wrong, there could be exceptions. For the most part, though, we are not fans of the teams we cover. Something happens when you begin working in professional sports. Suddenly, athletes aren't the super humans you worshipped as a kid. They essentially become coworkers -- a type of peer. Sometimes they become friends. Or, they might become spoiled jerks that you'd rather not waste your time on in some cases.

The bottom line is, they become people -- not just baseball players. That hinders you from living and dying with every win and loss the way you did when you were one of the fans in the seats. My usual response when people ask if I root for the Jays is, "I'm not a fan of one team anymore. But, I'm as big of a fan of baseball as I ever have been."

From the perspective of the pressbox, what you "root" for changes. You root for good stories. You root for good people. You definitely root for deadlines. If the team you cover is two outs away from being blown out, and your story has been sent in to the desk, you don't root for a miraculous comeback. Unless it's easy to write, and easy to write fast.

Players might not want to hear it, but covering an awful season is not always bad for a reporter, either.

I've always said that you either want the team you cover to be really good, or really bad. The teams stuck in the middle tend to create monotonous stories where you feel like you could just plug in a new score into the gamer you wrote one night earlier. The best teams create plenty of stories about great individual seasons, playoff runs and champagne celebrations. The worst teams provide stories about turnover, clubhouse problems and drama.

Those are things reporters like to write about.

What's funny about all of this is that, no matter how many times you try to explain it to people, they often just don't understand.

A few years back, my dad told me I had a cool, new Blue Jays clock heading in the mail. God Bless him, he's just proud that his son gets to write about Major League Baseball. I told him the clock would be better off on his wall and said he could cancel the order if he wanted. My brother once came to a White Sox game decked out in Blue Jays gear. He was just trying to show how proud he was of his little bro. I appreciated the sentiment. And did my best not to be seen with him.

Along the same lines, I still have people who give me a hard time when things aren't going great for the Cubs. I was a die-hard growing up. That's putting it mildly. A high school coach mockingly called me "Ryno," I ditched church and caught the 22 Clark bus to catch Sunday matinees at Wrigley, I saved every newspaper headline from Sammy Sosa's run to 66 homers in '98, ripped apart my Cubs hat after the Steve Bartman incident and attended Harry Caray's wake.

And that's just scratching the surface.

Things have changed. They've changed so much so that -- gasp! -- I was happy when the White Sox won the World Series in 2005. I was thrilled to see my hometown finally get a title, no matter which team it was hoisting the trophy. That shocked some people who knew me growing up. These days, I have players I've covered on both the Cubs and the Sox. I don't root for either team, but I might root for them.

I tried my best to explain this in a few minutes with the player on the other end of the line.

"Does that make sense?" I asked.

"Yeah, I guess so," he replied. "I know some players who just can't stand the media. I don't get that, because we have to work together -- whether we like it or not."


An apple a day...

When people learn that I'm a baseball reporter, and that I don't cover any other sports, I can always tell when the question is coming. Foreheads scrunch up. Mouths open slightly and stop, like words are trying to come out, but they're still fumbling their way down from the brain above. Hands begin to raise with the intention of scratching the head, helping shake those elusive words free.

And then...

"So..." enter obligatory pause, "...what do you, like, do in the offseason?"

There's really only one good way to explain.


I don't like doctors. OK, that might be a bit harsh. Correction: I have a difficult time trusting doctors. Turning points in the Game of Life have unfortunately played a major role in that issue. So, when health matters surface, my first reaction is to suck it up. Be a man. Walk it off. Use the force to make the problem disappear. And, by that, I mean ignore it.

This time, though, my back and neck were killing me. It had been going on for a few days now, and I was inching closer to admitting defeat. My wife, and mother in law, and anyone else who was growing tired of my complaining, each offered to make the call for me to set up an appointment.

Finally, the persistent pain won. Since I couldn't turn my head very far to the left or the right, I shuffled my feet slowly, circling to face my wife.

"OK, call the doctor."

My mistake was saying that outloud. I should've scribbled it on a piece of paper, folded it until it was smaller than a dime, and slid it over to my wife under my foot while saying, "Shhhh," and putting a finger to my lips with a wide-eyed, threatening don't-you-dare-draw-attention-to-this stare.

I didn't do that. No, I said it outloud, and the Baseball Gods heard me. And they immediately began plotting against me.

As I sat in the waiting room, they mounted their surprise attack. My phone began to vibrate. I ignored it. It buzzed again. And then again. The little red light on the top of my blackberry began flashing. E-mails. Texts. More e-mails. More texts. Flooding in. The old lady sitting across the room from me started staring. I began scrolling.

"Where are you?" one message read.

"Have you seen the report?" said another.

I quickly headed to the internet -- while the old lady's eyes burned a hole through me -- and discovered that Roy Halladay was being traded to the Phillies. Now? Right now? Really? True story? I leave the house for a few minutes, after roughly a week of fighting this pain, and this is happening at this precise moment?

It was hard not to laugh a little while my stress level soared. I rolled my eyes at the Baseball Gods. You struck again, you lousy jerks. The discomfort in my back and neck only worsened as I began to sort out what to do. I called an editor. I phoned our Phillies beat writer. I shot some texts to other Toronto scribes. I told them my plight and they probably rolled their eyes and laughed a little, too.

After the doctor cracked my back in more places than I realized could crack, I headed to Walgreens to fill the prescriptions he gave me for pain killers and muscle relaxers. Boy, did I need those now. As I wandered the aisles, waiting for my name to be called over the speakers, I phoned more people. I was gathering information, while flipping through discount DVDs, all at once. And my wife says I can't multi-task. Psshh.

This is our life. The moment we let our guard down, that's when new happens. In the offseason, no trip to the doctor is safe. A quick run to the grocery store can create chaos. That's when you'll get beat by your competitors. Your wife becomes a single mom for hours on end, your dog crosses his legs, stares at you and cries while you're held hostage at your computer.

You work the phones, calling players, agents, baseball execs, other writers. You scan news sites all day. There's never enough coffee and you crave the routine schedule of spring training and the regular season. So does your family. You live in constant fear that something is going to happen at any moment.

Usually, the Baseball Gods wait to strike until it's completely inconvenient. And then they laugh at you.


So, what do I do in the offseason?

I cover baseball.

In the beginning...

... God created a blog.

Actually, it was the heavens and the earth that came first, if I remember correctly. Blogs came on Day 6, I think. I'm a pastor's kid, but I'll admit to being a bit rusty on all the details. I hear it was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. Maybe it was Steve who first steered the human race towards blogs.

Whoever is at fault, they finally got to me. Well, that's not true. I used to blog here, and I currently blog for work here, and I occasionally update a marathon-training blog here. I'm really getting ahead of myself, though. I should probably get to some sort of introduction...


It was about 1:30 a.m., my eyes were bloodshot and my mind was weary after an unusually long night at the ballpark. Sleep-walking alongside Camden Yards, I spun around to head backwards for a few steps, hoping to see a late-night taxi wandering the streets in search of a fare.

In Baltimore, most of the hotels are within walking distance of the stadium. On this trip, I happened to be staying at the one that was located at the very edge of "walking distance." When you head out after a game, unless you see a cab hanging outside the bars by the ballpark, you might as well keep walking.

Fortunately, on this night, I saw my cab in shining armor and flagged it down. Now, I'm not usually one for chit-chat with cab drivers. I'll play with my phone for no good reason, pretend to read a paper, fumble around with my super important work papers, all in an effort to avoid conversation. Yeah, I'm that guy.

On this night, though, I was in a better mood. He asked me what brought me into town. I asked if his shift was just starting or coming to a close. He asked who won the game. I asked if the drunks were going easy on him tonight. The usual back-and-forth. Five-minutes later, I was at my hotel and it was time to say good bye to my new buddy.

"Get some sleep," he said with a smile.

"Yeah, thanks for the ride," I replied. "Got an early flight tomorrow. Don't know how much sleep I'll get."

"Really? What time you fly?"

"I have to leave for the airport at 4 a.m."

"I'll pick you up. My name is Neal."

"All righty. My name is Jordan."


He was so excited. So excited about something that had absolutely nothing to do with the other.

I had no idea what to say.

"Right. Cool. So... see you at 4."


I share this story for a few reasons. One, I'm Jordan. Nice to meet you. I cover baseball for As much as I write about baseball for work, though, there is so much that goes on behind the scenes that does not see the light of day.

That's another reason this anecdote applies. Life on the road creates many stories. Sitting in airports, checking into hotels, exploring cities, talking to your wife and your son (sometimes your dog) on the phone, and trying to balance it all together. It can be tough, especially when you also train for marathons in your spare time.

A fellow beat writer friend of mind recently started a personal blog and, I'll admit, his hilarious posts inspired me to finally sit down and create my own. It's something I've wanted to do for a while, and I plan on using it to keep me occupied while I'm on the road this year. I meet lots of funny and strange people, and I hope to introduce you to all of them.

For now, I'm Jordan. And I've never been to Neal's country.