Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Writer's Guide to the Clubhouse: Part I

A debate broke out in the clubhouse today between us writers and a radio reporter who shall remain nameless. Radio guy went down to the clubhouse to talk with the a particular player while us scribes were still working in the pressbox.

When we all finally wandered down to the clubhouse, Mr. Radio was there waiting.

"You missed your chance," he said. "He was here watching college basketball for a half hour, waiting for you guys."

First of all, it's hard to fathom that a player would be waiting for us. Also, the player in question had a rough day, but not so bad that he was the story of the day. Other news items had come up, and it seemed like an appropriate time to give him a day off from the media. There'd be plenty of poor performances to talk about during the regular season.

As a reporter, picking your spots is important.

Now, as it turns out, Captain Microphone had not interviewed the player yet. He was waiting for us to join him. The thing is, he could have had the player for a one-on-one, and we all would have been fine with it. He wound up getting exactly that when us writers opted not to join him at the player's locker.

"I was waiting for you guys," said the reporter. "I was trying to be helpful."

He was looking out for the player. A noble thing to do, but not necessary.

This led to some discussion about clubhouse protocol for reporters. Was he right to have waited for the rest of us? Should he have interviewed the player without us, risking that the player would have to endure a second wave of reporters later on?

Writers tend to stick to a series of unwritten rules that radio and tv reporters may or may not also follow. One is, if you're not there on time, too bad. We're all competitors after all. When you become a ball scribe, it's not like they hand you a "How to conduct yourself in the clubhouse" pamphlet, though. You just figure it out as you go.

With today's happening in mind, here is the first edition of The Writer's Guide to Clubhouse Etiquette. This will likely be an ongoing topic on this blog. For now, here's a list of 10 rules for you to chew on.

1. One reporter, no. Two reporters, go.

If you see a reporter speaking with a source in a one-on-one setting, you do not join the interview. Even if it's a person you are waiting for, this is not permitted. If there are at least two reporters in said interview, a "scrum" has formed, and you may proceed with your notepad and recorder and join the interview.

2. No pants, no questions.

This would seem to be obvious. If a player has not slipped on his pants, stay away from his locker. Give the man a minute to put something on. Depending on the player, a shirt may also be required. That said, pants are always required.

TV reporters don't always respect this rule in postgame situations. A few years back, a pack of TV cameramen swarmed a locker of a player as he was coming back from the shower (us writers stayed across the room). Said player stopped before he got to the pack at his stall, dropped his towel and proceeded to walk right through the thickest part of the mass of media in the buff, to emphasize how intrusive they were being. The scribes had a good chuckle over this.

2a. The towel exception clause: If a player is wearing a shirt and has a towel around his waist, you may proceed if deadline is approaching fast and the player in question has established a precedent for such interview settings.

3. Don't make yourself at home.

All those comfy couches in the clubhouse? Yeah, those are for the players and coaches. The chairs at the lockers? Those are for the players. The only time reporters are to take a seat is if a player, coach or another source has invited said reporter to sit by them for an interview. You might really feel like a nap. Resist.

4. Card games, not fair game.

A favorite activity within big league clubhouses is card games, especially among relief pitchers for whatever reason. Players engaged in a game of cards are not to be approached for interviews. And don't peer to closely at their hand. If you give away what they're holding, your chances of an interview after the game -- or ever again -- will decrease dramatically.

5. Parched? Got the munchies? Move along.

Every clubhouse has a cooler stocked with pop, water, energy drinks and sometimes alcohol. These are not for reporters. I have often been tempted to reach down into the giant Red Bull cooler in the Jays' clubhouse, but have resisted out of principle. Candy and food spreads? Just wait until you get to the media dining room. You'll live.

5a. The manager exception rule: If in the manager's office, and he offers you a drink or something out of his personal stash, this is fair game. That said, I have still declined every managerial food and beverage offer I have received.

5b. The dugout gum exception rule: Gum is abundant during spring training and in the dugout during the regular season. Snagging a piece or two is permitted, especially if you have been on the beat for a few years and have established yourself as a decent enough reporter, and not a klepto.

6. Do not use the players' bathroom.

Even if you REEEAAAALLLYYY have to go. There are bathrooms in main concourses of stadiums, in the pressbox and probably several other places NOT located in the clubhouse. You work with these guys, but you are not one of their kind. Relieving yourself in their territory is extremely frowned upon.

7. Try not to bare it.

It is inevitable in this job that you will see nudity. Players are coming and going from the showers throughout the day and each has their own level of comfort when it comes to undressing. Some drop the towel and bare it all. Others prefer to put clothes on one piece at a time, leaving the towel on as long as possible. When you see a player shifting into any stage of undress, turn your back and look the other way. The last thing you want to do is make eye contact in this situation. That's no good for anybody.

8. No poaching.

If you join a scrum after it has already started, don't just stand there taking notes or recording while other reporters do all the question asking. Contribute. You came in late, and probably only joined based on Rule 1. If the other reporters bail shortly after you join, don't walk away with them like an idiot. Show the source that you were interested and ask some questions. It also shows the other reporters that you're not just a poacher. No one likes a poacher.

9. Ask questions first.

Different reporters have different styles to interviewing. Some work better in one-on-one settings, some thrive off being the funny guy in scrum settings, others going all rapid fire with questions and make it hard for other reporters to jump in. Some are not comfortable leading off. Show other reporters you don't mind getting the ball rolling from time to time. Ask the first question. You don't have to do it in every scrum, but mix in the first question from time to time.

9a. The mandatory first-q rule: Did you ask the source if he had a minute? Were you the one to get his attention and draw him to the group of reporters? Well, then suck it up, buddy. You get to ask the first question. There is nothing worse than saying, "Hey, do you have time to talk?" And then standing there silent waiting for other reporters to ask the first question.

10. The pressbox is where you work.

During a recent spring, a reporter thought he'd do himself a favor and bring his laptop down to the clubhouse to get some work done. While waiting for players to trickle in, he plopped down at a table in the middle of the room and typed away, tidying up a story. Ummm, this is NOT cool, man. I mean, where are the players supposed to play cards?


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Miles, on the ground and in the air

The thing about marathon training is you need to stick to your schedule. The thing about being a baseball reporter is that your schedule is often thrown out the window. Trying to combine both can be frustrating and satisfying, sometimes all at once.


There was no way around it. I was down to log five miles and it was now or never. But, the sun was still hidden below the horizon and I was dead tired from putting in a full day of work the day before. The alarm kept going off on my phone. I stayed in bed, trying to talk myself out of this.

I had a plane to catch in a couple hours. Maybe I could squeeze in the run after I get to my hotel in Pittsburgh -- before I head to the ballpark for work. That was my only other option. The game against the Pirates was a night game, meaning I would not be done working until at least midnight.

Now or never, Jordan. Get out of bed.

And if there are any delays with my flight, forget about it. I'd have to head straight to the ballpark after dumping my stuff off at the hotel. Lunch? If I run in Pittsburgh, I could forget about a decent lunch. I might just have to skip it, even though that is the last thing you should do in marathon training.

Ugh. Get out of bed. NOW.

I flipped open my cell phone and shut it quickly, killing the alarm. I slipped out of bed and into some workout clothes, grabbing my hotel keycard as I headed out the door. A few minutes later, I was running along a park through downtown Milwaukee, closing in on the lakefront (if I correctly analized the free map the desk clerk gave me).

When road ended at the lake, I turned left and cruised along the water. As I ran, the sun began to rise and the water below glistened with dancing light. The path eventually took me through another park along the lake and there -- only a few steps from busy streets and tall buildings -- stood a deer, watching me as I ran by.

I was glad I went running this morning. It turned out to me a memorable trip.

I turned around and headed back the way I came, slowing to a stop at the doors of my hotel to end a good five-miler. With that out of the way, I could go on with the rest of my day without worrying about when I was going to get the scheduled run in. I might even be able to take a nice power nap before work.

My plane touched down in Pittsburgh a few hours later and I turned my phone on. It began to buzz with activity. What could possibly have happened while I was in the air? I listened to my voicemail and learned that the Blue Jays' manager had been fired. We needed a story on the site as soon as possible.

I would have rushed to my hotel, but it was out of my control. It's not like the plane will speed to the gate for you. The airport workers aren't going to rifle through all the luggage to find mine first and then sprint it to baggage claim for me. The cab driver isn't going to speed through traffic just because you... wait, yes he will.

In my hotel, I hopped online and banged out a quick story, made some calls and wrote some more. Lunch? Yeah, I got that run in, but lunch was not an option. I worked right through the time I had to go to the ballpark and, once I was there, the work only piled higher. I ended up being at the stadium well beyond my usual exit time.

It was just that kind of day. I was awake for nearly 24 hours. Man, did I ever wish I had just kept hitting the snooze in the morning. I was tired, aching, hungry and exhausted by the time I finally flopped down into yet another hotel bed in yet another city.

Did I regret the early-morning run? Not at all. It was the best part of my day.

But, thank God the program called for rest tomorrow.


A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to train for my first marathon. I began on this journey in the offseason before my third year on the beat and I wanted to do it right. That meant sticking to my training program without fail. Giving up alcohol. Eating right. I even stopped drinking pop.

Life on the road and in presbox dining rooms does not make this easy.

When people find out I run marathons (I've completed four now), the usual response is that I must be partially insane. If the conversation moves beyond the "You're crazy" stage, I'm typically asked why I started this all in the first place.

The short version? I have seen pressboxes and newsrooms filled with people who could not balance this type of job with staying healthy. Being on the road and stuck behind computers as much as we are, it is not always an easy to put your health first. Taking up marathoning might seem extreme, but it was my answer to this problem.

(The longer version includes more about me putting on a ton of weight once I started working at a newspaper in college and struggled with no longer playing organized sports. Since I began running and training for marathons way back in October of 2007, I have dropped around 40-50 pounds and am lighter than I was as a high school athlete.)

A few years into this now, I have regular running routes in most Major League cities. I love heading out along the Charles River in Boston, through a forest outside Seattle, up and down hills in San Francisco and beside the bay while staying in St. Petersburg. Along the way, I have logged more than 2,000 miles and have discovered so many cool places that I would have never found otherwise.

Why am I writing about this? Mainly because I just completed the Gasparilla Distance Classic in Tampa on Feb. 28. The marathon there was my fourth and my best yet. I finished in 3:43 for a new personal best, shaving more than 20 minutes off my previous mark. It was a gorgeous course along the water with perfect weather, and a great way to begin this baseball season.

It can be tough to balance life as a beat reporter and life as a runner, but I have found a way to make it work. And taking up marathoning turned out to be one of the best decisions I've ever made.

Next on my schedule? A fifth 26.2 in November.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Outdoorsman

Note from the Author: I have really enjoyed the early feedback I have received about this blog. That said, the nature of my job, not to mention the nature of life, sometimes make it difficult to post regularly. I hope to post more often as we get closer to and deeper into baseball's regular season. For now, my faithful readers will probably have to put up with sporadically-timed entries. I have a couple topics I want to write about sitting in the on-deck circle.

For now, I'll leave you with this...

I was killing time in a local bookstore, waiting for a friend to make his way across the Courtney Campbell Causeway and into Clearwater so we could go grab a few beers and shoot some pool. I didn't want to be at my condo -- it was infested with fleas. But that is a story for another day.

I wandered around, scanning the shelves for something to read for a few minutes. Being a sportswriter, I avoided the sports section of the bookstore as long as possible. I always try to find something in other areas first. Got to expand your horizons and all that.

But alas, I wound up in sports. You can't deny who you are, I guess.

The thing about the sports section at this particular store is it is tucked away in the far, back corner. I browsed the titles in football and basketball, and then searched for anything on running, especially with my fourth marathon right around the corner. Baseball is always the last section I scan for titles I haven't read.

I stumbled into the outdoors section and saw the book, "Into Thin Air," by John Krakauer. Knowing he also authored "Into the Wild," I picked up the tome, thumbed the pages to about the midway point and picked a random chapter to digest.

As I read, I felt the presence of what I thought was a couple people come around the corner and walk behind me. But, then one of them started talking.

"So," came a man's voice, "do you like to do a lot of outdoors stuff?"

I kept reading. I just assumed he was talking to the person he was with, but then it came again.

"Do you like outdoors stuff?" he repeated.

I looked up, and saw a 50-something, balding man standing alone, and positioned uncomfortably close to me.

I pointed at myself and said, "Me?" I hoped that somehow his awkward question was still intended for someone else, even though I was the only other person around.

"Yeah," he said. "You."

He pointed at the book I was reading, showing me the root of his inquiry.

"Um, not really," I said. "Just like this author."

He then began telling me about camping, and something else about mountains and, well, I'm not really sure. I had put the book on the shelf and was slowly walking backwards out of the aisle. I was a little creeped out. He may have been in the middle of a sentence when I said, "You have a nice day, sir," before heading out of sight.

This was either the friendliest man on earth. Or, some guy was hitting on me in the back corner of a bookstore.

I have all the luck.