“Is this heaven?” John Kinsella asks as he takes in the flawless baseball field.
“It’s Iowa,” Ray Kinsella answers.
“Iowa? I could have sworn this was heaven.” John responds.
“Is there a heaven?”
“Oh yeah. It’s the place where dreams come true.”
“Maybe this is heaven…”
All my life, I’ve been hearing about this one, absolute heaven that everyone seems to be striving for. If you follow certain guidelines, and if you are an all around good humanitarian, the idea is that you will probably get there.
I’m not trying to offend anyone who is devoutly religious–I respect that–but I don’t believe in one absolute heaven (or hell for that matter). That doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in a heaven though; I think I just mean that “heaven” is a subjective word. I agree with John Kinsella: heaven is the “place where dreams come true,” but not everyone’s dream is the same.
I also used to believe that there was no such thing as heaven on earth. I thought that being at a baseball game came pretty close, but my dream was not coming true as I sat and watched a game. Many of you know that my dream is to leave my mark on the baseball world. I think my ultimate goal might be to put the love that we have for baseball into words. My dream, in the most simplest terms, is to be surrounded by baseball all day long.
The week that I spent shadowing people associated with the media reaffirmed my passion. That week shattered my belief that heaven did not exist on earth. If heaven is the place where dreams come true, then I found heaven because my dreams came true.
On Monday, I was afforded the opportunity to shadow the radio broadcaster for the Pawtucket Red Sox, Steve Hyder. I arrived at the ballpark around 4 pm, and he met me in the lobby. We immediately walked down to the field for the team picture. After that, we went down to the locker room so that we could do the pregame press conference with the manager, Torey Lovullo.
The conference was in Mr. Lovullo’s office, and a handful of reporters gathered and asked him questions. Many players had done their rehab assignments that week, so many of the questions focused on that. Lovullo described Josh Beckett’s pre-game routine as “impressive” and possibly the best that he has seen.
I think that Red Sox fans can be really hard on Josh Beckett sometimes–especially this year since he started out poorly, and then went on to miss ten weeks after signing a four year, $68 million contract. I’ll be the first one to admit that I’ve been disappointed with Beckett’s situation, but just hearing the way that Lovullo spoke about Beckett’s routine on a game day really gave me a new perspective.
Adam Mills was supposed to start that game, but he was scratched, and Mark Holliman was called up from Single-A for a spot start. When asked about that, Lovullo said that Adam Mills had been a “horse,” and that he hadn’t missed a start this season, so it was basically a way to give him a rest since everyone is a little beat up at that point in the season.
When asked about Jed Lowrie, Lovullo said that he “look[ed] like a major leaguer.” One of the things I found the most interesting was that Lovullo had Mr. Hyder stay behind after the conference (so I was able to stay too). The biggest difference between the broadcasters and the writers, as I learned, is that the broadcasters are literally part of the team. Steve and Dan (Hoard) literally travel with the team, so a large sense of trust develops among them and the players. I found out from that conversation that Lowrie was going to get called up the next day, but I had to keep my mouth shut about it. That was a really cool experience to have inside information like that.
As we were leaving the locker room, Lars Anderson turned to me and said, “the girl with the sunglasses!” I couldn’t believe that he remembered me all the way back from Spring Training. We had a great time catching up, talking about my “Johnny Cash” sunglasses, as he calls them. He seemed to be in a bit of a time warp because he seemed fairly convinced that it was still May. He asked me if I was still in school.
Steven’s usual broadcasting partner, Dan Hoard, was doing a television segment for Monday and Tuesday night, so Steve was joined by Mike Logan. I swear I learned more in my two days in Pawtucket then I did my entire junior year (except for English class, because I learned how to write).
When I walked over to the television area of the press box to see Dan, I was really surprised to see Jim Lonborg in the press box. I only got to meet him for a brief second, but I couldn’t believe that I was meeting Red Sox royalty.
If I learned how to write my junior year, I learned how to watch a baseball game this summer. I’ll never watch a baseball game in the same way. I did not know that the writers and broadcasters scored the games. You watch baseball in a completely different way as a writer or a broadcaster. It’s almost like you’re looking for certain things, and that’s why scoring helps so much. If you see that someone is having a multi-hit game, then you can go back to old box scores online and see if anything correlates because that adds something interesting to the story or to the broadcast.
Before the game, Steve was going through the game notes and highlighting interesting tidbits so that he could talk about it on the radio. After sitting in for a game in the press box with him and Mike, I gained even more respect for radio broadcasters than I already had. If you’re a TV broadcaster, it’s more of filling in the blanks, but on the radio, you have to paint the picture; you have to describe everything. Steve was saying that he kind of does a stream of consciousness thing when he broadcasts. It can get even tougher if your team is getting killed because, according to Steve, those games are the hardest to broadcast.
The next day, ProJo writer Brian MacPherson was kind enough to take me under his wing. I got to the ballpark at 4 pm again, and after we set up in the press box, we walked down to the field. It was really great to be able to talk to him about UNC Chapel Hill because at first, I wasn’t whether I wanted to apply or not, but now it’s among my top schools. He said that being a writer involves a lot of waiting, which makes it kind of like getting autographs for me. Brian was the first reporter on the field, and he said that he likes to get there early because the players see you, and know that you’re dedicated.
Sportswriting and getting autographs share some of the same qualities in that sense. When I’m seeking autographs, I always try and arrive as early as possible so that the players see me and know that I’m dedicated. It also involves a lot of waiting because you never want to interrupt a player’s routine.
Brian also said that spending time in both Pawtucket and with the big league club helps because when guys get called up, they remember him, so they feel more comfortable around him.
I’ve experienced a similar scenario with speaking with players. When guys like Dustin Richardson and Michael Bowden are called up, they still remember me from spring training, and I think that really helps with the trust/comfort factor.
When setting up interviews with players (which is all a matter of asking), Brian is really specific about the time, so that the player doesn’t blow him off, or if he does–he feels bad about it.
As we were standing on the field, watching batting practice in an otherwise empty stadium, Lars came over to say hello, and asked how I liked the view from the press box.
Brian was kind enough to share the best advice that he had received, which was basically to try new things and to be innovative. It sounds simple, but being innovative can be very daunting. At the same time, though, trying new things sets you apart from the other mainstream writers. He also stressed the importance of asking questions and how it is an underrated art.
He also stressed the importance of never finishing somebody’s sentence when you’re interviewing them. Your word isn’t necessarily the right word, or the word that the player is looking for. He also said that while he does prepare some topics to discuss before an interview, that a lot of it involves follow up questions too.
Brian taught me even more about watching a baseball game. You see, he doesn’t just score a game. He literally writes down every pitch, its speed, its location, and whether it was a ball or strike. I was absolutely amazed by how intricately he watches a game, and it took me a couple of games to get it down, but it truly helps when you’re writing a game story.
When we were in the locker room doing interviews, he encouraged me to ask questions, and he considered my suggestions for questions to ask Josh Reddick. For his interview with Josh Reddick, he didn’t just ask Reddick about his mechanics. He also asked the hitting coach and the manager. I think that he got a really solid perspective on Josh Reddick from asking multiple sources, including Reddick himself.
Reddick said that the “was just what I needed, to go home and get baseball out of my mind and forget everything.” He “went back home and turned the cell phone off and did some fishing and did some kneeboarding and wakeboarding and did the redneck thing.”
Here is what he had to say about his spring training experience: “If you set your expectations too high and you don’t succeed, it’s not going to work out for you and you’re going to be disappointed. I just tried to go in there and, when I played, play hard and have good at-bats and hit the ball hard, hopefully. If I made the team, great. But if it didn’t work out for like it did, I was still going to be happy because I was the last one sent down and on the last day, so that was a huge accomplishment for a 23-year-old, I feel like.”
Talking with Reddick really made me realize how much baseball has to do with luck. Sometimes you have really good at-bats, but you don’t get a good break. A big part about being a baseball player is being able to bounce back and not get frustrated: “Early on, it was rough. I got out of my rhythm a lot. After April, even though the numbers don’t show, I’ve had really great at-bats. I’ve hit a lot of balls hard, and it just hasn’t worked out for me. It’s going to do that. Then you go to last night where I didn’t hit one single ball hard and got jammed three times and got three hits out of it. Hopefully that’s a sign of things evening out for me. You can’t get mad about having good at-bats and hitting the ball hard.”
He changed his mechanics about two and a half weeks before the interview. When you hear from the player himself about exactly what he was doing wrong, and exactly how he fixed it really just helped me understand the game of baseball more. This is what Josh had to say about his mechanics: “My big problem is jumping at the ball. When I was wide and bent down more, I felt myself toe-tapping and coming straight up as opposed to staying down on the ball. I’ve always been a guy who’s been a straight-up hitter, standing up, bending the knees very, very slightly, and then just driving into it. Two weeks ago, my mental skills coach, Bob Tewksbury, talked to me and was like, ‘What are you doing? I’m used to seeing you stand straight up and throwing your hands (at the ball).’ It’s not the stance that’s going to change the thing. It’s all about where you finish. But I feel a lot more comfortable standing straight up because I feel like I see the pitches a lot better.”
If Reddick has a significantly better second half than his first, you will know why. After the game, we went down for the post-game press conference with Lovullo, and I worked up the courage to ask him a question. I was the only female “reporter” for those two days, and I’m only 17-years old. To be completely honest, it was slightly intimidating, but mainly because I didn’t want to sound stupid. I asked him about Kason Gabbard’s mechanics and how they have changed over the years, or in this year in particular. He said it was a good question, but he didn’t really know the answer since this was his first year with the organization.
Brian and I also spoke with Hermida (who has just been DFA’d). He is not the most charismatic of folks, but he was still very nice about everything. He had provided the team with a really nice spread. I asked him again about his first major league at-bat, and this time I was able to hear him when he said that he hit the grand slam on the third pitch.
As you can see, I don’t have many pictures from my two days in Pawtucket. To be honest, the reason was that it didn’t feel right to be snapping pictures in the press box or in the locker room. I wasn’t there as a fan, I was there as an observer, as a writer.
The view from the press box was practically surreal for me. I don’t think there’s anything quite like it. What I appreciated most from both Steve and Brian was that they truly let me shadow them. They never said, “stay here while I go interview this guy.” They encouraged me, and included me in every respect.
My dreams came true on not only those two nights in Pawtucket, but also during the four days I worked in Portland, which I will address next time. Press passes are the ticket to my heaven. I was given a taste of heaven–I lived my dream. If heaven is the place where dreams come true, then I found it. I’m going to live my dream.