Friday, August 24, 2012

My first press box experience: A night neither I - nor Barry Zito - will soon forget

Most sportswriters probably don’t write a cute little story about their first experience in a press box. My guess is they probably go about their business, furiously recording and taking notes, write their game stories and pretend like it was just another day.

That’s not going to be me. What can I say? I guess I’m a romantic for this kind of stuff. Growing up, I was the kid that loved to write. I would walk down to Long’s Drugs after a 49ers win to buy a copy of the morning newspaper and read the articles over 10 times before tacking them on my wall. I would have rather been the “PA announcer” for the recess stick ball games than actually play in them (I really did that, several times). Last night was special for me.

I was scheduled to meet Steve in front of the Dugout Store at 4 PM, so naturally, I decided that traffic would be terrible and left around 2:15. Of course I got to China Basin around 3, so I spent a good half an hour looking for a parking spot that was free. I settled for a metered spot in one of the more questionable neighborhoods about ten blocks from the park despite only having 40 cents in change. I said prayers that my car would still be there didn’t have a ticket when I got back.

My walk took me down to the Embarcadero, past the famous Red’s Java House and to the corner of 3rd and King, where I watched a gaggle of Braves fans stand around, waiting for a chance to see the team bus pull up. I stood there awkwardly, eavesdropping on their chatter until Steve arrived.

Pregame adventures

Once he showed up he led me to the room where we picked up our media credentials, then through the security gates and right into the bowels of AT&T Park. His gait was a little too fast for me; I was the guy with the hand that trembled when security checked my press pass. This was a lot to take in. I followed as we weaved our way through the halls, trying to remember my way (I accidentally forgot my breadcrumbs at home). The first place we went was out onto the field.

Stepping out onto the diamond was surreal. We made our way behind home plate, where we stood and chatted, waiting for manager Bruce Bochy to come out for his pregame question and answer. Madison Bumgarner hung out by the batter’s box conversing with Dave Righetti. Ryan Vogelsong emerged from the dugout, followed by Tim Lincecum. I did a great job at not staring, I have to say.

Eventually we went down into the dugout and settled in for Bochy’s interview. I stood behind Steve while the manager talked, gaining respect for those that cover the game with every word spoken. There was so much going on around me that it was hard to absorb what he was saying. At one point my focus drifted from the manager to Hunter Pence, who was talking to a young fan on the top steps of the dugout. He asked the kid if he grew up in “San Fran,” at which I cringed.

After Bochy was done talking to the media we made our way up to the press box, where Steve pulled something out of an otherwise bland interview and wrote his pregame post. I tinkered with my old, rusty laptop’s internet capabilities for nearly an hour, wishing I owned a Macbook. Once it was finally working we celebrated with a trip to the media’s dinner room, where I served myself way too much quinoa and tried not to stare at Duane Kuiper. He was standing with someone by the TV, commenting on the Little League World Series. Steve served himself seconds, trying to kill time before first pitch, but I set out by myself to head back down to the press box, an adventure that was chock full of nervous and awkward interactions.

Game time

It didn’t take long for me to make my first gaff as a member of the press. At the end of the Star Spangled Banner, I allowed myself to applaud. It lasted probably three seconds, but felt much longer; it wasn’t until I looked around, noticing that everyone in the press box had already returned to their respective workloads that I quickly stopped clapping. Hopefully no one noticed. I’m sure someone did.

Thankfully, that would be pretty much it for my struggles with celebration as a member of the media. Occasionally I’d let it slip – a fist pump here, a reactionary jump there; watching thousands of games as a fan makes cheering a part of your muscle memory.  It’s harder to turn off than you’d think.

The game was filled with weirdness, from Atlanta’s defensive gaffs to Pagan’s continued bonfire at the plate and even a “BAR-RY” chant in the 8th inning (without Mr. Bonds in attendance).  If you’re interested, BASG handled the game, and naturally I handled the ode to Zito.

Ultimately the Giants won, which according to Steve boded well for my clubhouse experience.  We quickly abandoned our laptops in the press box and made our way downstairs.

So about those postgame interactions…

First we headed to the room where Bochy’s postgame press conference was held. We sat silently awaiting Bochy’s arrival. I always expected that the manager would be ushered in by team cronies, but instead he just walked in by himself and sat down, immediately fielding questions from the surprisingly small crowd. The way these interviews ended was the oddest part – once there was a short period of silence, Bochy just nodded to the crowd, uttering the words “alright, then,” and suddenly everyone cleared out.

From there we entered the clubhouse. Steve told me that it would be pretty lively, but that wasn’t the case. Joaquin Arias was making his way out the door as we walked in, and there weren’t many players around as we swarmed Barry Zito.

The lefty gave us a look like we were about to sandpaper off his cheeks as we approached, but he answered every question pretty graciously nonetheless. Once we were done with Zito, we stood around in a circle with other members of the media, quietly pondering who to talk to next. Steve grabbed Javier Lopez for a one-on-one interview, which I observed from the side. Matt Cain and Ryan Theriot both bombed the interview, running by and making faces to the camera as they passed. I stood in for interviews with Hector Sanchez and Pablo Sandoval, but I didn’t ask anything. It wasn’t until we talked to Sergio Romo that I spoke up.  Romo was wearing one of those “creepy guy” 49ers hats, which Steve asked him about. I spotted a 49ers jersey in his locker, so I asked him about that too. He said it was a “Joe Mon-Tanya jersey… greatest linebacker in the NFL – just kidding.” Romo was a good interview. I felt comfortable in his presence.

After the clubhouse we headed back up to the press box, where all the writers sat at their laptops, furiously working on their write-ups. At one point the lights went out on the stadium, leaving a dark backdrop for my newest workspace. I met that with surprise, but everyone else was used to it. It was nothing new to them.

I didn’t end up finishing my post and packing up my laptop until around 11:45. I spent the next 15 minutes wandering around the halls of AT&T Park, testing several different exits to no avail. God bless the friendly vendor who showed me my way out; if he hadn’t, I’d probably still be there.

Then it was just me and the cool San Francisco night.  My brisk walk back to my car lasted about 15 minutes and ended with me finding my car unscathed and ticketless. I listened to the midnight replay of my first covered game on the way home, but really it was just background noise. I kept replaying the surreal evening in my head.

Hopefully the novelty of an experience like that never wears off for me, though I’m sure it will at some point. Eventually I’ll be that jaded guy, completely unfazed by Buster Posey walking by me in the clubhouse, or Duane Kuiper passing me in the hallways, nodding hello. Returning home, I put my press pass in a safe place; I don’t want to lose it. That pass will always be a reminder I won’t need, of a night I will never forget.

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