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.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Melk-pun free reflection on Cabrera's suspension

Pre-Blog Note:  I haven’t written anything for this site in a while (I know, I know, what a tragedy) – what can I say?  I’ve taken on a larger role at Bay Area Sports Guy and have really been enjoying it.  Life doesn’t always allow me to spend large portions of everyday blogging about sports, so I write when I can, and what I write I put on BASG. 
Given both the severity of this situation, and the fact that BASG (a 5-tool blogger in his own right) was already at the park and on the case when the suspension came down, I really didn’t have anything more to add on his site.  Nevertheless, I have some thoughts on the situation, so consider this my triumphant (but probably brief) return to the Ruthless Sports blog.

Okay, let’s get to it

The shockwaves of Melky Cabrera’s 50-game suspension for a positive testosterone test have surely reached anyone reading this blog by now. It is the biggest news in the sports world today – especially in the Bay Area.  Cabrera was the fasted rising star that San Francisco has seen in years, not only because of his immediate production but because of how he sustained it.

Melky’s on-field performances were not of the Gregor Blanco variety – that is, fun but short-lasted.  Cabrera started hitting immediately and kept right on hitting.  The movement for resigning Cabrera was large, loud and rabid.  There were concerns that the Giants couldn’t even afford him after the 2012 season that he’s had.

So much for that

Giants ownership – a group larger than the headcount in my community college statistics class – is already a hard bargain when it comes to shelling out money for players.  To make matters worse, nearly every risk that ownership has taken in signing free agent players to big contracts has resulted in disaster (see: Rowand, Aaron).

This is obviously speculation – as no one except Melky really knows how long he has been using performance enhancing drugs – but Cabrera’s numbers definitely indicate a questionable spike in his 2011 turnaround season with Kansas City.  His OBP/SLG/OPS jumped significantly - .317/.354/.671 in 2010 (ATL) to .339/.470/.809 in 2011.  The numbers were even better with the Giants in 2012 – Cabrera was hitting .390/.516/.906.

Knowing what we know now, signing Cabrera to anything longer than a one year deal would be a ridiculous risk.  We know that he was a player that underperformed and had issues with his weight early in his career.  We know that he got in shape and turned his game around in eyebrow-raising fashion.  We know that, at some point in time, he used a performance enhancing drug to get better.  The question remains – will he revert to his post-2011 form when he returns from his suspension and PEDs are no longer an option? The risk may be too large for Brian Sabean – or more importantly, Giants ownership – to take.

The ripple effect

Hopefully most savvy Giants fans (and I’m assuming that if you’re reading this, you’re savvy) avoided shelling out 150 bucks to buy a Melky jersey.  Of course, some fans did.  Oh, the humanity.

The effects of this suspension will be felt from the luxury boxes all the way out to the parking lots. As I predicted, the Giants marketing staff went nuts with the word “Melk” and produced a ton of gear catering to Cabrera’s following.  The Melkmen, the group of Cabrera fans that became a staple at the ballpark, will have to look for new employment a new player to get behind.  And the small companies making a name for themselves through the Melk movement (like LND Apparel) will have to find something to do with those creative clothing options that probably won’t sell now.  This suspension was an enormous blow to this franchise and its fan base, and we haven’t even talked about the team yet.

Moving on from Melky

Cabrera’s absence in the lineup doesn’t leave it completely devoid of pop, but it is a major blow.  Alex Pavlovic reported on Twitter that the Giants will be optioning Dan Otero to AAA Fresno and calling up two hitters tomorrow.  The names of those players have yet to be announced, but you have to assume that OF Justin Christian will be one of them.  Brett Pill is another option; they just love to call up Brett Pill. 

In the meantime, Gregor Blanco will be seeing a significant amount of play in left field.  Although it will have to do, it won’t replace the production that Cabrera was providing.  Blanco went 2-for-4 in the Giants loss to the Nationals today, but he was 0 for his previous 20 at bats.

Beyond Blanco, the Giants will need Hunter Pence to start producing, Pablo Sandoval to stay healthy and Brandon Belt to keep his newfound poise at the plate alive (and maybe start running the bases a little smarter, too).  As for Buster Posey?  He’s the guy who’s had to put the team on his shoulders more than a few times in his still-young career.  It looks like he’ll have to do it again.

Speaking of the Giants’ catcher – how does Posey feel about Cabrera’s suspension?

“It was just a bad decision,” Posey said.  “I’m not really going to say more than that.”