This is pretty awesome.
On Sundays, the Indians open the clubhouse to the players’ kids after the game. ALL kids — sons and daughters. Apparently, the “no girls allowed” mantra that has infiltrated clubhouses for generations is slowly dissipating.
Kids’ presence in the clubhouse, before and after games, is nothing new. Sons of players have always been invited in, especially after a win. You’ll see them hanging on the couches watching TV, or spinning in the chair at pop’s locker, or chowing down in the dining area. (One of my favorite images is of a five-year-old Carlos Lee mini-mi, that little round cherubic face holding three bags of potato chips grinning like he just won the pre-K lottery).
It’s a nice thing for the kids. The players are gone so much, unable to really have a normal family life during Spring Training and baseball season. Those few precious moments that a kid can tag along with dad loom large. Being able to bring the kids to work, and hand them off to mom before the game, helps create just a little more normalcy in a life that is anything but normal.
But through the years, it always bugged me. What about the girls?
Obviously, the clubhouse isn’t an ideal environment for a girl. Grown men changing out of their uniforms isn’t exactly something you can introduce to your eight year old daughter.
The Indians came up with a simple plan that eradicates that issue. The guys hang their street clothes on a rack that the clubhouse manager wheels into the shower area after the game. Players shower and change into their clothes in there, instead of at their lockers.
It’s a wonder no one had come up with that idea earlier. Not only do I love this, I love that the players thought up the idea and were in full support. Today, there are legions of grown men who grew up in clubhouses because dear old dad was lucky enough to play Major League Baseball for a living. They have a lifetime of great memories hanging out with sons of other players, watching dad work, and spending quality time that they wouldn’t have had if they hadn’t been allowed to tag along.
Why shouldn’t daughters grow up with the same memories?
For every Reid Ryan, Jose Cruz Jr., Conor and Cavan Biggio and all of those K sons of Roger Clemens, there was a Peyton Everett, Quinn Biggio, Sophie Ausmus, Mia Blum and Hannah Berkman.
During the mid-2000s, the Astros’ roster was comprised mostly of players who had only daughters. Lots and lots of lots of daughters. Doug Brocail had five. Adam Everett, three. Brad Ausmus, two. Jeff Bagwell, two. Geoff Blum, four. Roy Oswalt, three. Lance Berkman, four.
Wouldn’t it have been nice for them to hang out with dad on the occasional Sunday?
Good for the Indians. Here’s hoping more teams follow suit.
If you have been a follower of the Astros, Padres or Reds, you may remember Ricky Stone, a right-handed relief pitcher who pitched in the Majors from 2001-07. He quietly put together a pitching career that didn’t grab many headlines, but what he and his family have been through lately could fill a 300-page book, that sadly, doesn’t end with happily ever after.
Ricky’s wife, Tracey, recently passed away after a long battle with cancer. Her courage and upbeat spirit through that ordeal is heroic enough on its face, but the fact that she started this journey just after Ricky had battled — and beaten — brain cancer makes you wonder how two good people, living a good, decent life, raising two young kids, were handed not one, but two challenges unimaginable to most of us.
Ricky had been out of baseball for about a year in 2008 when he visited some of his old friends with the Astros while the team was playing in Cincinnati (the Stones live in a Cincinnati suburb). I remember seeing Ricky sitting at a locker and chatting with Roy Oswalt and thinking he didn’t look quite right. He was a little thin and there was just something about his facial expressions that seemed a tad off. I went on about my day and didn’t give it much thought after that.
Oswalt pitched that night and won, and as he addressed reporters at his locker after the game, it was obvious something was very wrong. Oswalt gave three or four rambling sentences about the start — being a pretty media-savvy veteran, he knew what we needed from him without us having to ask many questions — and then he bolted out the door.
The next day, we found out why. After Ricky left the ballpark, he went home, collapsed and suffered a full grand mal seizure brought on by what turned out to be a malignant brain tumor. Tracey, upstairs giving the kids a bath, ran down and saved him by administering CPR.
Dozens of chemo treatments and a little more than a year later, Ricky was declared cancer-free. Another 18 months went by and then Tracy received her diagnosis: ovarian cancer.
Being a cancer patient didn’t stop Tracey from being a mother. She maintained an even-handed attitude as she made life as normal for her kids as possible, in a way that only a mother knows how. She blogged about her challenges, her pain, her chemo, her trips to Houston for treatments at M.D. Anderson, and most importantly, her optimism as she held on to her deep faith and desire to run a happy household regardless of what obstacles came her way.
She and her daughter, Lily, even started a charity to raise money for women who could not afford wigs after chemo. In the first five hours of the fundraiser, they raised more than $17,000.
Friends are now organizing a fundraiser for the Stones, and when I heard about what the money would be used for, I couldn’t donate fast enough. And now I ask that if you can, please consider helping out too.
The funeral home preserved Tracey’s fingerprint. From it, they can make jewelry items for the family members. Ricky’s memento will be a silver ring wrapped with Tracey’s fingerprint and engraved with “Always in my Heart.” Lily’s will be a silver pendant with Tracey’s fingerprint, and son Riley’s will be a dog tag with Tracey’s fingerprint on the front. The engraving on both will read “A Touch of Mom Forever.”
Tracey loved the beach, and incidentally, her last trip was just a few weeks earlier to the west coast to visit some friends they made through baseball. The above picture is of Tracey and Lily, on the beach, forming a heart with their arms.
Tracey’s final wish was for her family to take a journey to the beach together to spread her ashes. The family’s friends are rallying to make sure this happens, along with ensuring Ricky, Lily and Riley receive their mementos.
We look at ballplayers and immediately assume they’re all multimillionaires from day one. That’s not the way it works. Ricky pitched a short time and he made a modest living. Medical expenses piled up, and though they have received tremendous help from friends in the game and from the Baseball Assistance Team (who I refer to as Angels on Earth), these are lean times.
Here is the link to donate…and thank you.
Most of what we know about Lou Gehrig and the disease that ended his life at age 37 centers around a few basic facts that have been well-documented in history books and through story-telling.
There was the noticeable decline in his performance on the field that led to an abrupt retirement at age 35. And, of course, his farewell speech on July 4, 1939, that ended with “Today I consider myself the luckiest man of the face of the earth,” which still, to this day, is considered the epitome of bravery and class in sports.
We know that the devastating effects of what is today best known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” — officially amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — came on quickly, debilitated him completely, and ended his life too soon, only two years after the original diagnosis.
But there are other parts of this story that haven’t been as well-documented and are just as fascinating, and tell a lot more about Lou Gehrig, the person.
He was, at his core, a normal man, dealing with his disease in the same manner as many who are afflicted with something that eventually could be, or undoubtedly will be, fatal. He followed doctor’s orders to the letter while finding a balance between dealing with the disease with some degree of optimism, while also being realistic about where he may be headed.
In other words, he was just like the rest of us.
A letter Gehrig wrote to Paul O’Leary, the doctor who diagnosed him with ALS at the Mayo Clinic, gives a touching glimpse as to what Gehrig was going through at the time. It showed Gehrig’s tremendous sense of humor and realness, like when he assured his doctor more than once that he was most definitely NOT drinking beer while taking the medication they were hoping would slow the effects of the disease.
This letter, and hundreds of other unique memorabilia items, is up for bid through an online auction held by SCP Auctions, located in southern California. Being a somewhat nutty baseball history buff, I took a ride to their headquarters on Friday to check out some of the swag in person. Gehrig’s letter was by far the coolest thing on display, which is saying a lot, considering other items included game-worn jerseys belonging to Sandy Koufax and Hank Aaron and Satchel Paige’s Hall of Fame ring.
Parts of Gehrig’s letter were heartbreaking. He wrote about how great he felt from the Thiamin injections, and you can really feel how hopeful he was that this would be a miracle cure of sorts. We know now, of course, that those Thiamin injections were nothing more than vitamins, giving a placebo effect rather than offering a real cure.
“Please understand I have taken approximately only eighteen or nineteen to date, and the results almost make me dread the day when I shall have to stop them,” Gehrig wrote. “If Dr. Gehrig were prescribing for Lou Gehrig he would urge the continuation of these injections.”
Gehrig went on to describe that what normally made him tired in the morning — brushing his teeth, shaving, combing his hair, buttoning buttons — was somewhat lessened from the Thiamin. Driving became easier, his energy levels were higher at night and the shaking had largely subsided.
You can hear the urgency through his words, as he was clearly trying to convince his doctor to continue the injections, indefinitely.
Gehrig’s medical issues, amazingly, didn’t deter him from also working to accommodate his doctor and some friends with World Series tickets, and he sounded genuinely concerned with making sure O’Leary could logistically get there in time for the games.
Other things we now know about Gehrig: he liked to use the term “swell guy,” he had a tremendous ability to spell, and he was funny: “Another prospective customer is Harry Geisel,” Gehrig wrote as a P.P.S. “A swell guy even though he is an umpire.”
The letter came from the estate of Dr. O’Leary, which sold it a few years ago before it was obtained by SCP Auctions. Some other items up for bid — specifically, Paige’s Hall of Fame ring, and Babe Ruth’s gold pocket watch from the 1948 celebration of the 25th anniversary of the opening of “The House That Ruth Built,” came directly from the families.
The auction, which runs until 10 p.m. ET on Saturday, includes hundreds of items, from the more affordable to the really high-end and exorbitant. Some of the memorabilia came from the Newport Sports Museum Collection, consisting of more than 10,000 game-used artifacts from every major sport.
There’s some great stuff here. But I am partial to Gehrig’s letter, which begins with a line I might text to a buddy on my lunch break:
“Dear Paul: Just a note to say ‘hello’ and find out how you all are…The best I hope. And before I go any further may I frankly assure you that I haven’t even had ONE beer.”
Other cool stuff:
Many years ago, I titled this photo “Puma being Puma.”
It was a combination of a nod to who Lance Berkman was as a professional and a person — affable, fun, kind and a free spirit — and a slight jab at the phrase being thrown about in the media ad nauseam to describe the malcontent Manny Ramirez had become. “Manny being Manny” became a sort of rally cry for anyone who was trying to figure out why Ramirez acted out in ways that made him somewhat of an undesirable teammate. A once well-liked player, Ramirez had turned into somewhat of a pain for teammates and support staffers, all which were met with a collective non-committal shrug — as in, “Well, that’s just Manny being Manny.” ‘
Puma being Puma, on the other hand, was a very, very good thing, and it served us all well during his time spent in a Major League uniform. He was fun to watch play and was a tremendous subject to cover as a reporter, if only for his refusal to use clichés and give non-informational information. He was, for the most part, an open book, exceedingly honest even when his views drew criticism.
But what I love most about this picture is how and why it was taken to begin with. I’ve known Berkman, quite literally, from day one of his pro career. The first press conference I attended as a member of the Astros media relations office in 1997 was the one that announced Berkman, the club’s first-round Draft pick that year, had signed.
As time went on, and the Internet changed the way baseball is covered, visual effects became a driving force in the media. I had a camera with me for most of the years I covered the Astros for MLB.com, and as social media hit the landscape (and, for a few years, became my job), photographs weren’t just a nice supplement to the coverage. They were essential and relevant, and played a huge role in driving traffic to our web site and blogs.
That’s how I established such a love-hate relationship with Puma. He loved me. He hated my camera.
Oh sure, he was good-natured about it and for the most part went along with it, doing his best to ignore the camera while going about his business on a typical work day. But I was annoying. Most of the time, he laughed it off, but invariably, I knew that on most game days, I was going to get at least one eye roll from the Big Puma.
“Footer, would you get that stupid camera out of my face,” he’d politely request. “I’m just giving the people what they want,” I’d answer. “People want a thousand pictures of me taking BP?” he’d respond. “Well…yes,” I’d explain.
And so it was. This never became a huge issue, mainly because he respected me, I respected him, and we genuinely liked each other. And as the years went on, his annoyance gave way to a new determination — not so much to get me to put the camera down, but rather to dodge it as much as humanly possible.
The end result? A collection of shots of the back of Berkman’s head, or just a big empty space of nothing after he jumped out of the way at the last second. It cracked him up and after a while, the camera didn’t irritate him anymore. It just made him laugh.
So one day at Spring Training, during another mind-numbing session of batting practice, Puma was in full-force camera-dodge mode. I’d point it toward him, and he’d jump to the left. Then to the right. He’d duck, turn his back, run away…and he succeeded, every time. So finally, I turned my back to him, pretended to look toward the visiting dugout, put the camera in the air, backward, and took a photo. I had no idea where I was pointing or if he was even still standing there.
It turned out to be the very best picture I ever took of him (and explains why the top of his cap is cut off).
Berkman’s retirement announcement brought forth thoughtful, moving columns about why he was so well-liked as a player. We respected his athletic abilities, but appreciated his decency as a human being even more. As the Astros organize a formal event at the ballpark this season to honor him, we’ll read more and more about his terrific career. It’s all deserved.
But as soon as I heard Puma had made the retirement official, all I could think about were the pictures. There is an album on my Facebook page titled, “My favorite ‘Stop taking pictures of me’ pictures of the Puma.” That collection, plus many more taken since then, will serve as a reminder of how much genuine laughter we all shared during the years Berkman was an Astro.
Emptying the notebook after a fantastic Civil Rights weekend in Chicago, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington…
Is college baseball hurting the Major Leagues?
The Civil Rights roundtable discussion last Friday at the Chicago Cultural Center touched on several talking points, one being that the lack of African-American ballplayers in the Major Leagues can be attributed partly to the lack of substantial baseball scholarships offered at the collegiate level. Most baseball programs don’t offer full rides, opting instead to utilize partial scholarships that not only don’t fully cover tuition, but don’t provide enough for books, room and board, etc.
This deters a large population of the young athletes who can’t otherwise afford it from pursuing baseball. They go the football/basketball route, where scholarship money is more plentiful.
“It sets the African-American baseball player back 15 years,” said MLB Network’s Harold Reynolds, who moderated the roundtable discussion. “These days a lot of teams like to draft college players and not high school players, and you just cut the legs off of African-American players.”
The notion that baseball has become too expensive would have been laughed at one or two generations ago. But not anymore. The intensity level of competition seems to have increased over the years, with select and traveling teams often the only way for a kid to participate in competitive organized baseball. This costs money. And subsequently, it eliminates a huge number of kids from being able to pursue baseball in earnest.
Longtime sports columnist Michael Wilbon, a veteran newspaper man perhaps best known for his work as half of the duo on ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption,” was the keynote speaker at the Beacon Awards Luncheon honoring Bo Jackson and Aretha Franklin on Saturday. A native Chicagoan, Wilbon spoke passionately about his love for baseball as a kid growing up on the south side. Apparently, he could play a little, too.
“I thought I was unhittable,” he said. “Until this tank of a kid — five-foot-six, 200 pounds…he crushed a pitch that I threw about 370 feet.” Wilbon asked a teammate after the game who that kid was.
“Somebody said, ‘You don’t know who that is?’” Wilbon recalled. “‘It’s Puckett. Kirby Puckett.’
Wilbon laughed as he remembered responding, ‘OK. Let’s keep track of him.”
Fast forward 10 years. Wilbon was now a sports reporter for the Washington Post and, upon walking into the Minnesota Twins clubhouse, Puckett approached him.
“He said, ‘Don’t I know you? You look familiar,’” Wilbon recalled. “I said ‘Nah. It’s got to be someone else. We’ve never seen each other.”
Wilbon was a White Sox fan, but later rooted for the Cubs as well, despite a disturbing incident his father encountered many years earlier at Wrigley Field. An avid Cubs fan at the time, Wilbon’s dad attempted to buy a ticket to watch Jackie Robinson’s first game at Wrigley, but he was, according to Wilbon, “shooed away from the box office.”
Apparently, the racism Robinson experienced as the first black player in the big leagues extended to the grandstands as well.
Hank Aaron, as has been well-documented, had to deal with unspeakable racism during his pursuit of Babe Ruth’s home run record. He heard the taunts from the stands and received terrible, threatening, hateful letters from the lowest of the low, many of which included death threats that promised not only to affect him, but his family, too.
Yet to hear Aaron talk about it today, he feels anything he had to endure was nothing compared to what Robinson had to deal with when he broke the color barrier in 1947.
“Listen, I just went through a little tidbit of what Jackie went through…I had nothing,” Aaron said before the Beacon Awards luncheon. “All I had to do was walk out there and hit a baseball, go back in somewhere and hide and go back out the next day and hit another baseball. Jackie had some tough times. I happened to play against him the last two or three years that he played. He probably had the toughest of all.”
On a lighter note, Aaron asked by a local reporter to conjure up any fond memories of his time playing at Chicago-based Wrigley Field, remembered one particular game that left him, at the time, speechless.
“The thing I remember most about playing at Wrigley Field was hitting probably the hardest ball I ever hit in my life off Kenny Holtzman when he pitched a no-hitter,” Aaron said. “I thought for sure I hit a home run, and the wind blew it right back.
Aaron felt like it could have cleared the bleachers. But, no.
“It was the hardest ball I ever hit,” he said. “I don’t know how it stayed in the ballpark.”
Aaron was also quick to add that he was Holtzman’s final obstacle before nailing down the no-hitter: “He wasn’t afraid to pitch to me. He came right back and got me out for the last out.”
Hall of Famer Frank Robinson was just entering the big leagues when Jackie Robinson was nearing retirement, and other than the two taking a picture together before a game, they didn’t cross paths as active players.
“My manager took me over and we posed for a picture, but after that, it was business as usual,” Frank Robinson said. “I believed in not fraternizing with the opposition while you’re in uniform.”
That changed once Jackie was finished with his playing career. Frank visited him at his office when Jackie was working for Chock Full O’Nuts.
“I spent a couple of hours with him just talking about baseball, about life, about the game away from the field and what the responsibilities were of me coming in and people of my color coming in at the time,” Robinson said. “Our responsibilities on and off the field. Really, it was the only time I talked to him.”
Spend five minutes talking with Sharon Robinson, Jackie’s daughter, and it becomes apparent she’s a true slice of living history, with amazingly moving anecdotes about her father.
Jackie was of course well-known for the impact he had on Major League Baseball, but what he did once he retired shouldn’t be overlooked. After retiring in 1957, he really had two full-time jobs: as an executive for Chock Full O’Nuts, and as an advocate for the Civil Rights movement that took up almost as much time.
Jackie had a deal with his boss that he would be allowed to take off work to fulfill commitments all over the country as a Civil Rights Movement spokesman. In his free time, he and his family hosted jazz concerts at their home to raise money for various organizations as well as for families of victims of hate crimes.
The first guest? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., not long after he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington.
“It was an unbelievable moment in our lives to see him at the March on Washington and then to see him up close and personal and see he was a warm and engaging person,” Sharon remembered.
Jackie Robinson died before a Major League Baseball team hired its first black manager, but he spent the final years of his life tirelessly pressing the league to break down that barrier, as well. His last statement to baseball was, according to Sharon, “I’m glad we’re celebrating the 25th anniversary [of his debut]. We might have broken this color barrier but still, I’m looking out there and there are no black managers.”
“He was still egging them on at the last moment,” Sharon said. “That baseball has to continue to change. That America has to continue to change.”
It was 2004. The Astros were in Atlanta. And they were celebrating.
That last part alone was remarkable. For years, there were very few reasons for the Astros to be celebrating in Atlanta. Whether it was the regular season, or, more significantly, the postseason, the only thing that happened to the Astros in Atlanta of any import was their ability to quietly pack up their belongings and get the heck out of town as quickly as possible.
The Astros never won in Atlanta. Even in their best seasons, they’d go there and get thumped, two, sometimes, three games. And the playoffs? Bah. Pick a year: 1997, 1999, 2001. Different seasons, same results. The Astros were, simply, the Braves’ personal punching bag.
That is, until 2004. The scene in the clubhouse was chaotic. The Astros finally did it — they beat the Braves in the Division Series, and they spent the next hour or so destroying the carpet in the visiting clubhouse with several dozen cases of bubbly. This was a big one. This wasn’t merely the first time the Astros won a postseason series against the Braves. This was the first time they won a postseason series, ever. Seven tries over 40 years and not a single time did they advance beyond the first round. Until now.
Amid the hugs and laughing and champagne chugging, there were so many other things going on in that clubhouse at Turner Field. Older players spoke sadly and solemnly about their friend, Ken Caminiti, who had died just days earlier. Longtime Brave John Smoltz, part of all of those prior teams that beat the Astros, snuck into a backroom adjacent to the visitors’ clubhouse to personally congratulate Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio and wish them luck in the next round. General manager Gerry Hunsicker, normally buttoned up, stoic and very GM-like, laughed joyously, champagne-soaked hair wildly shooting off in every direction, recalling his thoughts even with the Astros up by seven or eight runs late in the game: “Oh boy. Here comes (Mike) Gallo. This thing isn’t over yet.”
If this was the scene in, say, 1984 and not 2004, the situation would have been different. Oh, sure, the carpet would have still been destroyed. And players would still be loud and laughing. And the GM would still look like a crazy mad scientist. And classy players from the losing team would still be gracious in defeat.
It would have been different, however, in that the only reporters documenting all of this would have been men. Me? I would have been standing outside of the clubhouse, alone, missing everything, and hoping someone would be nice enough to come outside and tell me about it.
I thought about this, and the dozens of other poignant moments that I would have missed during my years covering the Astros for MLB.com, as I watched the documentary “Let Them Wear Towels” on ESPN Classic. This hour-long special, chronicling the treatment women sports reporters received decades ago, both enraged and enlightened me. Previously, I felt like I had a pretty good grasp of how things were handled back then. After watching this show, I realize I had absolutely no idea how bad it really was.
It’s impossible to truly comprehend how horribly women were treated back then, mainly because it seems so preposterous in modern times. If you walk into a Major League clubhouse today, you may not find the same number of women reporters as men, but the ratio is closer than ever. And there are probably athletes who still don’t like women in locker rooms, but for the most part, it’s a teeny tiny minority. It’s not unnatural or weird or a spectacle for a woman to be in a locker room. It’s simply a normal workday.
This would be in stark contrast to women being harassed, screamed at and physically thrown out of clubhouses, which apparently was standard practice in the 1970s and ’80s. As I watched “Let Them Wear Towels,” I found myself gasping with disbelief, just stunned, with what women had to deal with back then. It just infuriated me. One account actually moved me to tears.
I tried to imagine what it would be like today, to go through what our predecessors endured. And I can’t. It just makes no sense. Standing alone in a hallway, barricaded from a place I had every right to be? Shunned by not only the athletes, but also the public relations directors and fellow reporters, most of who refused to help? Having absolutely no control over anything, including the crappy copy I was about to file to my editor because I had no quotes? And not losing my mind — or worse, my temper — throughout?
I’d like to think I would have pushed forward and fought for what was right. Would I have stood my ground? Probably. Would I have done it with as much restraint, class and dignity as the women featured in “Let Them Wear Towels” did? Well…
As I watched, I tried to put myself into a 1980s setting where women in locker rooms were treated like human feces. Then I thought, why not do the reverse — put the actions of yesteryear in the context of today?
Below is what may have taken place if a female sportswriter in the 1970s or ’80s was live tweeting her experiences, in real time. Most of this is based on exactly what was relayed to us by the brave, strong women featured in “Let Them Wear Towels.”
Couple of notes:
* Kingman most definitely dumped water over a reporter’s head, but there was no limping on his part later. I added that as a way of relaying how the situation may have been handled differently in, say, 2013, if it had happened to not @alysonfmlb but to @alysonfooter on a day that she may or may not have been moved to use her knee as a weapon of mass destruction.
* The kindness Garvey showed to Claire Smith of the New York Times brought tears to my eyes. It was such a small gesture, but looking back, it probably was a main turning point in the lifting of this outrageous ban on women in clubhouses. And Garvey acted as he did because he knew it was the right thing to do. Simple enough, no? You’d think.
* There is much more to the documentary, including the account of a landmark lawsuit filed by Sports Illustrated against Major League Baseball on behalf of then-26-year-old reporter Melissa Ludtke to grant women access into locker rooms. And then there’s the unspeakable treatment of Boston Herald reporter Lisa Olson by the New England Patriots, the aftermath of which was so unbearable that Olson ended up moving to Australia for a spell to get out of the public spotlight.
To say we’ve come a long way would be laughably understated. Not only is the behavior that was so rampant in a generation ago looked down upon today, almost all of it is also illegal.
Progress can’t be made without our predecessors fighting for change. It’s just unfortunate so many had to suffer that much in order to move things forward.
Derrick Hall started out in this business the same way everyone else did – at the bottom.
He was young, eager and willing to do anything, and he did in 1992, throwing himself into his work as an intern with the Class A Vero Beach Dodgers. He stocked shelves. He gave away free car washes to lucky fans who bought the right stamped program. He hammed it up in the stands as a Monty Hall-type entertainer.
He also learned how to deal with people.
“I knew every one of my season ticket holders by name,” Hall recalled. “I knew which ones liked Bud Light and which ones liked frozen lemonade.”
Today, he’s still on a first-name basis with season ticket holders. Sponsors, too. And every front office employee, top to bottom. It’s all part of his job as the president and CEO of the Arizona Diamondbacks, an organization widely regarded as boasting one of the industry’s healthiest work environments.
Hall, addressing a roomful of job seekers on Wednesday in Houston, ticked off his list of criteria when he’s looking to fill a position.
“You have passion,” he said.
“You truly love the game of baseball. You’re a fit for the right reason. And you want to make a career of it.”
It sounds simple, yes. That’s because it is. Hall understands what it takes to work in baseball. He’s been doing it for most of his adult life, as have most industry executives. They do it because they love it.
Sustainability in this game requires skill and know-how, sure, but a genuine appreciation for the game is another vital element. It takes almost no time for the novelty of “Neat, I’m working in baseball” to wear off. A few 80-hour workweeks and modest wages are usually all that’s needed to weed out those who say “Heck, why not, I’ll give it a try, might be fun” and those who will do anything it takes to work in baseball, because it’s all they’ve ever wanted to do, and because they’ll go to whatever lengths necessary just to get the proverbial foot in the door.
I think it’s safe to say if you travel to a far-away place on your own dime in order to get 10 minutes of face-to-face time with a baseball executive without any guarantees that it will lead to future employment, you fall into the latter category.
That’s why if I was in a position to hire someone, I’d begin my search at a baseball-sponsored job fair.
There are currently two — the PBEO job fair at the Winter Meetings, and the Job Seeker Trade Fair at the Diversity Business Summit. PBEO (Professional Baseball Employment Opportunities) has been around for a couple decades at the very minimum, while the Diversity Business Summit is newer, just having hosted its second-ever event in Houston on Wednesday at the George R. Brown Convention Center.
Both offer opportunities for job seekers to meet with teams in person. In essence, their resumes fly to the top of the digital stack, and even if there’s not a match, the chance to network and lay groundwork for possible future employment can prove invaluable. From a team standpoint, it’s a good way to jump right over the people who may not be serious about it and get right to those who say they want to work in baseball and mean it.
I’m admittedly a little biased. I got my first baseball job after attending the PBEO job fair at the Winter Meetings in Los Angeles in 1995. I bought a plane ticket, booked a hotel, grabbed a stack of resumes (and my mom) and headed west, where I had no idea what was ahead of me. All I knew was that it was what I needed to do if I was going to make a serious go of this baseball thing.
(This was before the Internet, so I had to actually call a number to sign up for the job fair. No, seriously — I talked to someone very helpful named Anne, who explained that I would need to write the phone number to my hotel on my resumes when I got there, so that perspective employers could call my room if they needed to find me, especially if they had a job offer. Really, this is how we did in the stone ages, when # meant “pound” and “apps” was short for appetizers.)
The experience was excruciating. Three days of anxiety, sweat and nervous nail-biting, while competing with 500 other job fair attendees trying to nab the same low-paying (or no-paying) mostly Minor League jobs. There was one Major League opening, with the Dodgers, but you needed to know how to speak Japanese. (Nomo-mania and all.)
I don’t remember how many teams I interviewed with, but it was somewhere in the neighborhood of more than two and less than five. Salary-wise, I figured I could make it work if I didn’t do anything frivolous, like eat. One interviewer from a New York-Penn League team asked, “How do you feel about cleaning bathrooms?” Another said they couldn’t pay me. It wasn’t an internship, like for class credit. They were just not offering money. I’m pretty sure that’s illegal.
I landed a job with the Double-A Canton-Akron Indians, was handed a semi-cool title and a salary that basically took care of the rent and a biweekly six-pack of Milwaukee’s Best. I pulled tarp. I cleaned the stadium after rainy nights. I sold concessions when workers didn’t show. It was a tough year. Let’s just say the work environment was very much the opposite of what Derrick Hall has going at the Diamondbacks. But it was exactly where I needed to be to get to where I wanted to go. The Indians job was a start. The job fair was my springboard.
That’s not to say job fairs are the only way to go. A former colleague at the Astros still has the hand-written rejection letter Drayton McLane sent him 12 or 13 years ago. A soon-to-be graduate at Texas A&M University, Clint just wanted in and was willing to take on just about any task to get there. McLane — not his secretary, not his public relations staff, but actually Drayton himself — kindly explained they didn’t have any positions available, but encouraged him to stay determined and keep charging.
Clint finally got one foot in the door working in the tour department. He eventually landed an internship in marketing, and a couple of years later was promoted to Director of Marketing.
That’s how it was in the Astros’ front office for a long time. College students did internships and internships sometimes turned into full-time employment. At one point, about half the workers on the business side of the operation had started out as interns.
This isn’t unique to just Houston. Every team has similar stories. Most executives, both high-ranking and the middle of the pack, started out by doing the grunt work dumped on them by their bosses. They stayed because they couldn’t imagine ever doing anything else.
In this game, that’s not just the right attitude. It’s the only one that works.
Hundreds of reporters from all corners of the globe are covering the World Baseball Classic, which presents an assortment of challenges for the tournament’s organizers. The main hurdle? Language barriers.
I’ve never covered an Olympics, but presumably, Major League Baseball has ripped a page or two from that handbook in terms of handling the media during the Classic.
Every reporter, regardless of what language he or she speaks, will have access to every quote uttered by the participants on the podium. How this is carried out is fascinating.
From a media standpoint, the World Baseball Classic is organized in the same manner as a Major League postseason. Formal press conferences are held in an interview room before and after games, attended by managers and select players.
Unlike the Major League playoffs, where clubhouses are open to accredited media after games, clubhouses are closed throughout the duration of the tournament. That makes the interview room sessions essential to reporters who would have very limited access to the players without them.
As a result, press conferences are very well attended, and, compared to the postseason, each session lasts quite a while — often 20 minutes or more. What makes these gatherings interesting is how many different languages are spoken, and because the reporters covering the World Baseball Classic aren’t necessarily from the same countries as the teams that are playing in it, this could be challenging during a general question-and-answer session.
That’s why a World Baseball Classic media gathering can look more like a United Nations convention than a baseball session. Interpreters work simultaneously to ensure every person in the room is able to ask questions in his or her native language, to listen to questions asked by people who speak other languages and to understand the answers given by the folks on the podium, regardless of what language they’re speaking.
How does this work? Headphones are available outside of the interview room, with channels to select from, depending on the language you want to hear.
The postgame scene following Puerto Rico’s win over Japan on Sunday was interesting. Japanese media had questions for the Spanish-speaking players and Spanish-language reporters interviewed the Japanese manager, and thanks to the interpreters sitting in glass-enclosed booths in the back of the room, everyone got answers.
When a question is asked, interpreters from the other two languages repeat the question, and when an answer is given, the same process applies. Reporters tune into the channel of their choosing and simply listen in.
The players and managers also wear headphones, which enables them to get the questions interpreted if they’re asked by someone who doesn’t speak their language. This process allows for a Japanese reporter to ask a question of a Puerto Rican player and receive a full answer in less than 45 seconds.
The other extremely helpful part of World Baseball Classic coverage is the utilization of court reporters, who document every press conference and provide transcripts to the media within minutes of the conclusion of the session.
Regardless of what language is used to ask the questions and given the answers, the transcripts are all handed out in English.
At 33 years old, Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt is fully aware that he’s probably too young to be writing an autobiography when there are still so many life experiences coming his way. But he does feel he has a few things he’d like to pass along to young people, and he also seeks a platform by which to speak out against injustices in the world he’d like to help wipe out.
He had those two elements in mind when he wrote a book titled “To Stir a Movement: Life, Justice, and Major League Baseball,” which is set to be released on April 1.
The focus of the book is not necessarily on Affeldt’s life, although he does offer several anecdotal bits based on his own experiences. Simply, Affeldt feels that professional athletes (contrary to what Charles Barkley has to say about it), are indeed role models. As a believer in good living, leadership and doing the right thing, Affeldt doesn’t shy away from the responsibilities that accompany being in the public eye. He embraces it.
“A lot of guys say, ‘I don’t want to be a role model,’” he said before one of Team USA’s World Baseball Classic games in Phoenix. “Well, too bad. You chose the wrong profession. You’re automatically a role model. Good or bad, you’re going to be one.”
How many of us, at age 30, would love to go back to our 18-year-old selves and offer a little foreshadowing as to what’s coming? That’s part of what Affeldt, who lived all over the world as part of a military family growing up, hopes to accomplish by publishing this book. He’d like to act as a middle man of sorts to kids just now coming of age.
“There’s a lot of 15 to 25-year-olds that I think are a little bit confused when it comes to leading in this country and in the world,” he said. “I wanted to give a little bit of my perspective on what I think a leader does, no matter if he plays sports or not.”
At the same time, Affeldt does feel strongly about being an influence on athletes specifically.
“If I can get to those high school kids right now and say, ‘Look, as an athlete, this is what an athlete is going to act like. This is what an athlete should act like,’” he said. “Sometimes when you watch TV you don’t always see what an athlete is supposed to act like, but I would like to share a different way of being an athlete.”
Part of this involves paying it forward. Affeldt has been actively involved in a number of charitable causes in recent years, including the Not For Sale/Free2Play Foundation, which is driven to rid the world of human trafficking, genocide and slavery, much of it in less-developed countries.
In 2005, he founded “Generation Alive,” a movement of young people responding to the needs of other young people. In 2010, he was the Giants’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award.
Where are They Now?
For those of you watching the World Baseball Classic game between the Dominican Republic and the Kingdom of the Netherlands on Monday: What was the first thing you thought of as you watched Moises Sierra dive into the stands to make the catch in left field that ended the first inning?
If you said “Steve Bartman,” you’re probably not alone.
It’s quite possible that for the rest of human civilization as we know it, any time a ballplayer makes a catch while interfering with a foul ball-seeking fan, images of Bartman and that fateful 2003 NLCS game between the Cubs and Marlins will come to mind.
So you had to appreciate that following Sierra’s catch, the cameras immediately panned to Moises Alou, whose brush with fan interference during that Cubs playoff game nearly a decade ago didn’t turn out quite as well. Alou was easy to find for this camera shot — as the general manager of the Dominican Republic team, he was in the dugout during the game. (He’s also pictured above, on the left.)
Alou’s full-time job is serving as the GM of Escogido in the Dominican Winter League. He also moonlights as a batting practice shagger, as evidenced by this photo taken Monday afternoon at AT&T Park:
Triggerettes, Earthmen, epic homers and soul-crushing losses: Brownie’s new book covers all the bases.
I always said if I could hop on a time machine and live through whatever era of Astros baseball I wanted, I’d definitely plant myself around the 1986 team. It had everything — personality, fun, a little intellect sprinkled in here and there, and, most importantly, those zany guys won 96 games. What could be better?
But after reading through Bill Brown’s new book chronicling five decades of Houston baseball, I’m thinking I’d like to try out 1964-ish, just before the Colt .45s moved out of their smoking hot, skeeter-infested outdoor stadium and into their new air-conditioned domed wonder.
It’s not that I’m anxious to witness outdoor baseball in Houston in August. Goodness no. I just think it would be fun to be a Triggerette.
Tiggerettes were, as best as I can tell, neatly dressed and presumably perfectly coifed young women who guided patrons to their seats. They fit in with a full-blown Wild West vibe that was working at Colt Stadium back in those days, when parking attendants wore orange Stetsons and workers in The Fast Draw Club dressed in old-style saloon attire.
Had I made it through a sweltering summer at the old ballpark, I probably would have had a good chance to make the cut and move with the team to the Astrodome. But I would have had to change my title from Triggerette to Space-ette, a small price to pay considering the Stetson-wearing parking attendants were renamed Space Finders, and if you wanted to be part of the grounds crew, you had to answer to “Earthman.”
You have to love how different things were back then. The notion that an entire baseball team would dress in matching blue suits and pose on the steps of their team plane HOLDING GUNS (guns!) sounds absurd in today’s age, of course. But that’s part of why history is so fascinating. It takes us back to a time that was, more or less, completely foreign to anything that has to do with everyday life as we currently know it.
Brown’s book, “Deep in the Heart: Blazing a Trail from Expansion to the World Series,” was a labor of love he started years ago, and with the assistance of co-author and Astros employee Mike Acosta, the longtime Astros broadcaster has produced a fabulous 192-page pictorial look back at Houston’s 50-plus years of baseball history.
The book will be ready for sale on March 31 — Opening Night — at Minute Maid Park. The cost will be $39.95.
How long and hard did Brownie work on this book? He pretty much summed it up with this comment to MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart:
“If there were such a thing as a woman being pregnant for three years and being relieved when she finally has a baby, it’s somewhat akin to that.”
What took this book so long to complete is probably what makes it so good: it seems that Brownie talked to every living figure who significantly contributed to Astros history. As you thumb through, you’ll find descriptions of every epic moment in history, told by the very people who were directly involved.
I loved Billy Hatcher describing his 14th-inning home run in Game of the NLCS as “probably the closest thing I’ll ever do to get to heaven.” Brad Ausmus gave some great insight into the 18-inning Division Series clincher in ’05, which ended with a Chris Burke home run into the Crawford Boxes. Larry Dierker, a gifted writer in his own right, is quoted multiple times throughout the book — fitting, given how much he has been a part of every decade of the franchise’s history.
Brownie was kind enough to send along a few pages so we can give you a sneak peek of “Deep in the Heart.” For die-hard fans (and newbies too), this will make a great keepsake.