As I mentioned on my podcast with Nick Zeisloft last week — hopefully you listened — I am close to finding my next job.
But as I’ve updated and polished up my resume over the last couple of months, I got to thinking about some of the best stories from my times at each stop. Not stories that I wrote and you read, but stories and experiences about being a young journalist trying to navigate the world of sports.
So let me share a few short stories/tidbits from my short time working in the sports industry. Most of them involve learning lessons the hard way, so I’d imagine some of these stories could be somewhat valuable to young writers starting off in the business.
This will be a series of stories. Today’s is the best. I think you’ll enjoy.
“Who the [bleep] are you!?”
I’ll start with the best and most embarrassing of the stories because, well, why wouldn’t I? Did you see the headline? I know you’re intrigued!
This story comes from the summer of 2012 when I was interning for MLB.com with the Cleveland Indians following my junior year at Indiana.
The majority of the summer was spent, of course, covering the Indians when the team was in town, and writing previews for the national desk when they were out of town.
But every once in awhile, MLB.com would give its beat writers a road trip off, leaving the job to the intern in whatever city said team was playing in.
I covered the Baltimore Orioles, which included Jim Thome’s return to Cleveland. I covered the Tampa Bay Rays and their interesting manager Joe Maddon.
But this story is unrelated to both of those teams. This story comes from my four days covering the Boston Red Sox, four days that I will never forget.
This was late in the season, and the Red Sox sucked. They won only 69 games that season and finished last in the American League East despite the 3rd highest payroll in baseball of more than $117 million.
Reporters are allowed about an hour to an hour and a half in the clubhouse with the team before every game, usually about 3 hours before 1st pitch. Not a whole lot usually happens during this time, it’s just a bunch of nerdy reporters and TV people standing around for the most part. But you have to be in there just in case something happens or somebody decides to say something that will make headlines. If you’re not in there and the star of the team decides to go on a tirade about the manager, you could very well lose your job.
As you can imagine, this is an awkward time for a 21-year-old intern. You’re spending an hour mostly just standing around in a room full of players that don’t want you to be there. At least the other writers can make small talk with each other or chat up some player on the team that likes to talk.
For the most part, though, MLB clubhouses are civil. Players sit at their lockers watching movies on their IPads, listening to music, playing cards, etc. One Cleveland player even received a remote control helicopter from his sister in the mail and flew it around the clubhouse and into the personal space of a certain foreign player he knew it would bother.
So when I found out I was in charge of covering the visiting Red Sox for the league’s official site, I wanted to make sure I arrived in the clubhouse as soon as it opened. I figured that’s what all the Boston media did, and I didn’t want to miss anything that other reporters were getting.
That’s what I did. I arrived at the clubhouse doors a few minutes before it was scheduled to open. The only other person there was the Red Sox PR representative, which should have been a sign to me. But I was so focused on my assignment of covering one of the world’s most popular sports franchises that it didn’t register with me that no other reporters were there.
When the PR lady opened the door to walk in, she gave me kind of an odd look and told me the clubhouse was now open.
I walked in and, unsurprisingly, there was no other media there. I didn’t know if I thought the major Boston media writers had a secret entrance or what, but it suddenly dawned on me that I was in a foreign clubhouse all alone surrounded by a group of professional athletes I’d never met.
And this wasn’t like the other clubhouses I’d been in that summer. This wasn’t the civil, keep-to-yourself kind of clubhouse I was used to.
There were two very different sides to the Red Sox clubhouse. On one side, a small corner blocked off by a wall of lockers, sat the young players and the players that didn’t speak English and really didn’t want to be bothered.
On the other side, which featured a big-screen TV, leather couches and coolers full of Gatorade, protein shakes and food, was what I have since described as something of a frat house.
The frat house side featured the veterans and the stars, and they didn’t sit at their lockers and keep to themselves. They gathered around the leather couches, watched TV, and talked like me and my old college buddies would talk behind closed doors.
The doors I walked through led directly to this side of the clubhouse, and like I said, there was nobody else in there. It was me, a nameless 21-year-old kid, against 10 professional baseball stars from one of the biggest franchises in sports.
Almost immediately, I realized I’d make a huge mistake. But I was there now — I couldn’t just leave. I looked at a paper on the wall that had the day’s schedule, looked at my phone. Essentially, I tried to look invisible.
Didn’t work. Moments later, the clubhouse went dead silent. The veterans had been talking loudly back and forth, the TV was on. But suddenly, nobody was talking and the TV was muted.
I turned around. Dustin Pedroia, sitting in the middle of the leather couch looked at me and said: “Who the [bleep] are you!?”
Those on the couch around him — Carl Crawford, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Jarrod Saltalamacchia — started giggling, all with their eyes squarely on me, a kid alone on an island nobody wants to visit.
My face turned red and my fight or flight response kicked in. This was the first day of a 4-game series. I knew if I backed away or folded, I’d never earn their respect or be able to adequately cover the team for the rest of the series. I wouldn’t be able to show my face in that clubhouse again.
So I did something that, to this day, remains one of my proudest moments in my career — I told Pedroia and the other Red Sox around him exactly who I was. I stepped toward them, told them who I was, where I came from, and why I was there.
The giggling stopped. So did the staring. Pedroia stood up off the couch and came to speak to me, and the rest of the guys went right back to the conversation they’d been having before I came in.
They even invited me to join in on the fun and become one of the frat boys right along with them.
“So you’re not from Cleveland, right? You don’t live here?,” Beckett asked me. “Because I’d feel sorry for you if you live in this [expletive] hole.”
“Nope, just an intern. I go to IU,” I replied.
“Oh, I had a friend that went there!,” Beckett said.
“Me too, man! They like to party there,” Crawford joined in.
Lackey pulled out his IPad and pulled up a YouTube song that mocks the city of Cleveland. All the players gathered around to watch and laugh.
“Come on, you gotta come over here and watch this,” Beckett told me.
I actually like Cleveland, but the video, which has more than 8 million views, is quite humorous. I’ve embedded it below:
On the second day of the series, I approached Pedroia before the game for an interview that I could use for my notebook that day. He was very friendly and gave me a strong interview.
I later learned from the Red Sox beat writers that Pedroia NEVER accepts interviews before games. Ever. The regular writers had stopped trying because he made it clear he wouldn’t talk.
I didn’t know this, of course, but it was clear to me that I had earned Pedroia’s respect by not backing down to him the day before. He told me it was his job to protect the clubhouse as the team’s leader and to separate those that were there for the right reasons from those who were there to create controversy. He expected me to run or pee my pants. Part of me wanted to. Thankfully, I didn’t.
My interview with Pedroia before the second game of the series was far from the most interesting thing that happened pregame that day, however.
If you remember, back during the 2011-12 time period, the Red Sox got a lot of coverage and criticism for some of their habits in the clubhouse — namely beer drinking.
Manager Bobby Valentine decided to take the beer cooler out of the Red Sox clubhouse for the 2012 season. But every MLB clubhouse has such coolers for players and managers to enjoy after games, including Cleveland.
After the first game of the series, Lackey — who was traveling with the team but not playing because of Tommy John Surgery — enjoyed a beer in the clubhouse. Later that night, reporterJoe Haggerty of Comcast SportsNet wrote a story calling Lackey out and claiming he was “double-fisting” Bud Lights after the Red Sox loss.
Haggerty didn’t cover the team on a regular basis. If he had, he never would have written such a story. But the story was completely false and entirely misportrayed the scene. He made it seem like the Red Sox didn’t care that they’d lost, that they were partying after a loss in Cleveland.
I was in the clubhouse after the game. Lackey drank one beer, and when he had two Bud Lights in his hand, it was because he was handing one to his teammate.
Bold-face lie intended to get clicks, and perhaps, a full-time beat. It did get clicks, and I hope those clicks were worth it because Haggerty was brutally punished the next day. And the story was later removed from the company’s website.
On day two, I entered the clubhouse at the same time as the other reporters. I’d had enough alone time with Pedroia and Co. the day before.
When Haggerty arrived to the clubhouse, the room again went silent. Pedroia gathered his entire team around the leather couches, then walked up to Haggerty and undressed him in front of everybody.
Here’s a brief summary of his expletive-laced message:
“This man has to walk around Boston every day, he has a family that has to walk around Boston every day, and you’re going to print lies that ruin this man’s life, you stupid [expletive expletive]!,” Pedroia said. “We don’t have to talk to you [expletive-expletive]. We’re not talking to your ass anymore, so don’t even ask.”
Haggerty had little to say. I was happy that I wasn’t the one at the center of attention this time, but the most humorous part was what David Ortiz was doing during Pedroia’s tirade.
Ortiz, who is retiring after this season, stood behind the couches periodically repeating “That’s [expletive] up man, that’s [expletive] up.”
My four days covering the Red Sox taught me a lot of lessons, but it also gave me a glance at one of the greatest leaders I’ve ever seen in sports or otherwise. Everybody in that clubhouse respected Dustin Pedroia, and Pedroia stood up for each and every one of his teammates. Pretty awesome.