Everything looks easier than it is from afar, and that’s especially true in baseball. Our minor league expert, Brandon Magee, learned that this also applied to covering the games. Follow Brandon in the Misadventures of Media Magee as he covers the Lowell Spinners play the Connecticut Tigers.
August 28, 2:20 P.M.
I arrive in the Dodd Stadium parking lot, bound and determined to get an interview. With someone, anyone. I am here early enough, some five hours before game time. I walk into the concourse, look down on the field and see… no one. The hub of activity has yet to start buzzing. Are the players even here yet? The first day I’m too late, the second day too early? When will I be just on time? It’s ridiculously hot in the stadium, so I decide to go back to the car and wait for signs of life.
As I look around for activity, I see someone jogging out of the stadium in Red Sox duds. While I can’t be certain who is getting their exercise (although, it sure looked like Luke Murton), it is my cue to go to work. Activity is happening. There is work to be done.
Entering the park, I see that the Tigers are on the far end of the field doing exercises. Seeing no Red Sox players around, I decide to go to the first base side and take a look at what they are doing. I may be able to talk with a Tiger. I take some photos and wait.
After a while, I get antsy. I go to the top of the concourse where I spy another Tiger official, perhaps the manager. He’s walking down the concourse and I follow. Not too close, but if I have the chance, I will ask for an interview. He keeps going and then disappears into the team offices. Rebuffed by a doorway, I turn around.
The Tigers are leaving the field. I’m going to miss yet another chance. I hurry down the concourse. A gentleman comes up the stairs, the only one wearing a uniform. Clearly, not a player. I’m intrigued. I get enough fortitude to squeak out the words, “Excuse me, can I interview you?” The man replies, quizzically, “Me?” I reply in the affirmative, and he asks me who I work for. I mention the sites name and he says: “I played against Sam Horn.” He also says he has ten minutes. I have successfully gotten an interview subject. As if that was hard enough, I now have to interview someone who I know exactly two things about:
- He works in some capacity for the Tigers
- He played against Sam Horn
The success of any interview is about asking smart questions that can lead to follow up questions. Having pre-determined questions or some thought of what to ask is, of course, nice. But interviews that follow a script often lack spontaneity. They lack the back and forth that general conversation has. However, coming up with smart questions on the fly while listening for cues and clues is an artform. Listening to an answer while coming up with the next question, it is no wonder many interviewers just read from the script. It may not be illuminating, but it is easier.
The interview with Brian Peterson lasts about six minutes, and I am overwhelmed. Not only have I successfully accomplished a task that I wanted to do, interview a baseball person, I did it with zero knowledge of the person, his role on the team or, frankly, what the hell I was doing. But, I was elated. If nothing else was to happen that day, I felt I had accomplished my goal.
The Red Sox start milling about on their side of the field and concourse. I walk over and attempt in my mind to figure out how to approach someone. Some are sitting, texting or listening to music. Some are on the concourse stretching and exercising. I think about my own feelings. If I was sitting there consumed in my own activities, would I want to be bothered? The answer hits me as I knew it would. “Of course not.” My thoughts are clearly bad for a reporter. I should just chase the interview.
But, opportunity sometimes rings out for those who wait patiently. A small barbell breaks loose from the folks exercising, and I scurry over to prevent it from rolling down the stadium stairs. As I pick up the barbell and bring it back over, my mind screams: “ASK FOR AN INTERVIEW. THIS IS YOUR CHANCE.” My mind is correct. I am going to have to mumble something anyway, I may as well ask for an interview.
Amazingly, my call for an audience was accepted, after the stretching was done. A few minutes later, one of the players walks over to me and introduces himself: “Hello, I’m Trent.” My mind quickly goes to work as I mumble out the words, “Trent Kemp. My name is Brandon Magee from Sons of Sam Horn. Do you want to sit?”
What can I ask Trent Kemp? What do I remember of Trent Kemp? I get my phone out to use as a recording device and start the interview. I had jotted down some notes for some of the players and coaches I had wanted to interview, but Kemp was not one of them. No matter, I know he had just gotten the call from the GCL. I fumble at the beginning with information that should be immediate in my mind. I ask a leading question about getting drafted. It’s a start.
Another tidbit gets stuck in my mind. I’ve written about him. He had four walks or four hit by pitches in a game this year. I keep listening so I can follow up, but this tidbit bothers me. If I can ask him with the correct information, he would be impressed. But, I can’t remember which one it is. I drop it. He mentions pitching in the GCL. Everyone is asking about Anderson Espinoza. He’s seen him. He’s played with him. Might as well ask about Roniel Raudes as well.
Ten minutes later, I end the interview. I probably could have gone for another ten minutes. I think back upon the interview and realize I could have asked about Logan Allen. I could have asked about his teammates from last year. I could have asked about the day he got hit four times… if only I was certain. Openings abounded. But I also remember, let him lead you to the next question. An interviewer is looking for the story about the interviewee. I am just a conduit. I am not the story.
I feel good about myself. I look for another opportunity. I see a non-player for the team, and I tentatively approach. He asks who I work for and then he says no. I understand, and thank him for his time. While no one wants to be rebuffed, it is also a part of the process.
I go back to the field and take a few more pictures. I realize that with the team stretching as one, my opportunities for the rest of the day are going to be minimal. Besides, I have tickets for the game tonight, a night to share with my wife and my best man. At just after 5 P.M., I bid a temporary adieu to Dodd Stadium.
Back at the stadium, I walk up to the gates with my wife and meet our friend outside the gates. It’s a Friday night with fireworks on tap. The crowd is full. We go to our seats and get ready for the game. It’s also Navigators night, as the Tigers give way to the name of the original occupants in Dodd Stadium, the Norwich Navigators.
And while I interact with my wife and my friend, I realize, I will never really be just a fan ever again. Watching baseball for the pure love of the game without any side angle, it is not to be. Being near the dugout allows ample opportunity to watch the hijinks of players. Over in the Spinners dugout, I can see them playing cornhole, using the bean bag and box that are stored in the opposing teams dugout for on-field promotions. Closer to us, the NaviTigers play a little game of chewing gum on an unsuspecting cap.
A run scores in the bottom of the first on a wild pitch. Spinners’ manager Joe Oliver comes out to argue that the ball actually hit the batter, but to no avail. And the single run was all the scoring to be done for the night. Austin Glorius and Michael Gunn shut down the Tigers, Spenser Watkins and Jake Shull shut down the Spinners, and Connecticut walks home with it’s second one-run victory in less than 24 hours. One day after a three and a half hour, extra inning affair, the two teams play in a taut 2:17.
After a fine fireworks show, we left Dodd Stadium. I would not be back for the third game of the series, a prior commitment at a baseball stadium in Bridgeport precluded one more shot at a few more interviews. But I left in a state of contented fog, not quite knowing what has happened the past two days but fairly certain that it was good. I forget for the moment the actual interviews, the actual knowledge I was able to elicit. I just think about the fact that I tested myself. That I went out of my comfort zone and tried something different.
Was I prepared? Is anyone actually prepared? I realize that preparation can only go so far. One needs to be able to handle uncertainty. Did I do well? Again, does it really matter? It was an adventure and I completed it. Was I perfect? Of course not. But I say to myself: “Practice. Practice makes better.”
Much like the minor leaguers whose season ends on Monday, my interviewing days for this year are likely done. But, I do not plan to be done forever. My retirement has been greatly exaggerated. If drafted, I WILL serve.