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A Day in the Life

Posted Jul 24, 2008 by Marc Lancaster

Updated Jul 25, 2008 at 12:51 AM

12:45 a.m. Back at home sweet home, at least for the next three nights. Been a long day, as usual on the first day of a trip, but at least I’m not at the point of collapse. Still, sleep will be very, very nice after a 20 1/2 hour day.

I hope this little endeavor was able to shed some light on what we do. If anyone has any further questions, leave a comment or drop me an e-mail.

Time for some shut-eye.

11:45 p.m. Well, that went about as I expected it to go. The game ended at 10:56 p.m. Eastern and I sent my game story to the office at 10:58 p.m. Not a very well-written tome, oddly enough, but that’s how it goes sometimes.

We got into the clubhouse pretty quickly afterward and everything was pretty much short and sweet—our time with Maddon lasted less than two minutes and he said pretty much all that needed to be said: the Rays blew their chance to get to Meche early when his pitch count was so high and Garza was “just not in sync at all.”

Lucky for us, Garza was at his locker when we walked out of the manager’s office, so we were able to get his thoughts quickly. He agreed that he didn’t feel right all night and said Maddon even asked him after the fifth if he felt OK physically (he did).

After scribbling down a couple of quotes, I retreated to a far corner of the clubhouse, typed them into my Blackberry and e-mailed them to the office at 11:10. They wedged a couple more lines into my story and got it out of there. I doubled back to check in with Bartlett, then headed back upstairs to work on my writethru.

I fleshed out some of the quotes I had written down by listening to the tape and expanded my game story a bit to add some thoughts from Garza, Maddon and Bartlett and sent it in at 11:43. That’s the version you’ll be able to read on TBO.com shortly. Not one of my better showings.

Now, it’s time to pack up and head back to the hotel.

9:20 p.m. We’re through three and a half innings here and my notebook is basically done, barring any last-minute surprises—which definitely have been known to occur.

Now, as promised, a quick primer on the bane of any newspaper hack’s existence—deadlines. Especially early ones.

The Tribune only has one press run, so for the most part you have only one shot to get a story from a late event in the paper. The deadline for the paper to be “off the floor” and on its way to the presses had been midnight, and that remains the case on Friday and Saturday nights. That means, on those nights, I have to have my last story filed by around 11:30 or 11:40 at the latest. That time slot can get tricky at times, more so for games played in the Central time zone than anything else, but it’s certainly doable under normal circumstances.

The degree of difficulty got ratcheted up a bit a couple of months ago, however, when the Tribune moved its off-the-floor time up to 11:30 p.m. for Sunday through Thursday nights. Therefore, I need to have my story in somewhere from 11-11:10. So take an average home game at the Trop. It starts at 7:10, and say it goes a somewhat routine 2 hours, 50 minutes. That gives me basically an hour after the game to get everything done.

So all the reporters head downstairs after the final out and wait for the clubhouse to open. Sometimes it only takes a couple of minutes, other times much longer. MLB rules stipulate the doors must be open within 10 minutes after the final out, but there are plenty of times when it takes a bit longer than that for whatever reason. So let’s say we get in the clubhouse around 10:10. Usually we go straight to the manager’s office and get Maddon’s take on the game, which usually lasts somewhere between 5 and 8 minutes.

Once that’s done, everyone files into the clubhouse to wait for any key players from the game. We’ll almost always talk to the starting pitcher, along with anyone who had a big hit or a reliever who got the key out (or didn’t get the key out). Generally speaking, the players are not standing at their lockers eagerly awaiting our arrival. They’ll be in the training room or getting some food or taking a shower before eventually making their way out to greet the herd of cameras and notebooks.

Any way you cut it, it’s probably about 10:35 at best by the time you get out of there and race back upstairs. In this situation, you’d better have at least a framework of your game story already in place before the game ends. Ideally, you’d be able to just come back upstairs and plug in a couple of quotes and let it fly. Either way, there isn’t much time to be artful with it when it needs to be gone by 11. This is why writers like a nice 6-1 margin or thereabouts heading into the late innings. It gives you time to set everything up with less fear that it’s going to blow up in your face in the ninth. It was for this reason that the Rays’ 2007 bullpen was not much fun to cover.

So that’s the deal with a somewhat normal 7:10 p.m. game. Now take an hour of wiggle room away and you can see what I’ll be dealing with tonight in a Central time zone game. It’s now 9:40 p.m. and we’re going to the top of the fifth, so I’ll be lucky if this game is even finished by 11. That means I’ll essentially have to file the game story as soon as the game ends, then scoot downstairs and gather quotes that won’t make it into your morning Trib. Instead, I’ll do what’s known as a “writethru”—an updated version of the game story—that will be posted online at TBO.com.

Of course, it gets even worse when the Rays are on the West Coast. The next trip to Seattle, Oakland and Texas features five games that start after 10 p.m. Eastern. We’ll essentially have no shot of getting those in the paper, so I’ll have to do a plug story each day that can serve as a placeholder in the print edition while writing my game story exclusively for TBO.com. It’s on trips like that that story and notebook ideas start to run a bit thin.

OK, time to start thinking about a game story. I’ll update again later on and let you know how it goes tonight.

8:05 p.m. Game time is just about upon us, and I just got back from eating in the press dining room with Marc Topkin, the golden throats that are Dave Wills and Andy Freed, and PR chief Rick Vaughn.

The meal here costs $9, which is about average these days. I don’t think anyone charges more than $10, and the lowest I know of is the Cubs, who charge $5 at Wrigley (though I don’t think I ever ate in the dining room there—really good burrito place under the El station). They charge $6 at the Trop.

Tonight’s meal wasn’t terrible, wasn’t great. I had the pork loin with some Spanish-style rice and a little pasta, with chocolate cake for dessert. I don’t really like chocolate that much, but the cake was probably the highlight.

Quality-wise, I’d say the general consensus is the food here at Kauffman is below average, and the same goes for the Trop. In my mind, Colorado consistently does the best job, and Boston also is quite good with a wide variety of options. Detroit is probably the worst, and Oakland’s not real good either—more often than not, I’ll go grab something from the concession stands either of those places.

The game just started, with a temperature of 93 degrees. Yowza. It’s time for me to get cranking on my notebook, which should be done within the first couple of innings.

I’ll tell you about how our deadlines work once I get done with the notes.

6:55 p.m. Just got back up to the press box after Joe Maddon’s pregame session in the dugout. It’s awfully hot out there, though at least the sun isn’t out right now to make it worse. Nonetheless, the heat index is 99 degrees (it supposedly might get up to 110 tomorrow) and weather.com tells me Kansas City is under a tornado watch.

In a situation like this where you know weather could be an issue, it helps to get more notebook-type items than you’re probably going to need, just in case there’s a rainout or rain delay that pushes things irretrievably past the print deadlines for the Tribune. That happened here just a couple of nights ago, when the Tigers and Royals waited out a 2 hour, 20 minute rain delay in the seventh inning. A situation like that is about the worst possible scenario for a newspaper writer, but you’ve got to fill the hole somehow.

If we have to change things up tonight because of a delay, you’ll probably see a story about Jason Bartlett’s return on the front page of the sports section in tomorrow’s Tribune. That’s the story of the day and as such should be the lead item in the notebook, but if it looks like we’re not going to be able to get a game story in the paper, we’d probably have to break the Bartlett thing out and pad the notebook a bit with some extraneous items. Other topics of discussion today included Maddon sticking with B.J. hitting second and C.C. third against a right-handed starter, Rocco Baldelli’s latest step in his rehab and how Maddon is slotting Al Reyes back into the bullpen. One other tidbit surfaced, too: Maddon indicated he would feel comfortable giving Willy Aybar some limited time at shortstop should Bartlett need a break—say in the last few innings of a blowout game or something like that.

At this point, about an hour before the game begins, it’s time for the most tedious part of the job—transcribing interviews. I have stuff from Maddon, Bartlett, Upton and Scott Kazmir that needs to be sorted through on my much-beloved digital recorder. The total time of the interviews is about 14 minutes, so it’ll probably take around 25 minutes or so for me to get it all into a Word file on my computer. I start a new file for each day’s quotes and copy-and-paste from there into the file where I write the story itself. Some guys still do it all with a notebook, but I’m not that good. It takes more time to do it this way, but I’d rather get all the quotes as close to verbatim as I can.

5:30 p.m. Haven’t accomplished a whole lot to this point, but I do have a lineup. Interestingly, B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford are staying in the slots they were in against lefty starters the last few days. Makes it tougher for managers to match up in the bullpen when they go left-right-left-right-left up top.

Also, Jason Bartlett is back in there as expected, making his first start since he hurt his knee July 2, and we won’t be seeing Joey Gathright this series. The Royals put him on the DL with a bone bruise in his right shoulder. 

Rays
Iwamura 2B
Upton CF
Crawford LF
Longoria 3B
Pena 1B
Floyd DH
Navarro C
Hinske RF
Bartlett SS
Garza P

4:35 p.m. Lots of construction going on here at Kauffman Stadium, so it was a little confusing finding my way in the door. But I made it—albeit about 20 minutes later than I’d have liked to.

By rule, MLB clubhouses open three and a half hours before the first pitch, so in the case of a 7:10 p.m. game, that’s 3:40. As such, I usually get to the ballpark by around 3:00 so I have time to get set up and start working ahead on some things. One of them is known as the rail, which is the item that runs down one column in the Tribune every day listing the pitchers for that day’s game and the time and TV schedule for upcoming games. I usually have that done by the time the game starts, if not before.

The focus now is coming up with some items to fill up the notebook, which is really the meat and potatoes of what we do every day. If I miss a few games, I go back and read everyone’s notebooks first, not the game stories. For the most part, on a night game, I need to have all the info gathered for my notebook before the game begins. So I’ll be looking for injury updates or trends, such as a guy in a slump or on a hot streak, or at this time of year, any trade rumors that might be floating out there—anything newsy that needs to be in there.

Managers talk to the media twice each day—before the game and after—and the main reason they talk before is so everyone can get a handle on the assorted random tidbits that need to be addressed, or work on feature stories. The postgame session is, in theory, reserved for questions about the game itself, though there are some in the media who routinely ignore that rule of thumb—mostly television reporters who don’t make it out for the pregame session.

Joe Maddon likes to talk to us in the dugout (some managers stay inside and do interviews in their office) when the team goes on the field to stretch before batting practice, which on the road is around 5:15 or 5:30 local time. At home, it’s 4:30. So we essentially have an extra hour in the clubhouse to work with on the road when it comes to tracking down players, making it much easier to work. At home, they’re often out doing early work or otherwise occupied in the limited window of access we have before they hit the field. On the road, more often than not, you can find who you need on a given day.

That’s one of the reasons many of us prefer to work on the road. Another is that there are a lot fewer media members in the clubhouse on the road, which also makes it easier to get work done. On this trip, for instance, the only regular media who will be in the Rays’ clubhouse will be myself, Marc Topkin of the Times and a couple of Japanese reporters who regularly travel with us to chronicle Aki Iwamura’s exploits. Bill Chastain of MLB.com usually travels but he’s off for this series, no doubt hitting the links at some posh Tampa golf club.

Well, it’s time to head downstairs. More to come…

3:25 p.m. Stopped off for some lunch on the way to the hotel after stumbling across an authentic-looking Mexican restaurant on the way in. Pretty good tacos, though not quite as good as the ones I had yesterday at the Taco Bus on Hillsborough Ave.

I guess I need to branch out, and I will tomorrow. Probably will hit local institution Gates Bar B Q for my first sampling of their wares. I’ve only been to K.C. once before—when the Rays played here last season—and didn’t make it to Gates. I did very much enjoy a little Arthur Bryant’s, though.

On days when I’m not traveling, I like to play tourist wherever I am and just try to get a better feel for the place. That’s probably the best perk of the job, having a chance to visit so many different cities. When I was here last year, I made sure to hit the very impressive Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and I should have spent more time there, but I wanted to make sure I took a spin through the adjacent American Jazz Museum.

The one definite item on my to-do list for either tomorrow or Saturday is the National World War I Museum. Though I’ve read a ton about World War II, I don’t know the first thing about WWI, so I want to check that out.

Well, it’s about time to head for the park. The hotel I’m staying at is about a 25-minute drive from Kauffman Stadium. This is one of the few cities in the AL where you need a rental car. I much prefer to take the train (New York, Oakland, Boston) or walk (Cleveland, Baltimore, Toronto) to the ballpark, but places like here and Anaheim a car is about the only way to go.

More to come later as the workday officially begins…

12:55 p.m. And we’re back. General rule of thumb with travel these days: it’s always something.

Got into Houston with no problem, but my connection was pretty tight and I had to change terminals to get over to the Continental commuter jet area. Got there around 8:20 a.m. (Central) for my 8:45 a.m. flight and basically got right on the plane with no time for an update here. Got settled in on the plane and we ended up sitting there for more than an hour thanks to the remnants of Hurricane Dolly spinning through the Houston area.

Thanks to that delay, we didn’t land in Kansas City until about 11:45 local time, an hour later than scheduled. So there goes a bit of the cushion that was built into the day. At least I was able to get some work done on the first flight before my laptop battery went dead, answering some reader questions for the Rays Q&A that will go up on TBO.com later today.

Ah—there’s my suitcase. Time to go grab that, then get the rental car and head for the hotel—which is about a half-hour away—while calling into WFLA to do a Rays podcast along the way.

More to come…

5:55 a.m. - Good morning from Gate A3 at Tampa International Airport.

Trying something a little different here at the blog today. When people hear what I do for a living, they usually respond that it sounds like a cool job (it is), but it has become apparent over the years that few people have a very good grasp on what those of us who cover the baseball beat actually do on a daily basis.

So I thought I’d do my best to clue you in over what amounts to a typical day in the life of a traveling baseball beat writer. I did this once when I was covering the Reds for the Cincinnati Post, but I screwed up in the planning. I described a workday for a typical home game, knowing full well that the travel aspect of what we do is what leads to more of the hassles, tribulations and stories.

If you don’t learn anything else today, I hope you come away knowing the truth about perhaps the two most common misconceptions about this job. The truth being:

1. We don’t travel with the team
2. We don’t get free food

Let’s start with No. 1. As I said, I’m sitting here at TIA awaiting a 6:45 a.m. flight to Houston. The Rays are undoubtedly all sound asleep in their hotel in Kansas City, having flown there on their usual Delta charter immediately after yesterday afternoon’s game. The Rays always fly right after games, the one perk I would love to have. Unfortunately, we usually don’t have that option aside from the occasional day game.

Continental is my airline of choice for this trip, which was among the most difficult all season to book. Because Kansas City, like Tampa, isn’t a hub for any particular airline, it’s tough to get in and out of there without a little bit of trouble. Add in the fact that we’re heading on to Toronto from K.C. and it got that much more complicated to find a reasonably priced itinerary.

I usually try to fly Delta, but I believe they wanted to charge me over $900 for the Tampa-K.C.-Toronto-Tampa journey. On Continental, it came out to $607. Not too bad considering all the fuel surcharges these days, the international taxes/fees and a pretty unpalatable schedule that has me connecting through Houston once and Cleveland twice.

(Get more than one baseball beat writer in one place and you probably won’t go more than 15 or 20 minutes without hearing some chatter about flight schedules and fares or hotel rates. It’s obnoxious, but ingrained.)

So they just started boarding the flight. Better get packed up. I’ll be here all day, filling you in on what I do and how I do it. If you have any questions along those lines, please ask. I’ll respond either here or in the comments.

I’ll talk to you from Houston, if time permits…

Reader Comments

Por (Nick Pugliese) on July 24, 2008 (Suggest removal)

Great idea Mr. Lancaster. Traveling used to be frustrating at times but it was mostly fun. However, the post 9/11 world added many problems and pitfalls to that aspect of the job, especially when it comes to costs and having to get up at 4 a.m. so you can get to the airport 2 hours early. Looking forward to the rest of your posts.

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Por (Joe Castellanos) on July 24, 2008 (Suggest removal)

By the way, Nick Pugliese Stetson University ‘08 is off to agreat start in Rookie league with the AZL Angels.
with a 1.23 ERA.

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Por (Eugene McColgan) on July 24, 2008 (Suggest removal)

Thanks Marc.  Looking forward to the weather report.  Let us know how Bartlett looks in warm ups and BP.

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Por (Kyle Lynch) on July 24, 2008 (Suggest removal)

I can only imagine that St. Pete can be add to list place where visiting sports journalists need to rent a car.

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Por (Mike Creyton) on July 24, 2008 (Suggest removal)

This is pretty cool.  Neat idea Marc.  Sounds like a dream job to me.  Heck I would pay them to let me follow the team like that.  The hardest part for me would be being objective and not a fan boy.

Nice insight.  I really appreciate you spending extra time to give us the insight of a beat writer’s day at work.

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Por (Joe "Animal" Fulford) on July 24, 2008 (Suggest removal)

Hey Mark:

I thought you guys get free meals… They dont provide that for you guys??... Im just shocked and appalled.

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Por (Kevin Gengler) on July 24, 2008 (Suggest removal)

This was a really cool idea, Marc. Thanks for the inside look.

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Por (Jason Palmateer) on July 25, 2008 (Suggest removal)

I was in KC a few months ago and I would definitely recommend the National WWI Museum, which was packed with great information and displays about WWI. It was only of my highlights of the trip (the others being the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the BBQ). As for the BBQ, Gates is very good, but I would also suggest Jack Stack’s, which I thought was the best out of Gates and Bryant’s, but they are all very good.

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