Categories
Warehouse Windows

After Baseball

From the time I was 13, I had dreamed of working for the New York Mets. I wanted to be a part of the team, and I wanted to be there when they won a World Series. However, I had always expected it to come later in life. My thoughts were, originally, that I’d be a journalist first and work towards a decent career in baseball journalism, then eventually try to get a job in baseball PR once I had some experience. Eventually, I’d get a job in PR with the New York Mets. Some elements of this plan were revised through the years, but the basics were there. No part or imagining of the plan involved me somehow landing a job in baseball PR when I was 22, and it certainly did not have an addendum on what I would do if I left baseball by the time I was 28.

Writing was a significant part of that plan but got dropped along the way. Baseball and writing are intrinsically tied together for me. You write about what you love, and baseball was my first love. A lot of the stuff I wrote in high school was about baseball. While writing about family and girls and friends and school and my children eventually entered the mix, baseball was consistent throughout.

While in the PR internship with the Orioles, I wrote about baseball a lot. I was responsible for things like the weekly minor league report and a homestand preview insert that went into scorebooks sold inside the stadium. I enjoyed that. I was also really good with computers and saw ways to make the intern’s job easier and far more efficient using them beyond what we had been using them for.

With this combination, I managed to extend a six-month internship into over a year. However, it got to a point where John had to move me…I couldn’t be an intern forever, and there was not a position open for me on his team. Fortunately for me (and probably unfortunately for my writing career), at the time, the Orioles were a bit out in front of other baseball teams with one of the first websites, and they needed someone to help manage it. People noticed my computer skills and offered me that job, so I moved over to help with the very new technology while still being able to help out with the PR department.

A hard truth I had to come to terms with while working for John was that I was never going to make it doing Public Relations in baseball or, really, any field. My problem was that I was an introvert, and in a field that requires you to talk to people, I didn’t cut it. I could get the nerve up in short bursts, but more than 10 to 15 minutes wore me out. I could barely hang out more than a half hour with John at the time before I felt exhausted. My social anxiety would be an exceptionally bad combination with baseball as I was just too intimidated by the baseball players and the bigger-than-life media people (seriously, how was a debilitatingly shy guy like me supposed to tell a guy like Eddie Murray, a future Hall-of-Famer, that he needed to stop avoiding Buster Olney, one of the great baseball journalists of his generation…or stare into the eyes of the crazy beautiful Melissa Stark and get even a single word out?).

So, making the jump to the website was perfect for me. It allowed me to bring together my creativity, my computer skills, and even my PR skills into something that was cutting edge at the time and make an impact. I really enjoyed that, and it still allowed me to contribute and help with the PR team.

Ultimately, it was the second biggest thing to happen that allowed me to capture the big dream I had…the New York Mets. It was painfully obvious that I was never going to get a job with the Mets PR department. I had applied for at least one job there…I think I still have the rejection letter from Jay Horowitz. But the New York media would have just crushed me (there were a couple of guys there that actually messed with me when I first started there, but I don’t think I’ll share those stories). I realized early on that websites were my ticket to the Mets.

To my good fortune, the tech/consulting company that helped the Orioles build and maintain their website managed to secure a contract with the Mets. The Mets needed a website administrator, and the consultants put me up for the job with my boss recommending me.

Getting the interview and traveling up there was a blur to me, and I really wish I could remember more of the details. I do remember that I didn’t tell my parents about who I was interviewing. I stayed with them the night before and told them I was interviewing in Manhattan. I wanted it to be a surprise if I actually got the job. They would know how much that job would mean to me. I remember sitting in the conference room in Shea with my boss, and I remember it being a really gloomy day. However, it pains me that I have almost no memories of that day except the feeling that it had gone well and that I most likely got the job.

Several weeks later, I found out I got the job with the Mets from my boss at the Orioles. It was a very strange day for me as I felt my life get completely flipped upside down. On one hand, I was completely overjoyed to get to capture my dream, but on the other hand, it meant moving away from Andrea just a couple of months after we got engaged. It also was the final nail in any kind of writing career I had hoped for myself.

I loved my time at the Mets. It was very, very different from my experience with the Orioles in terms of environment, culture, and, obviously, ballpark. New York City was such a different place from Baltimore. I’ve struggled for years to try to figure out what was different (aside from the obvious). There were plenty of people I was friendly with in both places, and both places had their share of people that were less than friendly. I want to say that New York had the stereotypical edge to it, which it did, but that wasn’t the whole thing. I think it had to do with me entering the Orioles job as an intern and sort of growing up in that job while entering the Mets with a full-time job with an office, and everything felt like I actually needed to be a grown-up, which I did not feel like I was. At the Orioles, I had some very good friends, and Andrea was right there. At the Mets, while I did have my family near, I felt very alone, and making friends took longer.

Regardless, I loved working at the Mets, but I think I always knew it wasn’t going to be a long-term place for me. I loved and soaked in every moment within the walls of Shea Stadium. However, it (New York) was not going to be a place I felt comfortable living in for a long period of time and starting a family. I know others that did it, including my boss, Tim, there, but living in New York just was not going to be the style for Andrea and me.

Ultimately, it was Major League Baseball that essentially removed any kind of decision for me.

In 2000, the teams voted to consolidate all the club sites under the management of a new company called MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM), and it meant that I would no longer be working directly for the Mets but for this new company.

Originally, I applied for and was hired on as a producer for MLBAM, where I would primarily work out of a central office in Chelsea and spend some time at Shea. The salary that was at least twice as much as I was making and a handful of empty promises had me jumping at it in a heartbeat. It would be something I would later regret. I made some mistakes in my brief time in that role as I realized it was not the right fit for me immediately. I was miserable there.

Sometime in the following January or February, I was at Shea taking care of a few things there, and I ran into the VP of Marketing at the time. He asked me how it was going at MLBAM. I told him it wasn’t going well and that I felt it was a mistake. I distinctly remember him carefully listening to me and then saying, “Then just come back.” He didn’t even wait for me to respond before walking away.

That stuck with me for the rest of the day, and I began to look into it seriously. The Mets-specific site admin job (I forget what it was called) was still open and paid less, but I approached my manager at MLBAM about it. They were extremely generous to me and allowed me to make the move back while keeping the same salary.

I took that job, and it looked like it would be a great fit for me. They wanted the position to basically be a writer and the eyes and ears for MLBAM at Shea. They hired beat writers with lots of journalism experience to cover the team, and I was to support them, write basic game summaries and contribute my own work. I was initially very excited about it. I felt my writing career was back on track.

I hesitate to write this, but the truth is that most of the editorial board I reported to at MLBAM were assholes. My immediate editor was very nice at first, but once the Editor-in-Chief was hired, he turned the screws on everyone, and it became a miserable working environment for me. Again, some of the issues were on my end and mistakes I made, but they created an environment where even the smallest mistake felt like it was fireable.

The combined with the bigger issue, though, which was my own introverted tendencies again. They wanted me to write feature pieces on players and include exclusive quotes in the articles. That was just not something I could get around myself to do, and the pressure my editors applied did not give me any room to try to figure it out. I knew I was doomed.

Looking back, there are things I could have done better, and I wish I had made the best of that tough situation, but I didn’t. Instead, I learned some very difficult and valuable lessons that ultimately helped me out later in life.

That August (2001), I walked away from that job without having anything else lined up. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. However, it was making me miserable and I figured I had plenty of great website skills and could easily get another job. However, the internet bubble burst right around that same time, and I was left unemployed for months. This would set Andrea and me back financially for years. It was probably the right time to get back on track and pursue some kind of writing career, but I chose a different path.

The experience of being able to optimize some processes at the Orioles using computers lead me to attempt to start my own company, October Turtle Statistical Services. PR departments at clubs did so much manual statistics tracking, and I knew I could make that easier on a computer. I got to work and developed a piece of software for the Orioles to do just that. However, I was an inexperienced programmer, and it had a lot of bugs in it. I continued to work on it, but ultimately it failed when MLB signed an exclusive contract for all clubs with a company that did something similar to what my software did. Any connection I had left to the game, professionally, was gone.

I never did fulfill a career in writing. It got sidetracked a bit, but with the exception of not making more of the opportunity MLBAM gave me, I have no regrets about it. However, I am still searching for my place within this game, still seeking an opportunity of my own that is not attached to the success of someone else. I am looking for my own legacy to leave behind in the game. When my time comes, I want to be remembered as first a great husband and father, second, a decent human being, and third, a writer that had a lifelong romance with baseball.

I was watching Moneyball the other night, and at the end, Brad Pitt as Billy Beane says, “How can you not be romantic about baseball?” And it is so true. When I think about baseball, I feel joy and love and heartbreak and every other range of emotion because baseball is romantic. Without the love of the game and the other emotions that come with it, you just have a list of stats. Any fan’s connection to baseball is a love story, and the game needs people to write those stories.

Confession time…I struggle to watch baseball on TV anymore. After nearly six years of watching nearly every home game from within the stadiums and nearly every road game on TV, I find it difficult to watch games from start to finish. I think maybe I was spoiled in those years, and it just doesn’t have the same feel. I still watch highlights and read about the Mets and try to absorb as much information about them as I can in a hectic life, but I just can’t sit through games on TV.

But I still love baseball, and memories of my time in the game still stirs deeply in me. There are days when I desperately miss it and the friends I made there. The feel of the sun as I ate my lunch in a random seat in an empty stadium when the team was on the road (I once spent an entire lunch hour contemplating how long it would take me to spend some time in each of Shea Stadium’s 55,000+ seats during my lunches.) The way the cold hits you when wandering through the stadium concourses in the dead of winter. Walking through a rowdy clubhouse…walking through a somber clubhouse. Sitting in the press box talking to friends.

When I think about it, it may not be so much the game I miss but the atmosphere around it…the romance of the game.

This book is a love story. Not your traditional love story, but an expression of my love for the game and all the little nuances and theatre and players (not just those on the field) involved in the game. Baseball will always be my first love. While my love for the game has been surpassed at least three times since that ground ball rolled through Buckner’s legs, it will always hold a very special and dear place in my heart because it was my first love. Whether or not it is successful, I also feel this book is my legacy to this game. The 1998 Mets Yearbook will show me as the first “Webmaster” for the New York Mets, but ultimately, I am sure it has already been lost to time the contributions I made. I doubt more than a handful of people will even remember me being at the Mets, and a few more will remember me from the Orioles. However, my hope is that my thoughts and stories, and love of the game will be noticed years after I am gone, and someone will wonder about who I was.

Categories
Warehouse Windows

Celebrations

When I think of my time with the Orioles and the Mets, it is the celebrations with my coworkers and friends that I remember the most. However, one of the reasons I wanted to work so badly in baseball was because I wanted to be a part of one of those clubhouse champagne celebrations. That didn’t happen, but the celebrations with my coworker friends still stir joy inside of me all these years later.

In 1996, I was alone in the office, catching up on some work, when the Orioles upset the Indians in the Division Series in Cleveland. I got up from my desk and was celebrating on my own in the middle of the warehouse. My friend and coworker, Kevin, was in Cleveland for the game and he arrived a few hours later, somehow racing by car to beat the team’s plane and bus. We excitedly talked and celebrated as others would trickle in to be a part of the moment and get to work on the next. By the time the team bus arrived, there were hundreds of fans outside the warehouse cheering and celebrating. When the bus arrived, pandemonium erupted and I stood along side my friends cheering and hugging. It was such an awesome moment…I felt like I was in a movie.

Even in losses, there was celebration. For home games during the ALCS, there was a postgame party in the restaurant inside the warehouse for media and VIP’s. When the Yankees beat the Orioles in that year’s ALCS, employees were invited up to the postgame party and we celebrated like we had won. The intensity of the last few weeks of the season, the Alomar situation, and a frustrating ALCS (Jeffrey Maier!!!) were unleashed in a wave of emotion. It was the end of the world, so to speak, and there was no tomorrow. Later that night, a few of us not wanting to let go drove around (we did have a designated driver) looking for an open bar. We never found one, but that quiet time driving around a very quiet city, and talking with friends are moments I will always cherish.

However, perhaps my very favorite moment during my time in baseball, and the inspiration for the latest chapter of my book, came in 1997, back with the Orioles. Despite a better record, they were expected to struggle against the Seattle Mariners in the Division Series mostly because they would have to figure out how to beat Randy Johnson, who finished 2nd in the AL Cy Young vote that year, and shut down the awesome trio of MVP Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez and Alex Rodrigues.

The Orioles were up to the task and made it seem easy, beating them in four games, with the final game at Oriole Park. It featured two of the best pitchers of that generation, Mike Mussina and Johnson. Honestly, I remember absolutely nothing from the game itself or the immediate postgame work that had to be done, but what followed that was amazing.

The Orioles offices inside that long warehouse featured hallways right down the middle, maybe 10 feet wide. Running along the hallway were low walled, built-in desks where administrative assistants and other staff worked. Behind those desks were staff offices that had windows overlooking either the walkway and field or the road in front of the warehouse.

After the Seattle game, and after our work was done, a few of us were hanging out at the desks along the hallway talking about the game and speculating about the ALCS. Our team had won 98 regular-season games and had just made the mighty Mariners, with at least three Hall of Famers playing for them (Griffey, Johnson and Martinez; Rodrigues probably would have been if he had stayed clean), had been taken down easily. We were reinvigeratorated and excited and felt invincible.

Originally, if I remember correctly, it started out as just my coworkers (and close friends) Kelly and Kevin and myself. Slowly, more and more people would join us there and the excitement and voices grew. Eventually, these rolling ice carts with beer in them showed up, I think courtesy of either John or my manager at the time, Spiro (I had moved from PR to the website before the 1997 season). I can’t be sure, but I think eventually food showed up and all of it was down the middle of that hallway. The production folks broke out some makeshift music system and soon it seemed nearly the entire staff of the Orioles were in that hallway celebrating and laughing and cheering and singing (pretty sure Tubthumping was played more than once). And since it was a late afternoon game, it was still early enough that no one felt the need to go anywhere and late enough that there was no time to do anything else. It really was one of my absolute favorite moments working in baseball.

It was truly a magical moment that still makes me emotional and gives me chills to this day. It would also be the last of so many magical moments I remembered from my time there.

Just over a week later would be one the hardest moments I had in baseball. Coming off that big Division Series win, we were the favorites to beat the Cleveland Indians and advance to the World Series. Through some heartbreaks and another Pendelton moment (Armando Benitez, who would repeatedly break my heart during my baseball career, gave up a three-run home run to Marquis Grissom in the top of the 8th inning of game 2 when it looked for sure that we were about to go up 2 games to none), we found ourselves in a 3-1 hole in the series.

The staff refused to concede and after winning game 5, we came home needing to win the final two games. We took on a makeshift slogan of “We Believe” and we had a bunch of orange signs printed up and distributed around the ballpark for game six.

Unfortunately, Game 6 was a heartbreaker, 1-0 in 11 innings. It was the second consecutive year that the team failed in the ALCS at home. However, again, a few of us gathered in the hallway to talk a bit and console each other until it was time to go home. In five full seasons working in major league baseball, the team I worked for went deep into the playoffs four times without winning it all and I never got used to that shockwave of a season just suddenly ending. After a month of intensity, of constantly having something to do and working off just pure adrenaline and to have it suddenly being over like flipping off a light switch hits you hard. So we just sat in that hallway, contemplating what to do next. It was a mix of not wanting to go home, but also not wanting to be there anymore.

Eventually, we did head for the exit and as I approached the door that came into our section of the warehouse, I noticed one of the “We Believe” signs taped to it. I went up to it and ripped off the “Be” so that it just read “We lieve” and we walked out with a couple of chuckles.

And that was really the end of those glory days at the Orioles. While I wasn’t there, 1995 had 2131 and 1996 and 1997 had exciting playoff runs. But with that loss to Cleveland, it was over. A lot of my friends, who were mostly seasonal, would leave that fall, and in February, I would leave for my dream job at the Mets. The Orioles would inexplicitly fire the great manager, Davey Johnson during the winter and they would put up 14 straight losing seasons before making it back to the playoffs in 2012. They have only had 4 winning seasons in the 24 seasons since I was there, which is a shame for that fanbase that loves their team more than any other fanbase I have ever seen.

While I never did have that clubhouse champagne celebration, (part of me still feels a tug at having passed up on the opportunity twice) those moments with my friends in the warehouse, even in the losses, are some of my most cherished memories in baseball.

(In my three seasons with the Mets, there was a lot to celebrate like the 2000 NLCS, the Grand Slam Single, Todd Pratt’s Division Series clinching homerun, and so on, but those are stories for another time.)

Categories
Warehouse Windows

Passing on a Passion…or Not

I originally wrote the chapter “Top of the Eighth: Shared Stories” about six or seven years ago. At the time, at least one of my sons was still playing baseball, possibly both. I may have even written this when they were both playing for the Little League team I was coaching at the time, the Mets.

I feel like that is important to mention should my sons one day read my book. As I was re-editing this latest chapter it goes heavy on “The Fan’s” (Abigail) need to have her kids enjoy baseball. It lays heavy her excitement at them becoming fans. It, in fact, goes on so much that one day, my own kids might feel like I am sending some sad message to them, expressing my own disappointment that, as of right now, early in the 2022 baseball season, they are not baseball fans.

The main crisis point with Abigail is that she loves the game, but is alone in that love. Her own father, her primary human connection to the game, is gone and her children don’t like the game, or, more accurately, have good reasons not to like it. However, this was a plot point I developed a long time ago when I first started writing this in 2011. The boys were fans of Thomas the Train then and baseball just wasn’t something they were too familiar with.

In fact, by then, we had been to a number of Lehigh Vally IronPig games and Ben had been to a couple of Mets games and there was a glimmer of hope that they might enjoy those little adventures. And even if they were more interested in the hot dogs and the playground beyond the left field wall at Coca Cola Park (IronPigs), there was a realistic chance at the time I developed this part of the story, that they could be baseball fans.

We introduced them to a few different sports, both playing and watching. They tried soccer, baseball, running and tennis. I had them watch, from time to time, baseball, football and basketball. In the end, they settled on the sports they liked playing, which was not baseball. Aside from the occasional basketball game and big events like the Olympics and the Super Bowl, neither of them really watch sports. Lately, both have started asking more about baseball, but I think they are really just bored by it.

I never wanted to feel like I was forcing my sports and interests on them. Yeah, I dressed them in Mets and Giants stuff and bought them hats, but I never sat them down and told them they had to root for the Mets. The games we attended at stadiums aside, we never forced them to sit and watch a game with us. I would turn it on and they could watch if they wanted and I’d be more than happy to answer any questions they had. However, I felt it was important to never push it on them.

So, as I re-read parts of my story, I wonder if it feels like I am projecting something here, what must they feel like when they read it? I don’t mean to lay down that kind of guilt. At the end of the day, while hugely influenced by my life in and around baseball, I am not bitter or regretful that my sons don’t share this interest with me.

All that said, I feel I need to leave them a very personal and public note: Benjamin and Matthew…you have to trust me, root or don’t root for whoever in whatever sport you want. I care, but I really don’t. Please do not read anything into all of this. At the end of the day, I just want you to be happy, which is probably all the more reason to stay away from baseball…it WILL break your heart. Especially the Mets!

However, one last note, I am not try to guilt either one of you, but I feel I do need to remind you that I will need to figure out who to leave my 2000 New York Mets National League Championship ring to…Just saying.

Categories
Warehouse Windows

My Longest Day in Baseball

I was drinking a beer, sitting with friends at Murph’s Study Hall in York PA. I can’t remember who exactly I was sitting with (probably my future wife Andrea was next to me) because I was intently watching the TV. Specifically, I was watching the Baltimore Orioles play in Toronto against the Blue Jays. It was September 27, 1996. I doubt many Orioles fans actually remember that date, but I’d be willing to guess that they clearly remember the events of that night.

The setup was that the Orioles held a 2.5 game lead in the Wild Card race with three games to play. A win by them and a loss by the Mariners locked up their first trip to the playoffs in 13 years as the American League Wild Card team. It was a tense and important game to the team, obviously.

Anyone that knows me knows how locked in and intense I get around these games and this may have been the worst as I was coming up on the end of my first season in Major League Baseball and the playoffs were on the line.

Ahead of me was a long weekend. I was an intern in the Orioles Public Relations department and we had the postseason media guide to work on, would need to head into the office on Saturday. Since we would need the final stats from Sunday’s game before we could wrap up the media guide, I knew at least a 24-hour stretch likey lay ahead of me and the rest of the PR staff starting on Sunday morning. If everything went as planned, the postseason would start the following days. So, I was trying to get one last calm and easy night in before all hell broke loose and, hopefully, before the playoffs began.

It was only the top of the inning and Roberto Alomar, the star second baseman of the Orioles was called out on strikes by home plate umpire John Hirschbeck and an argument between the two broke out. I remember distinctly taking a sip of my beer and looking up at the TV just over the rim of my mug and seeing what looked like Alomar spitting into the face of the home plate umpire. I nearly spit back out my beer. I thought that I must have not seen it correctly, however, the replay quickly confirmed it.

I was dumbfounded and shocked by it and knew it was going to be a big deal as a new wave of anxiety crept in to join forces with the anxiety of will they or won’t they clinch. It was not a good feeling, but I had no idea just how big of a deal it would become.

When I got to work on Saturday, things were pretty normal. The Orioles lost their game but clinched a tie for the Wild Card when the Mariners lost their game. I really don’t remember much of it, but whether the Orioles would clinch that afternoon slightly edged Alomar in the talk of the few people that were in the office that day. I remember a few calls coming in with people complaining about Alomar, but nothing too serious. With the team on the road, there weren’t going to be any media calls coming in, either.

The Orioles did clinch that afternoon, so when I arrived to work on Sunday morning it was with the knowledge that the long day and night ahead to get the media guide out to print by Monday morning would not be in vain. I remember feeling excited and a sense of a new beginning. While the sports shows were all talking about Alomar and whether he would be allowed to play in the Division Series, I had an extremely false sense of security that it would all blow over. That was probably a good thing because we had higher priorities that day.

To provide a bit of context, the Postseason Media Guide was something all playoff teams had to put out in time for their first playoff series. It had updated stats and information on all the players as well as highlights and notes from the season. I believe we started working on it in August on the chance that we made the playoffs (that was a kickoff meeting that very much holds firm in my memory). It would be an absolutely vital guide for all the media that would be coming in to cover the postseason run. There was absolutely nothing more important that needed to be accomplished in that 24 hours.

There was plenty of work to do that Sunday morning before even beginning with the media guide that Sunday. There was the beginning of the press clipping avalanche around Alomar and the Wildcard clinch that buried me in the newspapers. While there was still some “pre-work” to do with the media guide…basically making the last few changes that did not rely on the last games to be played and proofreading what was already final…clearing the deck of the clippings would allow me to focus more on the stats and other information that would come in after the last out of the season was recorded.

Once that happened, we could get to work in earnest, which we did. The plan, if my memory is serving me right, was that we would work through the night and have the media guide ready for printing first thing in the morning on Monday. Then, I think, we would take turns heading home to freshen up and possibly take a short nap (although, as I type that, it does not sound right) before coming back in.

The first part of the plan was nearly flawless. While I was exhausted by around 1 or 2 in the morning with the take-out Chinese food wreaking havoc on my system, I really enjoyed the work. There were at least six of us working together, as a true team, to get the job done. Each of us knew what we needed to do and it felt great to be a key part of that effort. When the guide was sent out to the printer, there was such a wave of excitement and relief and pride in being part of that. That long night and the even longer day that followed was one of my favorite memories of working in baseball.

However, around the time that we sent off the media guide to the printer on Monday morning, the phones started ringing. One of my jobs as an intern was to answer the calls from media members, like Buster Olney and Ken Rosenthal who covered the Orioles back then, other parts of the organization and fans. While I would do my best to answer media questions and the organization, they were often directed to others higher up. The calls from the fans, however, were all for us interns. So, I had grown accustomed to busy days on the phone, but nothing prepared me for that day. As talk around baseball heightened with the debate on whether Robbie Alomar should be suspended during the Division Series against the Cleveland Indians, more and more media calls started coming in.

However, mixed in with the calls from media came more and more calls from fans. These were people that followed the Orioles their whole lives, respected the team, and thought them to be a class organization. The shock of what had happened on Friday night manifested itself as anger, disappointment, and hatred for Alomar from the Baltimore faithful.

Some would be yelling before I even said hello, screaming angry and sometimes vile words at me while others would be more gentle as they seemed honestly confused as to what was going on with their team. The last time they witnessed a postseason game, Cal Ripken Jr. was catching an easy liner to clinch the World Series Championship 13 years before. It was an extremely long 13 years for this city that loved this team, but instead of excitement as they headed in, fans felt this mix of emotion regarding Alomar. And through the course of that long, slow blur of a day, I had heard every one of those emotions expressed to me on the phone.

While most people were angry, what they wanted varied. Some wanted to just be heard. Some wanted to know what the Orioles were going to do about it, insisting that the team sacrifice winning for discipline and suspend Alomar. Some wanted the Orioles to do nothing and let the league handle it. My job was simple…to just sit on the phone and, unless they were extremely belligerent, listen. Make no promises. Express no opinions of my own. Say very little and just listen.

Added to the tension of the day was what would Major League Baseball do about it. We already know the team wasn’t going to suspend him for the division series, so we were waiting anxiously to find out what the league was going to do. Ultimately, they would hand down a five-game suspension to be served at the start of the next season and Alomar would go on to play hero against the Cleveland Indians in the Division Series.

Towards the end of the day, I received one call where the guy on the other line had a very calm voice. He started telling me how he was a fan of this team his whole life and how much he loved them. He talked about how excited he was to have the team in the playoffs and how proud of them he was. He talked about how he was disappointed in Alomar’s actions and felt he should be punished but expressed the sentiment that we all make mistakes. We need to move on from them. He was so calm and so unlike most of the calls I answered that day. It brought a certain peace. This was my inspiration for the Middle of the Sixth chapter and I think about this often.

It was about 36 hours after I had first come into the office when the phone finally stopped ringing. I found myself alone in the office (different people had other responsibilities around the stadium) finally able to catch my breath. I can’t remember the logistics of how I got clean clothes or anything like that for the next day, but John eventually came back to the office, took one look at me, and insisted that the team put me and the other intern up in a hotel for the night. I don’t remember much after that and my next memory was of waking up in the hotel the next morning, taking a shower, and heading back to the office.

However, despite the nightmare that day was, as I mentioned earlier, I recall the day with fondness. It was a day that pushed me to my mental limits…exhausted, emotionally drained, angry, happy, excited…and I survived and was able to do what I needed to do. It taught me a bit about myself and what I could accomplish. And I was proud to have been a part of that IT team for how we handled what was a public relations nightmare. I’ll always remember that day and that team (in the PR office) fondly.

This is a bit of a tangent from the story above, but talk about this in the novel and feel this belongs here. In the warehouse at Oriole Park, on the sixth floor (if I am remembering correctly), was a storage room. I can’t remember if it was actually called the attic or if that was just what I started calling it. However, it contained nearly every bit of newsprint about the Orioles ever written, every boxscore was meticulously kept in binders, stat books (giant binders full of notes about every run, hit, home run, strikeout, and probably every single pitch was kept) for every season, and media guides. It also contained promotional items given out in past seasons, banners that were used, and memorabilia from the old stadium. It was an unorganized museum of probably every moment in the history of the Orioles.

As a lover of baseball history, I enjoyed going up there. Fo me, it was a sort of magical world where you just got absorbed into the game itself. Surrounded by all that history was just absolutely mesmerizing.

When I had some free time I would find myself up there looking through the clippings and boxscores and memorabilia. It was quiet up there and I really enjoyed the escape that it provided. It was one of my favorite places in the stadium.

I am not sure if the Mets had the equivalent at Shea Stadium. I assume they did. I can’t remember if I ever went looking for it, but I wasn’t part of the PR team there. As I look back, exploring that possibility is one of my very few regrets while working in baseball.

It is also strange for me to realize that another nearly 25 years of history would have been added to that place since I was last there. I would love to go back and visit, but sadly, I doubt I will ever have that chance again.

Categories
Novel

Middle of the Sixth

With a scissors in one hand, the Intern flips through the newspaper. It’s a story that has gone national as headline after headline attack the many different angles of a 22-game losing streak, and it was his job to pour through not only the local papers, but as many papers as he could get from other cities on his way in that morning. Michael was in a blizzard of newspapers.

It was a simple job he had … comb through the papers, cut any article that mentioned the team or one of the players, tape them to paper, organize them by topic, photocopy them, distribute them, and file them. Usually, filing was the last thing he would do and there was a three-foot stack of paper sitting on a shelf over his head, waiting to come down on him like an avalanche. It was a simple job, with newspaper ink-covered hands and chronic boredom being the worst part of it. There were worse ways that he could spend the normal hour each morning. Basically, he was getting paid to drink coffee and read the newspaper.

In the last five days, however, it was taking him and another intern nearly four hours to get through the papers because there was so much being written about this streak. It was also his job to answer the phone, and while a typical morning would have just a handful of calls, mornings during the streak consisted of constant calls from media trying to get front row seats to the train wreck and fans threatening to turn in their front row seats if ownership didn’t send the GM and manager out of town on a train.

He was usually there a few minutes earlier than everyone else, mostly because he hated mornings. By getting in early, he could ease into the day. He could get his coffee and start working through the newspapers before the phone started ringing, before his bosses started giving him assignments, and before he actually had to interact with anyone. He hated walking in late and getting bombarded with all the above before he had a chance to settle himself and ease into the day.

In college, on days when he had early classes, he would wake up early, shower, and get dressed to avoid walking to school with his roommates. He loved his roommates, just not at eight in the morning. The 10-minute walk allowed him to set up the day in his mind and prepare himself.

However, during this streak, everyone is arriving early, trying to get ahead of the mess. The calls are coming in earlier, as anxious people can’t wait another hour to have their outrage heard. All week, he was walking into a live and active bomb range, as far as he was concerned. This added to his frustrations, and everyone else was frustrated as well.

On the phones, he was a punching bag for fans, as they voiced their displeasure with the streak and the direction of the team. While a handful were polite, many were rude and belligerent. Some gave lectures on how they had been fans since their grandfathers were fans and how they had never seen a worse team. Some cursed and screamed to the point where he could see them in his mind turning red in the face as spittle flew from their mouths onto the phone. When he was allowed to speak, he would give the company line about how the team was doing their best and how the season was still relatively early. He was told that he could hang up on those fans that shouted obscenities or wouldn’t calm down, but he stuck with them.

As much as it bothered him, he knew what they were going through. While this wasn’t the team he grew up loving, it was easy for him to imagine what they were feeling. Truly passionate fans cannot get as excited as they do when the team is winning without feeling that low when they are losing. When you combine that with a losing streak like this, it feels as if your soul is being crushed and an almost panicked feeling sets in. When you enjoy a team … a sport … to this extent and you are facing the prospects of a long, loss-filled summer instead of the team playing to expectations, you feel the panic and a sense of betrayal. He had been there.

By mid-morning, though, he felt as if he was losing his cool and started to feel the panic himself. Not the panic of the losing streak, but the panic of getting the things he needed to get done, done. The panic that the calls would never end and the anxiety would sit permanently in the office around him.

Then the phone rang one more time and he stared at it for a couple of rings, considering not answering it. But he couldn’t do that. So he braced himself, took a deep breath, and answered the phone. And then he was surprised.

The woman on the other line immediately started talking about how long she had been a fan and how she traced her roots all the way back to having been born on Opening Day and about the love of the team that she learned from her father. The Intern had heard these types of “setups” and waited for the woman to go into hysterical screaming at him. In his mind he pictured the woman on the pitcher’s mound, going through the motions and going into her windup before throwing a blazing fastball at his head.

Instead, what followed was first, a simple thank you from the woman for the joy the team has given her through the years, and then told him how she and her father always said that it’s these types of streaks that will make the winning feel all the sweeter. Then she talked about how she no longer could see her father every day and talk baseball, but that she could still feel him next to her whenever she watched the team. She talked about how she was connected to him through the team, whether they were winning or losing. She couldn’t be with him every day, but she had the team to remind her of him, and it didn’t matter if they were winning or losing. Then she repeated her thank you and hung up.

Michael was stunned as he continued to hold the phone to his ear and stared off into space. His mind raced, and suddenly, somehow, he could feel it emerging from the gloom. Life-changing moments can be born from the most mundane and unexpected moments on any day. When someone, a stranger, can say one thing that shifts your entire perspective, you can suddenly find yourself careening down a different set of tracks in life. That moment felt like that. It was a perspective shift that he needed. Losing sucked, but he was still living his dream and if he didn’t enjoy even these painful moments, the great ones might not be as sweet.

After contemplating this for a few minutes, he picked up the finished set of clips and headed off to make his copies. He felt as if he was in a trance as he went through the motions.

The utter misery he felt just hours before had lifted, and with it, so was his heart. For nearly a week (and actually, most of the season), he felt this team pounding away at his soul. His emotions were pegged firmly to this team and his heart beat with the pulse of these men. Suddenly, he was given his soul, emotions, and heartbeat back … or, more accurately, he was given the power to take them back himself.

As he walked around, delivering the clippings, doing his job, he realized that he didn’t have to be a ship in a harbor, rising and falling with the tide. He could step on shore and dip his toes into the tide as he wanted … He could even turn his back to the tide and walk away.

He decided he needed to get away for a few minutes. He needed to go someplace where he could be alone, but at the same time, have it appear that he was actually doing something productive. So Michael decided to take a small stack of old clips and go file them in the “attic,” the storage room in the top of the building.

He loved the attic … it was a time machine. A place where the very history of the team could be seen and measured, not in minutes and seconds, but in box scores, statistics, and newspaper articles. Every stat and box score drifted in like snowflakes, accumulating into what this team was. Somewhere in the newspaper clippings and the old stadium promotional giveaways, you could find every single hit, out, play, and even error that triggered every single fan’s favorite memory of the team.

And that’s how he saw it. While others might see yellowing newspapers and boring boxscores, he saw memories of first games and the seeds of major league dreams and even the bitter moments that all fans carried with them with a certain pride. It was where both great and not so great writers get immortalized. In that room were not just each and every memorable moment for the team, but, and maybe more importantly, it was all those moments that perhaps nobody remembers. 

A first pitch groundout to first in a July game 43 years ago with the team already leading by 10 runs. A long double off the left field wall that drove in three runs during a game that got rained out after two innings. Perhaps these were moments that some fan somewhere remembers in exact detail. And that was one of the things he loved … That room recorded every moment that every fan, alive and dead, remembered or doesn’t remember. Somewhere in that room is recorded every fan’s favorite moments and every fan’s lowest moments. Moments when they wanted to walk away from the team and moments when they wanted to grab a stranger and kiss them. Every single moment was recorded in that room. That room was the true heart of the team.

To those that care, the fan that proudly collects every giveaway to add them to the collection their grandfather started years ago, the official scorer that reviewed every play to ensure the integrity of the statistics that made and killed careers, the beat writer that carefully crafted every word of his game article, despite a pressing deadline for a meaningless early April game. For those that care, this room was what they are referring to when they talk about the tradition of the team and the loyalty of the fans. This was what gave blood to the stories and memories that make this team.

The Intern often worried about this room. To Michael, it should be a vault. You can replace a stadium, but the contents of this room were irreplaceable. It was the Louvre, St. Peter’s Cathedral, and the Great Pyramid of Giza of this team, all rolled into one room that only a relatively small handful of people knew existed. He felt honored to be one of them.

After spending some time going through the cabinets of old promotional items, he turned his attention to the press clippings. Particularly, the clippings of the Tuck, and he began to read.

The clippings told this man’s career in bits of black on white. Sometimes, a writer was thoughtful about this man. Sometimes a writer was mean for the sake of being clever. Sometimes, merely the facts were told, with no expression of judgment. So many writers over so many years told bits and pieces of this man. However, it was in the whole of these bits and pieces that you could see the man for who he was, a man playing a game. Alone. A game that was not the game of his childhood. It was not the game that he learned. It was not the game his father told him endless stories about. It was not the game that his mother lovingly showed him over and over. It was not the game that he played for countless hours with his brother.

This was a different game because he was alone. The game of his youth was not a game of loneliness. It was something else entirely and the Intern wondered how no one saw this before.

And a thought came to him. A crazy thought that, at first, seemed entirely too big for him. He began to shake, because he knew it was an idea too big for himself. He had no idea if he had the strength and the power to not just be a lone soul at the harbor’s edge. He wondered if he could be the tide itself, if he so dared. He could at least try to lift the boat that had scuttled itself and was now waiting for Winter. He didn’t even have to be the tide … he just needed to be something big enough that could raise the tide.

Then, in a spark of a moment, he somehow just knew all he had to do was throw a baseball into the harbor to raise the tide.

And Winter shuddered.

Categories
Novel

Top of the Fifth

He stood quietly in front of the dugout, not really sure what to do. Michael felt obvious, conspicuous in the fact he had nothing to do except stand in that spot. There were plenty of people wandering around in the corridor that ran from about first base, around behind home plate, and half way up the visitor dugout. The first base path was the border, but in reality, you’d have to answer to the grumpy groundskeeper if you had any inkling to put a toe on the exposed grass. He pondered the tarps that cover the grass in the area and wondered how that was any better for the grass than people walking around on it directly. However, that was not his job … his job was to stand there and wait.

And there were a lot of people out there doing nothing more than waiting, but they seemed to be doing it with a lot more confidence. Some were waiting to talk to a player, a manager, or some team official for a piece they are writing on said player, manager, or team official or some other player, manager, or team official. Others were waiting for word from some television studio either a couple of miles away or an entire country away so that they could do a 30-second live mention that they were indeed at the game and would have updates on the late news. A few were waiting for his boss, trying to get a pass for a friend, a ticket for a meal, or access to a player. Some were simply waiting until someone kicked them off the field because they did not have the proper credentials to be there, so they might as well be there. And why not, the Intern thought. Why not hang out on an absolutely perfect field on an absolutely perfect spring evening and watch the preparations for an absolutely perfect game.

Regardless of their reason for waiting, each and everyone looked like they belonged there. Some stood with their arms upon the batting cage, as if studying the current batter’s swing, even if it were a pitcher. Some wandered in and out of the clubhouse, by way of the dugout as if looking for someone. Some simply paced up and down the field, looking lost in their thoughts. He was certain that of all the people out there, he was the one who belonged on that field the least. This made him nervous, but he still tried to take the scene in. He made sure to look around the field and commit it to memory.

His official job at that moment, as specifically explained by his boss, was to wait. No one else on that field would admit to simply waiting … however, it was his current title. His boss was waiting for the names of some last-minute additions to a player’s ticket allotment for the game. He was waiting for his boss to hand him the names so that he could bring them to someone in the ticket office who was also waiting so that he could pull the tickets together and get them to the family that was waiting outside the stadium to get in. It was a chain of people waiting and the only one who wasn’t was joking around in the outfield with another player.

In spite of how uncomfortable he was, he could not think of anywhere else he’d want to be at that moment. Even though at the moment he felt like an outsider looking in, he felt like he was part of the team and something much larger than himself. The transition of off-season Intern to in-season Intern was a dramatic transition. While much of the day-in and day-out stuff never changed, the season brought on a whole other set of responsibilities, responsibilities that he enjoyed and had become comfortable with, even if he still occasionally stumbled in them. He was beginning to feel like he wasn’t just there to fill a role but was there because he was needed. He felt that while others were capable of doing his job, he wasn’t sure if they could be as reliable as he was.

And so, he dutifully stood there and did his job and waited. As he did so, one of the local beat reports came over and they exchanged a couple of odd jokes and small talk before he asked the Intern to look up some statistics. The Intern agreed to get them to him in the first inning and the reporter quickly walked off somewhere else to wait. This seemed to suddenly draw attention to the other reporters that he was there and each came over and repeated the same dance and request before walking away to wait elsewhere.

Finally, the player came jogging in and was stopped by the Intern’s boss. They joked for a moment or two before he jotted something down on a piece of paper. A couple more jokes were made before the two parted ways. Michael was handed the piece of paper and his boss motioned toward the field and mentioned that there were worse places to spend the last half hour of his life. The Intern happily agreed and then quickly darted off into the bowels of the stadium to run his errand.

Being in the visitor’s locker room, after a loss to the home team, was always so awkward. He couldn’t wait to be out of there. Normally, he could get in there, grab a few quotes from the key players and the manager by eavesdropping on the reporters, and get out of there. He wasn’t supposed to ask questions and nearly no interaction with the players was preferred. He was fine with that. He had time to develop his “player skills” and get used to the interactions with nervous rookies, impatient veterans, and intimidating future Hall-of-Famers. He had no problems with that.

However, this mission, this reason for being in the clubhouse nearly an hour after the game had him feeling nervous to his stomach. During the sixth inning of the game, the star first baseman for the other team had hit a sharp ball down to third. The third baseman had made a diving stop of the ball but fumbled it as he came to his feet to throw it. The official scorer had ruled it an error. You could tell the player was more than a little angry as he stood on first. Every so often, he glared up at the press box as he worked his way around the bases that inning. He looked ready to explode.

And it was this live explosive that he was sent to disarm, and he feared for his life.

Michael knew this player well. Extremely well. Or, at least he knew exactly how the man stood at the plate, all six feet six inches of him. How he held the bat up high with the head pointed back at nearly a 45-degree angle to the ground but perfectly in line with home plate and the pitcher’s mound. He knew how he held his left elbow straight out, parallel to the ground, while his right elbow rested against his body. His right leg would be no more than two feet from his left leg, which was lined up with his back elbow. And he would calmly stay in that position … so calm and steady that you would think he was a statue in the park. It was amazing that pigeons didn’t come down to rest on his bat. And he stayed this way until the pitcher was midway through his windup. Then, all of a sudden, his weight would shift back to his left leg, his knee seemingly crumbling under the weight of his massive frame. He would lift the right elbow of his body, dropping the head of his bat until it was nearly parallel to the ground, just as he lifted his right leg. As the ball approached home plate, in one fluidly explosive movement, his right leg dropped and all 267 pounds of him seemed to transfer into the bat as he swept it through the strike zone, inflicting catastrophic damage to a pitch that didn’t stand a chance.

He knew this because just last Summer while hanging out with his high school friend and his brother, they spent hours dissecting different players’ batting stances. “The Beast,” as they liked to call him, was the brothers’ favorite enemy player. The two of them took turns mimicking and showing off the swing and alternately critiquing. So, he got the full detail of exactly how this man swung a bat.

As Michael stood there in the clubhouse, he was grateful for that detailed dissection because it allowed him to mentally prepare which way to duck when he became the target of the legendary temper that was second only to the man’s swing in explosiveness.

He pondered his best strategy for ambushing The Beast. He thought about going up to him while he was by his locker, but that was in the back corner, surrounded by the lockers of relief pitchers who were nowhere to be seen, mostly because of their own fear. And, he swears there was a lightbulb or five out in the corner, which made it even more foreboding. He was sure that if he went back there, he would never return. They wouldn’t find his body for another 50 years when they were tearing down the stadium.

He then thought he would just walk up to him and interrupt him while he was talking to the other players. While this would take more nerve, there would be witnesses. As it turned out, he didn’t have the nerve and the player quickly disappeared into the shower.

So, the Intern made up his mind and planted himself in a spot between the shower and the corner locker. There, he waited once again, hoping that the fact that since the man was naked, it would make him more docile. When The Beast emerged from the shower, the Intern stepped into his path and extended his hand (making sure it was high enough so that there was no confusion about his intentions), and introduced himself. The man looked shocked for a moment, and without saying a word, shook the Intern’s hand. Without wasting a moment, he quickly blurted out that the official scorer had changed his call and that what was originally scored an error was now going for a hit. The Beast stared at him for a moment, released his hand, and continued his way toward his locker, mumbling something about how he was happy but that someone was going to be bludgeoned and buried beneath his locker, or so the Intern swears he heard before he himself quickly withdrew from the clubhouse.

As a kid, Michael had a strange love-hate relationship with the grounds crew. At times, he loved watching them, so methodically, go about their business. The way they would comb the infield and water it. The way they would lay down the line of rope so that they could put down the chalk lines. He loved watching the batter box being built with an actual box and then tapped for the chalk. He would get lost in the process and perhaps watch it all day. Ultimately he knew they heralded in the start of the game like the torch bearers herald the start of the Olympics.

But on the flip side, there was still time to wait to watch the game he loved to watch. It meant the game was so close and he could barely wait that small amount of time longer, and watching them go about their business made him antsy and anxious for the game to begin. He would find himself irrationally annoyed with these poor guys just going about their business … He wanted them to stop delaying the games.

Now, he made a point of getting himself to the press box in time to watch all the pre-game preparations. Usually, he was done with what he needed to do by about 20 minutes before the first pitch, so he’d grab an ice cream from the media lunchroom and go sit in his boss’s chair and watch the field preparations.

On this particular day, he couldn’t help but watch the fading star doing wind sprints in the outfield. He watched the old man walk slowly, staring at the grass. It wasn’t the type of stare that one might expect for such an activity. You would expect someone to maybe just be looking toward the ground as if to catch their breath or collect their thoughts, barely even realizing that the grass is there. But he was staring at the grass as if the grass itself was the focus of his attention. Although the Intern was a significant distance away, he could tell that this man wasn’t merely in a breath-catching daze, lost in the grass. He was trying to burn a hole into the grass with his stare.

Once the player got to about right-center field, he would run at full charge toward the stands, with his gaze seemingly fixated on one point in the stands. And this wasn’t the charge of someone warming up; this was a charge of a hurt bull running full speed at the red cape of a matador. One time, the player was charging so hard, he forgot to slow down fast enough and was still at half speed when he crashed into the wall. With barely a reaction and blood dripping from his forearm where he caught himself against the wall, he just turned, focused on the grass and walked back.

The Intern was, of course, intrigued by the Tuck. Opening the media guide that he helped put together, he found the player’s pages and read through them. His only knowledge of the player prior to him joining the team was the error he had committed in the World Series that would help turn the Intern into a baseball fan when he was a kid. As he read more, this was a man that seemed absolutely destined to be one of the all-time greats. His stats, from the very beginning, were on pace to be Hall of Fame worthy. He didn’t hit a ton of home runs, but his average was consistently in the league top five with a few batting titles. He regularly finished in the top two for RBI, with a handful of titles there, as well. But it was the detail of his stats that truly shone. There were few better in the history of the game with two outs and runners on. No other player ever topped his average with runners in scoring position in those early seasons. And he was even better at home.

Then, suddenly, his numbers tailed off. This was something that was well known and well discussed around baseball … How this great, great player, almost overnight, just stopped hitting. There were a number of theories, but it seemed few made the glaringly obvious connection.

As he read through the player’s bio, he was startled to discover that not only was his first big-league game a no-hitter in which he hit the game-winning home run in his first at-bat, but it was also the Intern’s birthday. No, not the actual anniversary of his birthday, but his actual day of birth.

The story is well told in his family how, when his mother went into labor, they couldn’t find his dad. His dad was with the Intern’s uncle at a baseball game. Eventually, when the game was over, a no-hitter, his dad returned home triumphantly to find an empty house and the phone ringing. Later that night, the future Intern was born into the world with his father by his mother’s bed.

Years later, and in a different city, when he was thirteen, the young Intern fell in love with the sport when the home team won a dramatic World Series. The boy became obsessed and began questioning his dad endlessly about the game. That year, for Christmas, after all the other presents had been opened, his father presented him with a small box, telling him it was the one possession that meant more to him than anything else he owned, but he now wanted his son to have it. Michael opened up the box and pulled out a glass box with a ball in it. His father went on to explain how he had caught the ball during the game he was at the day he was born.

As the Intern thought about the ball that now sat in a prized location in both his room and his heart, he wondered how he had never put it together in the months since he started working there and the years since this player had dropped a ball that made him a fan of the game. He stared into the media guide in a daze, trying to fight back tears. He looked back up, out at the player, and thought for sure the player was staring at him now.

Categories
Novel

Bottom of the Third

The wind whipped and howled around Abigail as she grabbed a bag of groceries from her car. One strong gust of wind, although failing to take the door off the car, did manage to rip the folder out of her hands. As her reflexes made a desperate bid to catch the folder, the paper bag went crashing to the ground, and somehow, almost as if Winter himself was taunting her, the wind stopped blowing for just a moment, allowing her to hear the sickening crush of pickle jar and eggshells. Winter’s choreography was perfect, as another gust of wind swept through and caught the splash of pickle juice and turned it into a fine mist that coated her suit skirt and then proceeded to sweep the papers that were once secure within the folder and scatter them in trees, gutters, and rooftops. She barely reacted … she knew it was the perfect cap to the day.

Fridays shouldn’t be full of meetings, layoff announcements, and phone battles with insurance companies … then again, no day should be like that. She was still employed, but close friends for many years went home with boxes instead of folders. She was grateful, but her nerves were shot. She needed some time for herself.

She gathered the papers she could and salvaged a few groceries and headed into the house. Abigail brought the groceries into the kitchen, grabbed the mail, and headed into the living room, where she was greeted by a mess of dusty boxes and what seemed like the entire contents of the attic. She mumbled a curse to herself as she remembered that her kids had volunteered to clean out the attic for her over the weekend. She appreciated the effort, but this was the last thing she needed.

As she was about to turn around and head back to the kitchen, she noticed the black truck in the corner of the living room. A smile quickly crossed her lips and the day instantly melted away. Monday was Opening Day.

After changing into sweatpants and a long-sleeved t-shirt, eating dinner, and grabbing a glass of wine, she pulled the trunk over to her lounge chair and sat down. The top of the trunk was covered with what seemed like every Bird-related sticker ever created. There were so many, the trunk seemed more orange than black. Many of the stickers had been customized with crayons. Her father was so angry the day he came home to find her sitting at the trunk with the crayons. He eventually would cherish the drawings and scribbles of the five-year-old daughter on the trunk.

Abigail slowly opened the lid, and on top was her Number 6 jersey. Every year, she would take the jersey out of the trunk just before Opening Day and would put it back into the trunk after the team had played its last game of the season. She had that jersey for what seemed like forever. She smiled because, after 10 years of being away from the team, Number 6 was signed to a minor-league contract this past off-season. She was hoping he would make the team.

She put the jersey aside and looked through the rest of the contents. There was a peculiar assortment of odd giveaways from different games, along with pennants and other Bird-related gifts she and her father had received through the years. There were some old programs and a couple of autographed baseballs, as well. Her father tried to fit all his baseball souvenirs in that trunk, but it wasn’t a magic trunk. Eventually, some stuff found its way into other boxes, but the important stuff went in that trunk. After her father had died, she continued to put more stuff in the trunk. She shook her head trying to figure out how exactly it had survived the fire. It had been so many years now, but she still cannot figure out how that trunk only suffered a little bit of scalding while everything else was lost. Almost everything.

The trunk had a couple of media guides from the championship seasons. She had another box full of media guides somewhere else. A friend of hers was the HR director for the team. She would often give her the guides every spring. They had met in the aftermath of the fire. She thought it weird the good that could sometimes come out of such things. She hadn’t talked to her since September or October when they had met for lunch by the harbor. They were having a nice lunch when her friend suddenly let out a gasp and realized she had a meeting that she needed to rush off to with the director of marketing or public relations or something like that and that she was already late. Her friend had walked off into the drizzly day mumbling something about how now her whole day was going to be thrown off. She laughed out loud about how her friend was always late from one meeting and into another. She needed to call her.

In the bottom of the trunk were two scrapbooks that her father had meticulously kept. Those scrapbooks were so important to him. Her grandfather would grab the afternoon papers on the way home from work and would put them into her father’s eager little hands. The books were true treasures and she did all she could to preserve them. Next to the books was a small pile of newspapers from different years. Her father had tried to get her to keep a scrapbook, but she wasn’t as meticulous as he was. She found it easier to just save the whole paper.

She shuffled through the stack, reading headlines about great games of the past. Clinching games. A couple of no-hitters. A couple of heartbreaks. She still curses that team from the Big Apple to this day. Toward the middle of the pile, her eyes met the headline from true heartbreak. The real heartbreak that a baseball diamond rarely sees. It was the story of a fire and a small two-story house. A fire that would take the life of the brother of Number 6. He had gone into the burning house for a little girl … her little girl … who was trapped on the second floor. He had managed to get her daughter out a window to another fireman on a ladder, but the floor under him had collapsed before he could make it to safety. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she read the story. Her daughter is in college now and has such little memory of that night … she thought that was lucky. She still thinks of the family of that poor man … that hero.

Abigail knew it was time to pack the trunk back up. It was dark now and she had other stuff to do. She gently placed everything back into the trunk except for the jersey and closed the lid. She picked up the jersey and stared at it. On Number 6 was a little soot. She looked at her hand and realized it had come from her fingers. Even after all these years, soot was still on that trunk in different spots. No matter how much she tried to clean it, it was always hiding somewhere. She brushed the jersey off and took it to her bedroom. She was going to wear it tomorrow for the exhibition game. As she passed by her bedroom window, she noticed the lights at the stadium flickering. They must be testing the scoreboard, she thought. She clutched the jersey close to her and stood there watching the lights for a little while.

Callie stood on the ramps, field somewhere behind her, but the city in front of her. She had lost track of time and wasn’t sure if it was closer to two or three in the morning. At this point, it really didn’t matter. All hope of getting a decent night’s sleep was lost hours ago when they decided to go a different direction with a couple of the videos they were producing.

The city seemed so quiet as the roads lay nearly empty. The traffic lights kept changing and signaling to no one in particular. An occasional car ripped down the road and she wondered if they were coming from or going to work. Once or twice a cop car would roll out from a side street, turn onto the main boulevard and slowly disappear into the night, all while the traffic lights kept doing their job.

Every so often Callie would see a flash of lights from the stadium reflecting off an office building across from the stadium. They were testing graphics on the light boards and she wondered if it ever bothered people trying to sleep in some of the apartments around this Chapel to baseball. She wondered who in the stadium would have to field those calls in the morning. They had jobs to do, but she hoped the neighbors understood.

She was exhausted … mentally drained … wiped out by the current press. The truck from Spring Training had arrived hours ago and the first of the final two spring training games was less than 12 hours away. In this ballpark. And they weren’t ready. These games gave them a chance to “test drive” videos. To see what worked and what didn’t. It allowed them to get one last tune-up before the real games began.

And it wasn’t just about the videos they showed being perfect. They were trying to be perfect. Everyone was trying to be perfect. The guys behind the cameras on the field. The producers behind the control boards in the control room. The editors updating the stats in the graphics. They all had to be perfect and ready to react to what was going on in the game. Like the players on the field, they had been preparing for this since last season. Almost literally since the last out of the last season was made, preparations for the new season began.

A couple of them had spent some time working for minor league teams. A few had nothing but college experience behind them. There were veterans of the game that had been in the control rooms since before the Ace pitcher had even been born and there were others that were interns, working their first jobs right out of college.

Like the team on the field, they came from all walks of life with different life experiences and they had to work together. They were a team in every sense of the word and they almost had to read each other’s minds. Even in these final two Spring Training games, they wanted to be perfect more than they needed to be perfect.

She had been there for five years now. While there were one or two that had been there so much longer, Callie was considered a grizzled vet in the business. The long hours … the lost weekends … the time away from friends and family were not the jobs for everyone. However, she loved it … maybe not every moment, but she did love it.

She liked to come out to the ramps in the middle of the night when she was working late to clear her mind. Sometimes it would be near freezing out there, sometimes it was brutally hot. However, it was always quiet and dark and she could be alone to collect her thoughts. Sometimes she would wander around most of the stadium just going up and down the ramps and she could always return to the control room or the video production office feeling refreshed and ready to go. In the dark and quiet, it was almost her own fortress of solitude.

The video editor reflected on all of this as she stared out. It was a grind. It was tiring. It was a brutal stretch of work. She also reflected on her previous job at a local newsroom, working all hours of the night only organizing tapes, running out for coffee for the producers, and wiping down monitors. It was a thankless job, and as tired as she was and even though she still had to do some of that stuff, she was overjoyed at being there, on that ramp, in the middle of the night waiting for the season to begin. It was tough. It was tiring. It was brutal. But it was part of her living her dream and doing exactly what she wanted with her life.

Categories
Warehouse Windows

Orioles or Bust

Middle of the Third, like a few of the “Intern Chapters,” really is more autobiography than anything else. And if it had not happened to me, I would have thought it to be some improbable Disney story … too good to be true, too unrealistic, too much like fiction. However, it is true, and it is one of my favorite stories to tell, although I feel like it has been ages since I’ve told it. To this day, it is one of those things in my life that causes me to believe in miracles.

In the Spring of 1994, I applied for an internship position at the New Jersey Cardinals, a brand new Single-A Short Season team playing in a brand new ballpark about 30 minutes from my parent’s house. I managed to land that internship and worked out an agreement with them that they would let me work games and a couple of times a week to work another job that would help me pay for college.

The experience at the Cardinals was both very memorable and fun and absolutely horrible at the same time. The interns were, effectively, free labor for the Cardinals management that they could have to do whatever they wanted them to do, regardless of whether it had anything to do with our majors. However, without it, I don’t get anywhere else in baseball, and this novel doesn’t exist.

During my senior year in college, I applied for an internship with the Baltimore Orioles. I was in school at York College of Pennsylvania, about 45 – 60 minutes from Oriole Park. I actually got an interview, I want to say sometime in the winter or early Spring, but I don’t have a clear memory of the timing. I went down and talked to the Public Relations director and thought I had a good showing. Unfortunately, I was told, due to the uncertainty of the players’ strike at the time, they weren’t going to bring me on.

So, I graduated college in May of 1995 and stayed in York to be close to Andrea. I managed to get a job at a local bank as a teller and really made some good friends there. While it was a decent job, it wasn’t for me, and job hunting for something in public relations wore me down. I was inexperienced and, on the rare occasion I got an interview, I presented myself horribly. Looking back, I probably would have thrown out my resume as soon as the interview was over if the roles were flipped.

By the time October rolled around, I was not in a good place. I had grown increasingly miserable in the job and felt lost. I had higher – maybe unreasonable – expectations of myself. I had found a lot of college success, and it did not translate into the real world. I think this all bled into my relationship with Andrea as we started to experience some tension between us. It was beginning to look like I needed to move back home to try my luck in the New York area.

My days off from the bank were Sunday and Wednesday (or something like that), and on one Tuesday night, after a bit of a fight with Andrea, I gave myself an ultimatum. I would drive down to Baltimore on the next day and knock on some doors. If I didn’t get a prospect, I would call it quits and move back home. I had no idea what “knock on doors” in Baltimore really meant, but it didn’t matter much as I only had one intention.

So, Wednesday morning, I got up somewhat early, drove down to Timonium, Maryland, jumped on the Light Rail, and headed to the ballpark. While I told Andrea and others that I planned on knocking on a whole bunch of doors, I knew that the only job I had my sights set on was the Baltimore Orioles. I did not have a plan B. With a literal “Hail Mary” on my lips, it was Orioles or bust with what felt like everything at stake.

I don’t remember how I got from the Light Rail to the second-floor reception desk of the Baltimore Orioles. Obviously, I walked…the train was right outside the stadium, but I remember parking my car at the furthest north Light Rail station, and the next thing I knew, I was standing at reception.

The receptionist was very friendly and, with a resume in hand, told her I was looking for a job. I could tell she had seen the likes of me before and told me to give her my resume, and she would give it to someone else, and she was sure they would call me back. Not usually being the bold type, I handed the resume to her and took a step back, ready to leave. However, somewhere inside my head, a voice told me that I shouldn’t go. It told me to speak up, or I would regret it the rest of my life. I had come that far, with everything in my young, naive life at stake. Turning around to leave meant surrendering everything, including my dreams, and giving up. I knew I had to write a new story for myself. I needed a miracle.

And from there, a series of improbable made-for-Hollywood moments happened, and my life, in nearly every sense, changed.

So, I stepped back and told her that I would like to talk to someone (sort of like Rudy in the middle of the night at the gates of Notre Dame). She looked at me quizzically and let out a deep sigh…She had no idea what to do with me at that point.

Then someone to her right caught her attention, and her face lit up. She stood up and stopped the woman trying to make her way through the lobby and explained to her what the situation was. I could see the woman sort of let out her own deep sigh and take my resume from the receptionist. She signaled me over to her and walked me over to a couch in the lobby.

We sat down, and she turned towards me, sort of annoyed (to this day, I don’t blame her…I would be, also). She introduced herself as the director of Human Resources for the Orioles as she glanced down at my resume. She then asked me what kind of job I was looking for, and I told her that I was looking for something in Public Relations/Media Relations.

Her head suddenly snapped up as she made firm eye contact with me. Her attitude towards me took a 180 as she asked me a couple more specific questions before she stood up. She told me to wait there and quickly went back through the door she had just come out.

After a few minutes, she came back out smiling. She told me that right before the receptionist had stopped her, she had been in a meeting with the Director of Media Relations (a different person than I had met previously), John, to discuss finding a full-time paid intern to work in the office. She also told me that John would be out to talk to me in a minute. Honestly, she seemed as excited as I was at this point. Whether it was the chance randomness of encountering me at the exact right moment or the fact that I may save her a bunch of work, she genuinely seemed happy.

A moment or two later, John walked out. Instantly, his personality hit me like a freight train. He carried this boisterous energy about him that filled every room he was in, and he seemed to fill that lobby and the entire stadium that was just out the window over my left shoulder. He was smiling, almost laughing as he too recognized the absurdity of me walking into that lobby just moments before the HR director was heading off to start the search for, well, me.

John invited me back to his office and carefully reviewed my resume. In the two years following I would learn that he had this unique ability to go from laughter and joking to complete business in an instant…and then back in the next moment. He wasn’t going to let a little something like serendipity or a miracle mislead him into making the wrong decision.

We talked a bit about my time at the New Jersey Cardinals. Like me, he was from New Jersey as well, so we talked a bit about that. He asked about the things I did at college. And, eventually asked me if I would be interested in a six-month paid internship in his media relations office. He explained a few things I would be doing and how the office worked and then asked me if they should offer me the job when I could start. He mentioned the salary was somewhat low and gave me a figure, about $500 more than I was making at the bank.

I would walk out of Camden Yards a short while later, having basically landed the internship. I needed to send them a couple of things like transcripts, and John had to check a couple of things on his end. However, effectively, the understanding was that the job was mine. I remember waiting for the Light Rail train talking to myself, pacing back and forth, trying to figure out how the hell that just happened. I was over-joyed and beyond excited, bursting at every seam. This was in the days before everyone had a cell phone, and I had no one to share the excitement with, and I was near tears with joy.

October 25, 1995…Nine years after the New York Mets Game Six World Series miracle was the day after my last day of working at the bank and the day before my first day at the Baltimore Orioles. Somehow, that felt perfect to me.

I would end up extending the six-month internship to 12 months and then to 18 months before I would shift over to help with the Baltimore Orioles website. In February of 1998, I would leave the Orioles to settle into my office at the New York Mets as their first Website Administrator.

I’ll talk about my time with the Mets and Orioles more later. They were such extraordinary times for me and almost wholly fulfilled every dream I ever had as a teenager, even if it wasn’t exactly in the order I expected.

I would work for John for 18 months and, more or less, with him six months after that. He would be one of the most influential people I ever met in my life and taught me so much. His personality was the polar opposite of my own, and there were times where I was completely intimidated by him, but I loved working for him.

He taught me that you could have fun working, take time to laugh, and appreciate what is going on around you, but at the same time work as hard as you can to make sure shit gets done. Yes, there was a time to work and a time to play, but there was definitely a grey area between the two, as long as the work got done.

He was always open to new ideas and welcomed innovation. Even though I was quiet, he was always willing to hear what I said. He was the first to pat you on the back for the good things you did and but would also make sure to let you know, in a gentle way, when you screwed up. He had this acute ability to know when it was time to be serious, and the exact moment it was okay to lay down a corny joke.

I often ponder where my life would be right now had I not encountered John that October day in 1995. I wonder if I would have packed my bags and moved home, likely ending any chance Andrea and I had. There is a straight line between getting that job and getting into web work, which would become the career that I have now. (I do wonder, in that regard, if the Orioles derailed any kind of writing career I may have had early on.)

Previously, I mentioned how I believe in miracles. I think they genuinely do happen, and I think there is sometimes an inclination to call a miracle a coincidence. The series of events that occurred that day, for me, is truly a miracle. I have no other explanation for it.

Categories
Warehouse Windows

Diving in to the Cigar Box

I can’t say that I have every ticket stub to every game I have ever been to. I can’t say that all the ones I do have are neatly collected in the same spot. However, I do have a cigar box with a few old ticket stubs (including Jets, Giants, and NY/NJ Knights football), my 1996 Orioles Employee ID, a couple of media passes, parking passes for Camden Yards, 2000 World Series Pre-Game Party tickets, a business card for October Turtle Statistics Services and a small crucifix that my father gave me at the end of a retreat I went to when I was a junior in high school.

At one point I had one of those old-timey barbershop hats made out of styrofoam with Mets logos on it. I am not sure if it was a giveaway or what, but for a very long time, I would put my ticket stubs in between the hat and paper band around it. I wonder if I still have that hat.

Anyway, I’m not going to lie…there is no special story around the cigar box…I had actually blindly bought it on eBay just a few years back along with a few others after I had written the previous chapter. So, there is no significance to this cigar box.

The tickets in the box include the first Mets game I had ever gone to. Wednesday, May 4, 1988. Mezzanine Section 8, row A seat 12. Before looking at the ticket, the details I remembered were that this game was in May of 1987 against the Astros, was in the Mezzanine in section 8. Sid Fernandez was pitching and Jesse Orosco pitched as well. Howard Johnson hit two home runs and the Mets won by a lot. After looking up the ticket and then the boxscore, I had some details wrong, but mostly, my memory did not let me down. I had the correct section, but the wrong year (I originally thought it was in 1987). Fernandez did pitch 5 innings giving up just one hit but Orosco did not pitch. Terry Leach did. HoJo did not hit two home runs…just one. Tim Teufel hit the other homer. (I still remember the thrill of witnessing my first live home run, but apparently, I don’t remember any of the details because I thought it was HoJo to right field, but it was Teufel to left-center.)

All that said, the contents of the cigar box really strikes an emotional chord with me at the moment. In a big way, it somehow encapsulates what this project…this book is about. My love of baseball is abundantly clear through this, but also lessons in chasing dreams.

October Turtle was a baseball statistics company I attempted to start. I wrote and sold a piece of software to the Orioles as well as some other services. Ultimately it failed. However, my Orioles ID and the Mets tickets show that some dreams do come true, even when others fail, a desperately needed reminder as I embark on this dream.

While baseball first inspired me to write, I was only writing for myself. I didn’t show anybody else what I was writing because I was afraid. I kept my candle under a basket. During my Junior year, I attended a retreat through my high school. That retreat would play a pretty important role in turning my life around. While it is a story for another time, it ultimately resulted in my sharing the things I wrote with my friends and family. The crucifix in the box was given to me on the last day of the retreat at the closing mass by my father who had it from a retreat that he had gone on when he was younger. In giving that cross to me, he revealed a side of himself I had seldom seen and I was deeply touched that he would share that with me. I still remember the moment like it was yesterday and it helped inspire me.

I forget exactly how it came about, but around that time I started using “Michaelangelo” as a goofy name during subsequent retreats and ultimately as a penname during college. I remember that I use to have an “elevator pitch” ready to explain why I used Michaelangelo, but for the life of me, I cannot remember why. I just know it had to do with some metaphor with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.

So, anyway, the strangest part about this trip into the cigar box that I literally just noticed today…the box has the name of the cigars on the side: Michelangelo (yes, spelled differently than the version I used). I don’t ever remember noticing it before. With my memory getting old, it is possible I bought that box just because it said Michelangelo, but I feel like that would be something I would remember, even if I can’t remember what I had for lunch today.

Despite being involved in retreats and church groups in my teens and twenties, these days I mostly keep my faith to myself. However, in the next couple of weeks, my book and these blog posts will delve into that a bit more. However, finding that cigar box and its contents just reaffirms my faith and gives me hope.

Categories
Warehouse Windows

When the Bubble Bursts

I was in the press box at Camden Yards when Cal Ripken Jr. grounded out to end the 1996 American League Championship series. If my memory serves me right, he made a desperate slide into first base, disappearing into a cloud of dust. Even down 4 runs and two games in the series, I thought a miracle was still possible. But it wasn’t.

I was in the control room at Camden Yards when Roberto Alomar struck out to end the 1997 American League Championship series. I don’t know why I was there…it wasn’t my normal spot, but there I was, hoping against all hope that Alomar would keep it going…produce some magic. But he didn’t.

I was home, alone in my living room in Queens, New York, just four days before my wedding, when Kenny Rogers walked Andruw Jones with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 11th inning, ending the magical 1999 National League Championship Series. That series was so full of miraculous moments and I believed, with all my heart, the Mets had a couple more in them. But they didn’t.

I was in the center field bleachers with my old roommate, co-worker and friend from my days with the Orioles when Mike Piazza drove a ball deep off the legendary Mariano Rivera with a runner on and down by two to end the 2000 World Series. I remember my friend grabbing my arm as we lept up in our seats thinking the ball might go out. But it didn’t.

Heartbreaks of your team losing in the playoffs or just barely missing them are profound when you are just a fan. When you work for the team, however…it’s like a dagger deep into your soul. There is so much intensity and hard work and sacrifices that happen on one of these runs. Night after night away from friends and loved ones. Missed family events. Early morning and late nights. Days that bleed into each other. Sleep is elusive, even in the rare moments when you are actually able to try and get it. The deeper your team gets, the more intense it gets and you are only surviving on takeout, stadium food, and adrenaline.

And then, in a flash. On a ball four or a weakly hit ball or a strike without the bat leaving a shoulder or a deeply hit ball, it is just over. Weeks of preparation and timelines and pressure are just gone in an instant. There really is just nothing like it that I have experienced. In one moment you go from having no time to all the time in the world. It is so bewildering, for lack of a better word.

I was lucky enough to see playoffs in four of the five full seasons I worked in Major League baseball and I would never, ever trade those moments, but the all together expected shockwave the end brings is so jarring…like getting punched in the stomach while enjoying an ice cream cone.

In each of those four ends, what I remember most is that for the first time in weeks, I felt the cold autumn weather. It was there and I was dressed for it, but I don’t remember the cold in all those October games in the press box, or in the stands or wandering the concourses. However, at the moment that it ended, I could feel the cold hit like a steam train.

It leads me to this image of this awful Winter figure (looking very much like Snowmiser) suddenly grabbing you with that last out and throwing you into winter. Summer disappears at that moment and cold, bleak winter begins.

After the 1997 ALCS, I ventured down to the press box and sat in my manager’s seat upfront and just stared out into the field, desperately fighting tears (F you, Jimmy Dugan…you are just wrong). It is really a blur. I think I was waiting for one of my best friends to wrap up her game duties before venturing back to the office in the warehouse. As I sat there, this guy, with bloodshot eyes and one of those 1980’s era satin Orioles jackets stood up on one of the seats to peek into the press box. His hat was kind of off to the right and his hair was attempting to escape out from under it. I recognized him as one of the season ticket holders who would stop by and talk to various people in the box.

He looked at me and asked me, in a voice that was clearly trying to choke back tears, “When is Opening Day?” I didn’t have an answer for him and just kind of blankly stared at him. He could see that I didn’t know and just sort of nodded at me, climbed down from the chair, and walked away.

That is such a powerful question for me and it really just sums up baseball for those of us that love this game. Yeah, baseball breaks our hearts and rips out our souls, but hope is always out there. Whether it is the next batter, next inning, the next game, the next series, or the next year. “When is Opening Day?” There is just so much damn hope in that question, even in a moment that feels absolutely hopeless.