Every week we will run a Q&A with a wonderful reporter to talk about what’s right and wrong with journalism, their interests and random other stuff. Some are friends. Some are just people whose work we really respect. Some cover sports. Some don’t. Hopefully all will be interesting.
This week, it’s with Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News. Mark covers the Yankees and has been on the beat since 2001. He’s one of the best in the business and also one of its more thoughtful people. We talk about what it’s like to cover a behemoth like the Yankees and to be on the beat as a husband and father.
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The questions are in bold. The answers are not.
1. How did you break into journalism and land at the job you hold now?
I graduated from Boston University with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and had aspirations to be on-air, doing internships at WFAN and WEEI the year before I graduated. (I spent the first two summers during college working at sleepaway camp, which, for anybody that knows me, knows is pretty much my favorite place in the world. But I digress.)
I had also worked as an operations runner for ABC sporadically during my college years, working a few golf tournaments, the New York City Marathon, some college football games and a couple of Monday Night Football games.
Although I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to do play-by-play, talk radio or something else, I knew I wanted to work in sports. I love sports. I was a die-hard fan of the Yankees and Giants in baseball (my father lived in San Francisco when I was in high school and I was the biggest Will Clark fan ever), the Islanders, Knicks and Redskins. If I could work in sports, it would barely feel like a job. Or so I thought at the time, anyway.
As is often the case with people in our industry, you take whatever job you can get after you graduate college to get your foot in the door and get your career started.
In my case, that turned out to be a staff writer position with The Sports Business Daily, which was moving from Virginia to Norwalk, Conn. (I did a brief part-time stint with SportsTicker for a few months right out of college taking pitch-by-pitch data from baseball games over the telephone. Man, that makes me sound really old.)
For those unfamiliar with it, The Daily (as it is commonly known) is essentially a Monday-through-Friday briefing on the sports business world. At the time, it was 14 pages per day, and it would be sent out via e-mail or fax around lunch time every day. We compiled clips from every newspaper around the country (at least those that had web sites in 1996), along with news from a variety of television news, sports and entertainment shows.
The hours were grueling and the pay wasn’t very good, but it was a job in the industry, which was enough for me at the time. I worked Sunday through Friday, with shifts ranging from 5:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. or 2:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m., so a 9:00 p.m. bedtime was not uncommon. I would be asleep before Seinfeld even started. There was no such thing as a DVR at the time, so my VCR got a workout taping my favorite shows so I could catch up on my day off.
There wasn’t a whole lot of original writing, though I did have an opportunity to do some. What I did learn was how far-reaching sports were, not only the on-field game but the media world, sponsorships, advertising and more. I was always interested in it, but knew I wanted to do something more creative.
When The Daily moved to Charlotte, I went with them for a few months to help set up shop and train a new staff, but I knew North Carolina wasn’t for me. I grew up in New York City and southern living wasn’t my speed.
I returned home and got hired at FoxSports.com, where I initially served as the producer of the golf page. I wound up helping launch Fox’s regional sports web sites, working with Andrew Perloff (aka “McLovin” from the Dan Patrick Show) to oversee the staff for those sites for about a year. Just as my first employer had moved to North Carolina, FoxSports.comannounced that it was closing its New York office and moving to Los Angeles. It was basically the same situation I had with The Daily, only instead of the South, it was the West Coast. I wasn’t moving there, either.
Fortunately, a friend of mine that had left FoxSports.com had moved on to MLB.com, which was just starting up at the time. Before that, all 30 teams and the league operated their own sites, but the creation of MLB Advanced Media condensed them all into one operation.
My buddy told me that MLB.com was looking for people to cover both the Yankees and Mets, so I sent a résumé over and landed an interview. Keep in mind, at this point I had never covered a beat of any kind. My event coverage had consisted of a few NFL Drafts, a couple of sponsorship press conferences and that was about it.
In other words, I was a 26-year-old guy who was not remotely qualified for these jobs. But I knew baseball and I knew how to write, so I figured I’d give it a shot.
They had already hired somebody for the Yankees job by the time I interviewed, but they talked to me about the Mets job. About a week or two later, the person they had hired to cover the Yankees was no longer taking the job, so they brought me back in to talk to me about that gig. After meeting with the MLB.com folks, I had to go to Yankee Stadium to interview with some people at the team, as the teams were very involved with the launch, especially those like the Yankees that were not thrilled with sharing revenue they previously had all to themselves.
My interview at Yankee Stadium was with five or six people, mostly lawyers, though Lonn Trost, the team’s COO, was running the session. It took place in George Steinbrenner’s office – that wasn’t intimidating at all – and we all set around a big conference table. Only nobody sat in the big chair, which I presumed was the Boss’ chair and his chair only.
I wound up getting the job, which was perfect since Fox closed its New York office and I started at MLB.com the following week.
I covered the Yankees for MLB.com from 2001-2006, figuring out this whole beat-writing thing at some point along the way. Toward the end of 2006, my good friend Sam Borden decided to leave the Daily News for a columnist position in Jacksonville and a few people at the paper mentioned my name to sports editor Leon Carter.
Leon brought me in for an interview and despite my complete lack of any newspaper experience, I got the job. This is my 10th season covering the Yankees for the Daily News. It’s been quite a ride.
2. You are a rare breed in today’s journalism world, going from a website (MLB.com) to a newspaper (New York Daily News). Moves like that seem to be happening less and less these day, with many more print writers transitioning to digital-only outlets. To what extent was your move a vote of confidence in newspapers? What do you think is the appeal that draws journalists to a print product?
My move from MLB.com to the Daily News had very little to do with my confidence in the newspaper industry. Many people told me I was an idiot for leaving a booming dot-com company like MLBAM for a paper, as the industry was already heading in the direction we’ve seen. But the people I trusted most all said the same thing: The Daily News and the Post aren’t going anywhere. As long as there are commuters in New York, the tabloids will be fine. My pal Peter Abraham has always said there would be a chapter in journalism books about me someday as the last dope to move from a dot-com to a newspaper.
The appeal of the move was simple on a few fronts. I got a raise, a chunk of time off during the winter (I typically take all my vacation/comp time in one big lump and just hibernate every January) and a lot more exposure.
I loved working at MLB.com. I am still very close with many people I worked with there, most of whom still work there. It’s a great company full of great people and I could never express how valuable my six years there were in terms of learning how to do my job.
But as a kid growing up in New York, I have been reading the Daily News since I was in elementary school. I always loved the sports section, devouring every column whether it was Mike Lupica, Bill Madden or Mark Kriegel. The idea of working for the Daily News was intoxicating to some extent, knowing that my family and friends would be able to read my stuff with their morning coffee or on the way to work every day.
The exposure factor was also important. Being the Yankees beat writer for the News meant doing the “Daily News Fifth” radio spot every game, which allowed me to put that broadcast journalism degree to work. I had also known from my friendships with Sam and Anthony McCarron (the beat writer before Sam) that freelance opportunities existed, as did other television spots. Put all of it together and the decision wasn’t a very hard one. There were probably only two or three papers I would have left MLB.com for in 2007, but the Daily News was one of them.
3. What’s it like to cover the Yankees? They are something like a singular team in American sports. They’re not only a baseball team, but they comport themselves more like a corporation than any I can think of. There seems to be this unending drama with them, and palace intrigue always runs high there. And plenty of reporters have said that it takes a while to get your bearings on the beat because there are so many layers to get through and get a hold of. Is there a way to encapsulate the job?
It’s a circus at times, no doubt. There never seems to be a shortage on drama, though with Alex Rodriguez no longer on the team, we may get a reprieve for a while.
Stories that might not move the needle in other markets become front-page news in New York. Can you tell me if any ex-Brewers are supporting Donald Trump? No? That’s weird, because I know that both Paul O’Neill and Johnny Damon are. And Reggie Jackson liked John Kasich. New York can certainly be a different animal at times.
I have a lot of friends on other beats that say they would never trade places with me, that the Yankees beat is just too crazy. Maybe it’s the New Yorker in me, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.
It does take a while to get your bearings, but mostly because there are so many other people on the beat, you can’t just walk into the clubhouse and announce your presence.
For example, when our buddy Andy McCullough left New York for Kansas City, I would imagine it didn’t take long before every member of the Royals knew who he was. He was the beat writer for the only paper in town, one of only two beat writers overall including MLB.com. He was the guy.
With our beat, there are 11 separate media entities that travel with the team: Daily News, New York Post, New York Times, Newsday, Bergen Record, Star-Ledger, Wall Street Journal, Journal News, ESPN.com, WFAN and MLB.com. And that doesn’t even include Meredith Marakovits, who is the reporter for the YES Network.
So when one beat writer leaves and a new person replaces them, they can often find themselves walking into a clubhouse where the players already have established relationships with several beat writers.
When I started in 2001, the Yankees were coming off of three straight World Series titles. Most of the guys on the beat had been on the job for at least a year or two, some more than that. They also worked for newspapers that players had heard of, not some new dot-com that most people viewed at the time as nothing more than a marketing arm for the league and its teams.
I knew my best route wasn’t going to be trying to make Derek Jeter or Bernie Williams my best friend. So I tried to establish relationships with some of the younger guys and minor-leaguers. In theory, that would have been great. But when the 2001 season was over, the only phone number I had gotten was from Brandon Knight. Remember him? Exactly.
Being on the beat for several years obviously helps. The more guys see you, the more they get to know you and vice versa. I have found some players to be very engaging and others to be tedious. I’d bet if you walked into any office in America, you’d find the same thing with the people that worked there.
George Steinbrenner was also still large and in charge when I started, which presented a whole other aspect to covering the team. I never had a chance to get to know George personally (he had his stroke only a few years into my time there) but I spent more time than I can remember staking him out in the halls of Legends Field than anyone ever should.
The daily grind of the Yankees beat is pretty much like that of any other baseball team. This guy has a strained quad, that guy is in a slump, this guy is having an MRI, blah, blah, blah. What makes the beat so challenging in my opinion are the 10 other beat reporters (I won’t limit it to writers out of deference to my good friend Sweeny Murti, who also began covering the team in 2001 and does a hell of a job for WFAN).
Every day, I scan my competition’s sites (or their Twitter feeds) to see what I got beat on. Not if I got beat, because there’s always at least one nugget that I see and think, “Damn, that was a good idea. Why didn’t I think of that?” It’s part of the job. You’re not going to have every story, every scoop, every notable item before everybody else.
With that type of competition, you have to stay on top of your game or risk being beaten day after day. I’m a competitive person by nature, so I hate getting beat on a story. That said, when one of my friends breaks a big Yankees story, I’m the first one to shoot them a text or an email congratulating them on it. I know how hard it is to have a clean break, so I respect the work that goes into it.
The other thing I find rare about our beat is that because it consists of so many people, I’ve made some friendships that go well beyond being “work friends.” Sam Borden, Peter Abraham and Sweeny Murti are among my closest friends, not just in the business, but in life. We spend more time during a baseball season with each other than we do with our families. It’s scary, but Sweeny (who was actually the first person I met at my WFAN internship in 1995 and also the first person I met on my first day of spring training in 2001) and I figured out last year that we have eaten more dinners out with each other than with our own wives since we started in 2001. And it’s not even close.
Having guys like Anthony McCarron, Tyler Kepner, Chad Jennings, Dan Barbarisi, Marc Carig, Bryan Hoch, Pete Caldera, Jorge Arangure, Jorge Castillo, Wally Matthews and Dom Amore on the beat – some for a few months, others for more than a decade – has provided me with countless laugh-out-loud dinners and late-night drinks at random bars, making the time away from home a little more palatable. It was even fun having McCullough on the beat for a year. I’m sure I’m forgetting some others, but they can just complain to me on Twitter like everybody else seems to do.
4. You’ve covered the Yankees on a full-time basis now for 16 years now. When you cover something for so long, how difficult is it to prevent it from becoming boring or stale? How do you ensure you have fresh eyes when looking for stories? How do you balance the importance of having great institutional knowledge with maintaining the curiosity of someone new and hungry on the beat? Basically, is it tough for journalists to avoid their version of regulatory capture?
Bill Madden, who was a mentor to me during our nine years together at the Daily News, once told me something that has proven to be 100% accurate: “Don’t worry about your early. The Yankees always provide.”
He’s right. I show up to the ballpark on many days thinking, “What the hell am I going to write today?” and within an hour, I have more than I can fit in the paper. Something always seems to happen, whether it’s an injury, a player transaction, a controversial lineup change or something A-Rod did. (Man, I’m going to miss that guy. He was gold for us.)
The other thing that keeps things fresh is the nature of player movement in baseball. Every year, there are some new faces in the clubhouse, whether it’s free-agent signings or trades from the winter or moves made during the season.
I’ve also come to learn in the past weeks that some teams actually develop prospects and bring them up to play in the majors. This has been mostly a foreign concept to me, so I couldn’t figure out where Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge came from, but it turns out they have been in the Yankees system for a while now.
I’m kidding, obviously. I actually think the Yankees get a bad rap on their player development because of the ridiculous run of success their last crop of homegrown players had together. Teams aren’t supposed to develop Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada at the same time, then keep them all for 15-plus years and win four or five World Series titles. It just doesn’t happen.
Since 2005, the Yankees produced Robinson Cano, Chien-Ming Wang, Brett Gardner, David Robertson, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, Dellin Betances and more, all of whom have played significant roles with the club. Joba-mania was unlike anything I had seen in my first seven years, and obviously Sanchez has provided us with plenty to write the past couple weeks.
I lover writing features, but with the exception of the occasional off-day, there usually isn’t much time for that during the season. I try to do one or two “End Zone” pieces every spring, which gives me time to do more reporting without the same daily grind the regular season presents.
This spring, I did one on foreign players and the challenge they face when they arrive in the U.S. without speaking much (or in some cases, any) English and another on the tradition of veterans teaching young players how to be major-leaguers. I also enjoyed writing a feature on first-round pick James Kaprielian. You get great stories from players that wouldn’t always have a place during the regular season, but in spring training, there are only so many “Player X is in the best shape of his life” stories you can tolerate.
Having the chance to write a story about Nick and JoAnna Swisher’s visit to Afghanistan was another one I enjoyed writing. After the story came out, I received a lovely note from the Under Secretary of the Army telling me how much he liked the story, which meant a lot. To know that stories like this are reaching people outside of the sports world is refreshing.
There’s always a way to keep things fresh and find new angles if you’re willing to take the time to look for them. But sometimes the news dominates the cycle and you just have to go with the flow.
5. Part of your job this season at the Daily News has been to write columns at times, in addition to your typical beat work. For a beat writer, authoring columns seems treacherous — you’re offering your opinion, but then still expected to maintain an impartial approach in your pursuit of news. What are the challenges you’ve found acting as columnist slash beat writer? How difficult is it to write the columns you might want at times, knowing you’re going to put your beat writer hat on the next day?
The most difficult part of writing columns is actually writing them. It’s easy to have an opinion on something and spew out 700 words explaining that opinion. But there are days when I’m assigned to write a column and there’s simply nothing that stands out as being column-worthy. Those days are a challenge, because I have to find something to have a take on – and I’m not a “hot-take” guy that just takes the easy angle and hammers one side. That’s where a beat writer can get in trouble, I think.
The conflict of writing columns and covering the beat hasn’t been difficult for me. As long as I believe in what I’m writing, I have no problem defending my opinion if somebody was to confront me.
Earlier this season, I wrote several columns taking Joe Girardi to task for pulling his starters with low pitch counts even though they were pitching well. His formula of Betances-Miller-Chapman was locked in, so even if Ivan Nova pitched six sparkling innings, his night was over before the seventh started. We hear so much about how pitchers can’t go deep into games any more and can’t pitch themselves out of trouble, but if a manager isn’t going to allow his starter to pitch deep into games, how will he ever learn?
The lack of conflict is simple: By the time Girardi hears my questions and follow-ups, he can probably tell you what my column will say. I don’t tip-toe around players or managers very much, because I want them to know exactly what I’m asking so there’s no confusion. I’m not disrespectful when I do it, because we’re all professionals there to do a job, but if I disagree with something, they usually know it.
My basic rule is this: As long as I believe I’m being fair, I’m comfortable with writing whatever I want. I’ll be there the next day if anybody has a problem with it.
6. In addition to your beat work, you’ve done plenty of work on television, contributing regularly to MLB Network and YES Network. It has been increasingly common of late for reporters to work on channels fully or partially owned by teams or the league — Jared included, a contributor to SNY. How much do you worry about a potential conflict of interest while covering a team or sport while also working for a business it has a hand in? How would you compare your TV persona to your newspaper persona?
Similar to the column situation, I don’t have much of a problem with it. I’m not working for the team when I do TV spots, and I have never been told to hold back from saying something when I’ve done work for YES or SNY. As long as that’s the case, I am happy to go on TV any time.
The MLB Network has been a wonderful opportunity for me since I started working with them a couple years ago. The people there are tremendous to work with, from the producers to the talent, and it’s always a great experience. Even when Chris Russo yells at me.
Remember, my first six years on the Yankees beat were for MLB.com, meaning my work was the primary news content on the Yankees’ web site. When we started in 2001, many people viewed us as being team-run, which was not the case. So my introduction to this side of the industry involved working for a league-run outlet, which I think dulled my sensitivity to any outside opinion that I was pushing someone’s agenda. From 2001 to now, I go to work every day just trying to be the best reporter I can, no matter which way the wind blows.
Take A-Rod as a perfect example. For several years, I crushed him continuously. He did a lot of clownish things and made it very easy to bash him on a regular basis. Everything he did leading up to the PED suspension was borderline deplorable, even crossing that line at times. Before that, on-field incidents such as the “Slap play” against Boston or the “Ha!” play in Toronto provided us with plenty of material.
The past two years, Alex returned from his suspension and appeared to have been humbled and actually learned something. He said all the right things, did all the right things, and in the case of 2015, proved everybody wrong with his play on the field. Some people may have just continued to find any flaw and expose it, but I wrote more complimentary things about him during the past two years than I probably did in the preceding 11.
I’m not sure how I got to this point while talking about TV, so let’s just move on.
7. What do you consider your best scoop since joining the Yankees beat? In your experience, what are the ingredients that go into a reporter breaking a big piece of news these days? More generally, what is it like now as a beat writer to compete with national reporters to break stories? They have some inherent advantages, like audience size and a bigger megaphone. To what extent do you see yourself as competing with them, versus competing only with the people on the Yankees beat?
I compete with everybody. If Ken Rosenthal breaks a Yankees story, it bothers me that I didn’t have it. If George King or Erik Boland break a Yankees story, it bothers me that I didn’t have it. If Jack Curry breaks a Yankees story, it bothers me that I didn’t have it.
The national guys have moved into NFL territory, where they break the majority of the news. I don’t begrudge them for it, though. Guys like Rosenthal, Jon Heyman and Buster Olney have put in a lot of work over a lot of years to get where they are. Instead of being bitter about it, I try to get better so I can compete with those guys. I’ve broken enough news to know that I have the ability to do it, and that keeps me going through the dark hot stove days.
The biggest story I have broken is easy: Alex Rodriguez returning to the Yankees with a new 10-year contract in 2007. From the moment A-Rod opted out of his deal during the World Series, it was clear that where he landed would be the biggest get of the winter.
It was the end of my first year at the Daily News, and while I had gotten some good scoops during the season and written some good stories, this was my first offseason, where baseball writers take a lot of pride in their ability to break news.
It was the day of the New York chapter meeting of the BBWAA where we vote on awards for our annual dinner, and on this day, we were also voting to nominate somebody for the Hall of Fame’s Spink Award. My colleague Bill Madden was one of the writers being considered and my sports editor, Leon Carter, was coming to the meeting to speak on Bill’s behalf. The entire crew of Daily News baseball writers was going to the meeting to support – and vote for – Bill.
The meeting was at Shea Stadium, which is about 90 minutes from my house. As I was getting dressed and ready to leave, my phone rang. It was a source of mine, telling me that Alex was coming back to the Yankees. Within 10 minutes, I had the story confirmed and hammered out something for our web site to break it. I wound up arriving at the meeting an hour late because of the story, but I remember walking into the room and seeing writers around the room looking at me. Some with a smile as to say, “Good job,” while others had a look of, “Damn you.”
When I left Shea, I went on with Mike and the Mad Dog to discuss the story, which was my first appearance on the show. As a kid that grew up listening to them and later interning for them, it was pretty damn cool.
8. What are three stories that you read recently that you loved?
Let me start by saying I’m a Washington Post junkie. I’ve been reading the paper since I was a kid even though I grew up in New York, routinely making the walk over to a store called “State News” that sold the paper along with other out-of-town periodicals.
In the pre-Internet days, it was one of the few ways I could follow my beloved Redskins, and those were the days when you actually wanted to read about them regularly. I’d devour every Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon column and couldn’t get enough of them. To me, their sports section remains the gold standard, and pretty much anything that Dave Sheinen, Barry Svurluga or Adam Kilgore write will be the best thing I read that week. I’m happy to call all three of those guys friends.
If you haven’t read Barry’s multi-part series from last September looking at the Nationals’ tumultuous season, I’d highly recommend it. That’s what baseball writing is all about.
That said, as much as I enjoy reading about sports, I’m also an entertainment junkie. I love reading magazines such as GQ, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and Entertainment Weekly, which I find to be an escape from this insular baseball world we live in every day.
I’m bad at remembering stories I read because I read so many, but here are a few that stand out from the past few weeks:
The Washington Post did a terrific story on Norm MacDonald, who was one of my favorite actors on Saturday Night Live. I love SNL, even in the bad seasons. The oral history by Jim Miller is one of my favorite books. This story was great, and the sidebar filled with texts between Norm and the author, Geoff Edgers, added a unique aspect.
Matt Taibbi’s look at the Trump campaign in Rolling Stone this past February was outstanding. Comparing the entire campaign to an episode of the Jerry Springer Show was brilliant. I’m not a super political guy (though The West Wing is my favorite show of all-time) but this campaign has been fascinating to follow. It’s even more interesting to go back and read Taibbi’s story now given what’s happened to Trump and his presidential bid during the past six months.
I’ll go back to the Washington Post for my third story, once again written by Barry. His profile of MLBPA executive director Tony Clark was fabulous, looking at how a power-hitting first baseman wound up running the players association. I covered Tony for one year with the Yankees in 2004 and have remained friendly with him throughout the years. After he left the Yankees, he heard through another writer that my wife and I had had our first son. He emailed me to congratulate me – most players I covered at the time barely said a word about it or even knew – which told me that Tony was a man that valued the relationships he had, from friends to teammates to reporters. He was very involved with the union as a player rep, but even then, I never imagined he would ever run the whole show.
I’ll give you a bonus fourth: This Newsweek story on the high school teacher that introduced Lin-Manuel Miranda to Alexander Hamilton. This one struck me on a personal level; I attended the same high school as Lin (he’s six years younger than I am, so we have never met) and I had Mr. Steinfink for Social Studies as well. I have yet to see Hamilton (because like everyone else, I can’t get tickets and don’t want to spend $1,000 on them), but I’m a Broadway junkie and can’t wait to see it. I did a lot of theater when I was in high school, and the idea that three of the biggest shows of the past decade were written by fellow Hunter College High School alumni (Bobby Lopez, who I have known since elementary school, co-wrote Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon, which may be the two funniest shows I’ve ever seen) is amazing to me. My place on the list of statues to be built outside of Hunter has fallen significantly thanks to these two guys.
9. Most reporters on a baseball beat are single. It seems natural considering the rhythm and demands of it. But you have a wife and two kids. How difficult is it to juggle the two demands — your work and family? Obviously choices have to be made often, especially now in the endless content loop. Do you ever feel guilty for choosing breaking news or a big story at the cost of family time, or just getting away with the wife and kids when something significant happens on the beat? And have you thought that having a family was too prohibitive of doing this job and wanted to shift to something else?
Perhaps I should have my wife answer this one. Kidding.
It’s a huge challenge. I got engaged the night before Opening Day of my first year on the beat. I think I may have thought that giving her a wedding to plan during my first season would distract her from the ridiculous schedule I was about to take on.
We were married during spring training of year two, and we didn’t have our first son until April 2005, so we had three years where she could accompany me on some trips, which was a lot of fun. Once our son was born, that was obviously a game-changer. I never appreciated hotel sleep as much as I did in May 2005.
When I take vacation now, I shut down. There’s no other way to do it. If I’m in Aruba or Marco Island and I’m worried about what Rosenthal is tweeting, it’s not really a vacation. I tend to take a big chunk of time off – basically all of January – which is the slowest time I can think of. It’s not that difficult.
During the season is another story altogether. I’ve had many dinners, Little League games and movies cut short because of news. I was at the movies when I broke the story that the Yankees had signed Carlos Beltran. I was at dinner just a couple weeks ago when the Yankees announced that A-Rod would hold a press conference the next morning. My wife gets irritated when these things happen, but she understands it’s part of the job.
The story that most comes to mind is one I wrote about when the whole A-Rod/release thing was going on. It was a couple days before I was leaving for spring training, and my older son, who was a couple months shy of turning four, wanted to go to the mall to go on the rides. As I was putting my shoes on, my phone rang. It was my sports editor, Leon.
“A-Rod tested positive for steroids,” Leon said. “We have a lot of work to do today.”
After informing my wife that Selena Roberts had just altered our day significantly, she told my son we weren’t going to the mall after all. He came into my room and asked what happened. Explaining steroid use to a toddler was not easy, so I tried to put it into language he could understand.
“A-Rod cheated at baseball, so Daddy has to work today,” I told him.
Like I said, I’m going to miss Alex.
The toughest part is when I miss my kids’ events. I serve as an assistant coach on their Little League teams rather than a manager because I know I am going to be on the road for half their games. I’ve missed school events, chorus concerts, flag football games and more, though I coach their basketball team (despite my lack of any Xs and Os knowledge of the game) every winter, rarely ever missing a game.
My one non-negotiable weekend away is in late-July, when I travel to the Poconos to see my kids at their camp’s visiting day. They go to the same camp I went to, so Saturday is visiting day and Sunday is alumni day. I don’t care where the Yankees are that weekend; I won’t be there.
I think the key to doing this job with a family is to make the most out of the time you do have. When I’m home and off, we spend almost all of that time together. My kids don’t know life any differently, as I’ve been doing this since before they were born. Had I been working a 9-to-5 job for the first five or six years of their lives and then taken on a beat writing gig, they would have noticed the difference. But they’re used to make packing a bag and heading to Cleveland or Anaheim every other week. It’s just what we do.
10. You’re a Washington football team fan (Yep, that’s what we’re calling them). Is it different rooting for a pro team now than before you became a big-time reporter? Does your knowledge of “how the sausage is made” in sports affect how you think of your team? And have you ever wanted to cover the NFL, or do you want to keep something in sports to yourself?
I would rather leave the industry than cover the NFL. That’s how much I love my football Sundays. Sitting in my living room with my 11-year-old (my eight-year-old isn’t quite into football yet) and watching the games all afternoon is my favorite day of the week every fall. My sons, my father and I take an annual trip to FedEx Field to see a Redskins game (yes, I still use the actual team name), making a boys weekend out of it. I don’t ever want to give those up.
I have never covered the NFL other than one day of Patriots practice last fall when we were in Boston and Deflategate had everybody in sports on high alert. That was more than enough for me. Bill Belichick’s press conference was the most painful eight minutes I’ve ever been through professionally.
I do have some friends that cover the NFL, so I’ll pick their brains from time to time about the Redskins, but I think they know how much I love the team and try not to douse that with any bad behind-the-scenes stuff. I tend to do the same thing when I’m talking to my friends that are huge Yankees fans. There’s no reason for me to squash their love for their team because some guy was a dick and blew me off for an interview.
As for being a sportswriter and a fan, my job has certainly impacted the way I watch baseball. I grew up a Yankees fan, but that was beaten out of me very quickly in 2001 when I started covering the team. I no longer had the luxury of caring whether the Yankees won or lost; I had a job to do. As I mentioned before, I’m also a San Francisco Giants fan, and since I cover the AL and rarely ever see them in person, I’ve managed to remain a fan from afar, often listening to their games on the radio on my way home from work.
Covering the 2010 World Series was pretty cool, I must admit. I had never seen the Giants win a championship, so being in the ballpark in Texas when they won their first title since moving to San Francisco was fun. There was one moment that night when I actually felt like a 14-year-old. I was standing in the Giants clubhouse looking for Tim Lincecum for a quote for my game story, but he was nowhere to be found. As I scanned the room, I noticed that Will Clark was standing next to me. Will Clark! I said to him, “What do you think about all of this?” After swigging a sip of champagne, he looked at me and said, “They put a lot of those skeletons to rest.” I wasn’t even sure that made sense, but I used it in my story, anyway. I’ve covered their two other titles in 2012 and ’14, though those felt more like work than the first one did.
I probably look at all sports differently now that I do what I do, but I still love sports. I get consumed by the Islanders at times, often spending nights at spring training at a Tampa sports bar watching them play on the one TV they’ll put the game on. I hadn’t watched the NBA in about 15 years – probably not uncommon among Knicks fans that grew up watching the Ewing era – but the Warriors drew me back in last year and I couldn’t get enough of the playoffs. The NBA Finals were a joy to watch.
I understand that even if I stop covering baseball, I’ll never be able to watch the game like I once did. The last game I attended as a pure fan was Game 2 of the 2000 World Series (the Clemens bat-throw game), which was a pretty good way to go out. That’s okay with me. I’m getting a kick watching my kids grow up as sports fans, which is enough for me. As long as I have my football Sundays.
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