Blogger on the Beat, Part 1

You’ve probably noticed (or not) that I was away from the blog for a good chunk of the summer.  Even though I’m not as proficient a poster as others (I do have other priorities), my summer writings have been particularly sparse.  Well, there was a reason for my absence.

This past March I decided to begin another blogging project, one which just concluded a few weeks ago.  This summer I became a beat writer (of sorts) for a minor league baseball team.

So what does that mean and how did I get there?  First some background.

For those of you who do not know, I have made a career in the media.  I currently work in the business, managing a small local cable television station.  My career started in radio as a news anchor/reporter and I also briefly freelanced as a sports reporter for a local daily in southeastern Massachusetts.

During my time on radio the station was issued press passes from the Pawtucket Red Sox, the Triple-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.  One season I attended between 30 to 40 home games, gathering sound bites for use by the sports anchor the next day.   I also covered the team during my newspaper days.  Over time I developed a relationship with the PawSox’ front office.

I was away from the team for nearly 20 years when I contacted them last summer seeking to write a piece about experiencing a game in their press box for SMJ.  They were gracious enough to grant me access for that story.

Then came this past March.  In our piece last August, I was taken aback by the lack of coverage of the PawSox, except for the Providence Journal and the local Pawtucket Times which staff each and every home game.  With the popularity of the team in the region, and being located in the heart of Red Sox Nation, I thought that there was room to provide broader coverage of the team.

So I registered for a free Blogger account and created PawSox Blog.  I also secured the stand-alone pawsoxblog.com domain.

I approached PawSox Vice President of Public Relations Bill Wanless about my ideas and about securing a season press pass.  He appeared to be concerned with the “blogger” aspect of covering the team, falling into the general perception of the blogging world.  Fortunately for me Bill had known of my previous work, and after talking it over with senior club officials, agreed to provide me a press credential, with the understanding that access could be revoked at the club’s discretion.  I was thankful for the opportunity.  By the way, the question of my credibility never came up the entire season.

My goal was to cover the team as any other beat writer, filing game stories in a timely fashion (even though I did not have a deadline).  At the same time I wanted to use many Web 2.0 applications not seen very much in the minors, or even by media in many Major League cities.  This included the use of audio and video on the blog.

My first test was to attend the club’s Media Day in early April.  I was fortunate to be able to take a colleague of mine who served as videographer for the day.  During the afternoon I took photos of much of the festivities and conducted video interviews with PawSox Manager Ron Johnson and team President Mike Tamburro.  It was a good way for me to get into the practice of covering the team again while begin building relationships with players and coaches in anticipation of the long season ahead.

I knew going into this project that I would not be able to personally cover every home game.  I have a wife and daughter, and as much as I enjoyed this new venture, their happiness trumped any non-paying hobby I was involved with.  I’ve always said that my family, and my paying job, come before SMJ, or PawSox Blog.  I did not see this as a challenge to doing a good job, just a reality that I accepted upfront.  I must say that without the support of my wife and daughter, who both encouraged me to do this, I would not have been able to accomplish what I did.

Opening Day came on April 3rd at the PawSox home park, McCoy Stadium.  I adjusted my work schedule that week to ensure that I was able to get to the park about three hours before the opening pitch.  The big draw of the evening was not only the first game of the new season, but the debut of former Cy Young Award winner Bartolo Colon in the Red Sox organization.  Because the Sox had plans for Colon at the big league level, the media interest in this game was a little more intense than normal.  Colon did not disappoint, pitching five innings and earning the win.  Because of his stature in terms of experience, Colon spoke to reporters before the game was completed.  He was no where to be found after the game.

I tried to do things with the blog on the minor league level that many reporters who cover Major League teams do…I would live blog from the game, giving updates every two innings, or more frequently if events warranted.  I also liked to post complete interviews with players as podcasts.  This gave the fan un-fettered access to the player as he was being interviewed.  Many big league reporters don’t partake in this practice, but they should.

Even though I didn’t attend every home game (let alone those on the road), I did attempt to write every day.  Many days I would provide a brief game preview based on the press notes issued by each team. (I would include quotes from Johnson or PawSox players when I wrote a preview on a game I personally attended).  I also would write game stories whether the team was home or away.   Much of these stories were developed based on the play-by-play accounts of the game available on the Minor League Baseball website.  I can only think of two long stretches of the season when I did not contribute anything to the blog, that was during two vacations with my family.

Along with daily game stories and previews, I also provided readers with synopses of the other games played each day around the International League.  In those posts I included links to local news accounts of the game.

If you look at many of the time stamps of the posts, I tried to write my entries at times which did not impact my work or family life.  You will see many a game story written at 4 or 5 in the morning.  I considered it just a part of the job.

There were many highlights to my season covering the team.  Whenever a member of the Red Sox were sent down on a rehab assignment, the media contingent was sure to grow.  It reached a fever pitch July 17th when David Ortiz was at McCoy as part of a three game stint to see if he had recovered from an injured wrist.  Because this was an off-day for the Red Sox, the entire Boston media contingent traveled the 30 or so miles south to catch Ortiz in action.  PawSox Blog provided complete coverage of Ortiz’ pregame media session, his game at-bats, and his post game remarks.  It was a great use of the blog.  I was able to do the same earlier in the season when Mike Lowell rehabbed at McCoy in April.

In the end I was able to attend 25 home games.  It was extremely difficult at times because of my work schedule and the need to get to the park on time.  I get to my work at 8am and on game nights would not get home until after 11pm.  Even though I enjoyed what I was doing, 15 hour days can really get rough.

I thoroughly enjoyed my season on the beat.  My only regret was that I was unable to produce more video for the site.  Covering the game took most of my time.  Any extra video would have cut into my paying work schedule, something I could not afford to do.  My job also kept me away from the PawSox home playoff games earlier this month.

In part two tomorrow,  I will detail a typical day on the beat, observations of the media in the press box, and my interaction with players and coaches.

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