Pawtucket Red Sox

Sports Media Weekly No. 101- Aaron Goldsmith, Pawtucket Red Sox

We are a day early for this week’s edition of Sports Media Weekly.

Ken Fang of Fang’s Bites and I spend most of our time looking at the winners of the 33rd Annual Sports Emmy Awards which were handed out last night in New York.

Ken and I wrap up the news segment examining the success of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on the networks of the NBC Sports Group and plans by Fox to make sports a staple of its Saturday night programming line-up.

Our guest this week is Aaron Goldsmith, new play-by-play voice for the Pawtucket Red Sox.  Goldsmith talks about growing up in St. Louis and being influenced by the great Jack Buck.  He also shares an interesting story featuring another St. Louis broadcasting icon, Bob Costas…


Sports Media Weekly Podcast #37- Dan Hoard, Pawtucket Red Sox

Sports Media Weekly We are back for another edition of the Sports Media Weekly Podcast.

On this 37th episode Ken Fang of Fang’s Bites and I talk about the media reaction to the World Cup just underway in South Africa.  Specifically we attack those in the media who criticize the sport of soccer for its lack of scoring and think we ALL should join in the revolt.

Also on the agenda, the saving of the Big 12 Conference thanks to an agreement reached between the conference and ESPN,  how ESPN and NBC may fair telecasting this week’s U.S. Open in prime time, and we react to the news from a few weeks ago on the sale of The Big Lead to Fantasy Sports Ventures.

Our guest this week is Dan Hoard, play-by-play voice for the Pawtucket Red Sox, the Triple A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.  Dan talks about his career, which also currently includes serving as voice of the University of Cincinnati Bearcats football and men’s basketball as well as his new upcoming job as television voice of pre-season games for the Cincinnati Bengals.

In our discussion we ask Dan about his work in minor league baseball, his two successful blogs, and one post in particular that became popular involving the story of a PawSox player leaving tickets for ESPN’s Erin Andrews.

Blogger on the Beat, Part 2

I hope you had the opportunity to read part one of my report on my summer covering the Pawtucket Red Sox as an independent blogger.  That piece gave you a window into how I started my reporting venture and how it developed.  Today I want to delve more into my daily routine and other observations from the McCoy Stadium press box.

Many a sports blogger has speculated that being a beat writer isn’t that difficult and how great it is to get paid to write about sports.  For me this was a true labor of love for the craft of sports writing.  Everything I did for PawSox Blog was on my own time and for no fiscal remuneration. Some also criticize the beat writer for being too cozy to those they cover, for not standing up to the manager and players and bravely question their work or play on the field.  These bloggers have every right to their opinion.

Being a beat reporter is more challenging than one would think.  It’s not as easy as just reporting to the press box just before the first pitch, eating some free food, then talking to the manager and players after the game. To do this right you need to spend some time cultivating relationships with the players, the manager, and the coaches.  And I wanted to do this right.

What some bloggers don’t understand is that you can’t be a fan and be a beat reporter.   You need to tread carefully into the domain of these teams.  You need to be objective.  Yes, at times you need to ask probing questions.  But you can’t be such a bulldog that you alienate those you cover.  If you do, your beat will be worthless.

Professional baseball media rules dictate that the press can gain access to the clubhouse 3 ½ hours prior to the game until about one hour before the first pitch.  That means for a 7:05pm start the clubhouse opens at about 3:30pm.  Most beat writers on the Major League level report to the park that early, take-in batting practice, and talk with players and coaches for features and notes.  You need to be where the action is to remain competitive.

Each team also has its own set of protocols for press access.  When it comes to the PawSox, batting practice would end approximately two hours before the first pitch and Manager Ron Johnson would meet with the press for about 10-15 minutes.  You knew as a reporter that if did not get in to meet with Johnson at that time there was no guarantee he would have time for questions before the game. That’s fair.

Players were a little more receptive to speaking before a game, although there are some who would rather not be bothered as they prepared.  Game day starting pitchers are always off limits.

A typical day for me would begin at my day job at 8am.  I would do my best to leave early so I could get to the park by 4-4:30pm, in time to meet with Johnson and some players before the 7:05pm first pitch.  Earlier starts would cause a conflict for me that resulted in many times not getting access to the team before the game.

After the pre-game locker room session reporters would spend the rest of their time writing their features and notes columns prior to the first pitch.  There was also plenty of time for reporters to enjoy the daily pre-game meal.

During the game itself reporters would file any features and notes columns while scoring the game and taking notes. For many a newspaper reporter, the first edition deadline is between 10:30pm and 11pm.  With that in mind reporters are writing their game story as the game unfolds, making changes as events warrant.  When the game is complete reporters would leave room for a few quotes that are inserted after the post-game locker room visit.  Most nights reporters would make their deadline, but there are others when games go into extra innings when partial game reports are sent to the editors.

I always approached each game as if I was a reporter for a daily newspaper.  Even though I did not have a deadline, I too would write my game story while the game was taking place.  I would also live blog each game I attended in person, providing updates every two innings or more frequently as events warranted.  15 hour days starting with my job made it important for me to wrap-up my work by the time I left the press box.  Rarely did I finish my reporting back at home.

PawSox post-game rules prohibited reporters from the locker room for at least ten minutes following the completion of the game.  Johnson also appreciated being approached first for his thoughts on the contest before the media descended upon the players.

Johnson is definitely one of baseball’s new breed of characters. He had a brief Major League career with Kansas City and Montreal in the early 1980’s and has been a minor league skipper for more than a decade, the last four seasons in Pawtucket.  He is extremely engaging and entertaining, but also aware of the need to toe the Red Sox party line when needed.  He is always good for an interesting quote.

When it comes to the media covering the team I will say this…each of them are skilled journalists, but there appears to continue to exist a generation gap between the old school and new school beat reporter.  The old school set understands and utilizes the Internet, but at times fails to look at the bigger picture when it comes to its future.  They still look at newspapers as king, failing to grasp that by the time my generation passes, print journalism will be mainly a thing of the past.

The best example of this came July 31st at the training deadline.  The big trade in Boston, of you may remember, was the shipping of Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers.  PawSox outfielder Brandon Moss was part of the trade that sent him to Pittsburgh.  After talking with Moss and filing related stories, one reporter (old school) was amazed that one paper had already posted online most of the stories that were set to appear in the next day’s paper…all by 8pm that night!  When hearing that amazement the first thing to enter my mind was how this reporter could not grasp the fact that many readers will not wait for the morning paper to get the information on this breaking story.  It really is eye-opening to see this first hand…and a little sad.

Beat reporters also act like you and I at work…there are times they would rather not be there!  I often saw reporters languish over the slow pace of the game, mainly because it would impact their deadline.  But for some you could see that it was a struggle for them to be at work.  As much as many of us think being a beat writer is a great gig, it’s a job like any other to some people, and the opportunity exists where some fall out of love with it.

The other sad part about the press experience is the non-participation of the out-of-town press corps covering the visiting team.  Minor league teams rarely have their beat reporters follow them on the road.  Only once did I see a reporter from a paper of a visiting team follow the club in Pawtucket.  Many of those papers will hire local freelance writers to string the game for them.   The local Rhode Island papers are no different.  It’s really too bad that papers are forced by their bottom line to cut back on providing a constant link to one of their true local community sports institutions.

I have to thank the Pawtucket Red Sox organization for having the confidence to allow me to cover the team without being a member of the established mainstream media.  Not many organizations would welcome a blogger into the press box.  They did.  And they deserve to be recognized for their foresight.

I have yet to decide whether I will continue with PawSox Blog for the 2009 season.  The recently competed season is still too fresh for me to make a decision at this point.  If I do come back, I will probably do so with some assurances that I can contribute more than I did in 2008.  Not to improve upon one’s craft when afforded the opportunity is an opportunity lost.

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 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.