At the ballpark

I was in a Major League ballpark last night, working even, for the first time in more than six years. I took this picture from my spot in the pressbox at Turner Field. A glorious night. The national pastime. All that.

I was going to stick this photo up last night — you have to stay on top of this blogging thing, you know — but didn’t because of something I forgot in those six years out.

Beat guys work their asses off. My god, that’s a job.

The good people at Major League Baseball offered me the chance to fill in for one of their regulars, Nationals beat guy Bill Ladson, for the 7:10 p.m. game between the Nats and the hometown Braves. And I was happy to do it. I need the practice writing. Anybody who has stumbled onto this blog knows that.

I was reminded, from the time I drove up to the park, before I got out of my car, what a grind this gig can be. Lemme take you through it (all times approximate):

2:15 p.m.: Leave the crib.

3:10 p.m.: Drive up to the southwest gate at Turner Field to get my credentials and parking pass. No one’s there. I park the car and wait.

3:25 ish: Window opens, passes appear from a smiling PR guy, I drive to the press parking lot.

3:30 ish: I drive to the other press parking lot, across the street. Nationals-Braves evidently is an ESPN game, and all the ESPN dudes from out of town have scarfed up the parking spots.

3:35 ish: I walk straight into the Nationals’ clubhouse. It’s closed for another five minutes. I wait.

3:40: Clubhouse opens. I walk in. No one but beat guys and the Washington PR person are there. We wait around. I see manager Matt Williams. He walks into the meeting with ESPN. He closes the door. We wait some more.

3:50: The PR person tells the rest of the media — about four or five of us — that we will have to wait until 5:10 to talk to Williams. I think she means 4:10. No, she means 5:10. We wait.

4:10: I wander out into the visiting dugout to watch Tuesday’s scheduled starter, Max Scherzer, warm up in the outfield. He’s nursing a sore thumb, and his progress is a big pregame question.

4:20: Scherzer walks off but declines, politely, to talk. We figure we’ll talk to him later. We don’t get him. At least I don’t.

4:30: I scurry up to the pressbox to put down my laptop and the rest of my crap. I sign onto the WiFi and then worry, as all beat guys do at one point, that I’m missing something. Maybe Scherzer decided to talk. I run back downstairs.

4:40: The Nats close their clubhouse for a pre-series meeting. Which, of course, figures.

5: Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. I remember this job now.

5:10: Williams comes out to the dugout to meet the media. He’s delightful. He says Scherzer won’t pitch Tuesday, but he’s not sure who will. He gives an update on injured infielder Anthony Rendon (whose name, whoops, I misspell Antony in my later file). He addresses the team’s terrible offense.

5:30: Williams is done and the Nats are getting into their pre-game routine. No Scherzer still. I roll up to the pressbox.

6: I grab pregame notes, settle in and check in with the MLB.com producer, who wants a Scherzer piece from me pregame. Maybe 500 words. I start to pound.

6:15 ish: The Nationals announce that Rendon (Anthony, with an “h”), will miss his rehab start in Harrisburg (Class AA … I have to look it up) because of “fatigue.” The desk wants a pregame piece on that, too. I start to pound more.

7 ish: I have filed both the Scherzer and Rendon pieces. I have a preview to write for Tuesday’s game, too, that I have to start on. So I do.

7:10: Oh. The game starts.

Between 7:10 and 10:18, when the game ends: It’s basically just one of 162 games. But when you’re a beat writer, something’s always going on. Finishing the preview. Checking stats. Keeping an eye out for the main story of the game and whatever sidebars are needed.

Meanwhile … the game. Two players are ejected, Yunel Escobar (the Nationals’ third baseman, hottest hitter and maybe best fielder) has to leave after being spiked on a hard slide by the Atlanta shortstop, so I have to do an in-game piece on that. The Nationals, in a time-honored baseball move, throw a pitch behind the Atlanta shortstop in his next at-bat. The Nats (I check with the desk … it’s OK to call them the Nats) commit four errors, two on bad pickoff throws, and lose their sixth straight, 8-4.

I learn that the Nationals have one guy named Zimmermann and one named Zimmerman. I miss a whole inning somewhere along the line. I’m never quite sure who is pitching. Why was Freddy Freeman, the Braves’ first basemen, thrown out of the game? What is Escobar’s fielding percentage? How long is his hitting streak? How many errors have the Nationals committed this year? Is four a season high? Who is going to pitch for this team tomorrow?

I wolf down a hot dog in there somewhere. It’s gone in 45 seconds.

10:30ish: We meet with Williams postgame. He’s hot about the slide that injured Escobar. A.J. Cole will make his big-league debut in taking Scherzer’s turn in the rotation. Williams is down after the loss, but it’s early. He knows it.

10:35-10:50: We talk with shortstop Ian Desmond, outfielder Bryce Harper, Escobar (through a translator)  and starter Doug Fister. Harper and Desmond are upset over the slide that injured Escobar, too. Escobar takes it in stride, though he says he’ll probably miss a couple games.

11-1 a.m.: We decide that one side should be on the Nationals’ bad defense (mainly because we’re all tired of stories on the team’s bad offense). The Atlanta guy can do the writethru on the Escobar injury and add quotes about how the Nationals think it was dirty. I transcribe the postgame interviews. I share with my Braves counterpart. He shares with me. We are in constant contact with the desk, updating the Escobar story, the previews, the sides, the next day’s probable pitchers. I transcribe a little Eric Stults to help my Atlanta compadre with a side. I finish off my ninth Coke Zero of the night, pack up and leave.

1:10 a.m.: I walk across the street, get in my car and drive home. Set the cruise control on 73 as I head into downtown Atlanta. Don’t think I touch it until I get off close to 30 miles later.

1:45: Home. I eat two pieces of lemon meringue pie and call it a night.

Now. Do that. Multiply it, say, 150 times. That’s a beat guy. Add in travel. Hotels. Meals at the ballpark. Competition. Surly players. Demanding editors.

I’m doing this for two nights. I haven’t left yet for the second night. And I’m exhausted.

Beat guys, historically, are not the stars of any media outlet. That’s the columnist or the opinion writer. But beat guys, no question, work five times as hard. They know more. They write more. They get more information to the public, which is kind of the idea of this whole thing.

So, glasses up to the beat guys, a tough, talented group that has to know everything going on with their beat at every given moment and be able to share it, succinctly, right after it happens.

I gotta go. Clubhouse opens at 3:40.

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