Monthly Archives: January 2010

Taking a stab at answering some frequently asked questions

The Yankee Stadium press box during Game 6 of the World Series. I'm in the front row, on the right, in the bright jacket.

HARLEM With about six outs left in Game 6 of the 2009 World Series, my cell phone rang in the press box. It was my mother.

Like every other playoff game I covered this season, I was under a tight deadline that night. And with the Yankees on the brink of beating the Phillies the pressure was turned up even more. I knew that there was a good chance I’d be writing about a historic moment, so my first instinct was to ignore the call.

But I couldn’t let myself do it. What if it was something really important? What if she was in trouble? What if it was a matter of life and death? Why else would she be calling me now?

So, I answered.

“Hello,” mom said casually. “I’m watching on TV. Are you busy?”

***

I share this story because it reminds me that even some of my closest friends and family members may not have the clearest picture of what I do and what that entails. (And for the record, at that particular moment, I was indeed busy.)

So, since this blog has yet to celebrate its one-day anniversary, I figured this would be the perfect time to tackle some frequently asked questions. As new questions come up, whether they’re about work or anything else, feel free to leave them in the comments section so I can answer them.

Eventually, this document will be moved to a separate “FAQ” page that can be easily accessed when needed. Let’s begin:

Q: When did you become a Yankee fan?

A: Well, that would be never. The old saying is true: there’s no cheering in the press box. Because journalists must maintain objectivity in order to fairly and ethically do their jobs, they are prohibited from being fans of the teams they cover. So. I don’t root for the Yankees, or any other baseball team.

I am, however, a huge fan of pitcher’s duels, quick games and Marriott Points*.

Q: But, don’t you work for the Yankees?

A: Nope. I work for the Star-Ledger, a newspaper that independently covers the Yankees.

Q: Do you travel with the team?

A: Yes, I cover every Yankees road game. But I don’t travel with the team on their charter. Instead, I am responsible for my booking all of my accommodations while the newspaper picks up the tab. In the process, I get Marriott points. Lots and lots of Marriott points.

Q: So what do you cover after baseball season?

A: More baseball! The offseason is a time for teams to add new players, whether it be through free agency or via trade. And trying to keep track of all that stuff is often just as demanding as covering the games themselves. But there are slow periods, too, like in January. That’s when a lot of beat writers get to take some time off and finally burn some of those awesome Marriott points.

The 1961 Los Angeles Angels cap featured a halo.

Q: How many baseball caps do you have in your collection?

A: I have 104. All of them are fitted. All of them are an actual on-the-field design. And most of them made by New Era. I started collecting them in 1996.

Q: Which are your favorites?

A: The first was a blue 70s style Braves cap, with the white front and red lowercase “a.” The oldest looking one is a wool 1911 Philadelphia Athletics cap, reproduced about 10 years ago for an A’s/Giants Bay Bridge series.

But my absolute favorite is a replica 1961 Los Angeles Angels cap, the ones with a halo on top. I remember seeing it on the kid in that movie “The Sandlot” and thinking it was pretty damn cool. So I was stoked years later, when I found one the discount table in an old sporting goods shop in San Francisco store for 10 bucks.

* I’m not quite sure of the reason, but baseball writers love the Marriott rewards program. When I got my first baseball beat (the Baltimore Orioles), I remember asking one of our veteran baseball reporters for his advice. His first question: “Have you signed up for your Marriott points yet?”

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And now, for a quick word about my mother

HARLEM — For those of you planning on becoming a regular reader of this blog, I figured it would be good to get this out of the way now. I talk about my mom a lot. Among my friends, my mom is in fact a favorite topic of discussion, because of the things she says, because of the way she says them, and because of the way I recount the way she says them.

In time, I will share those stories with you. There are plenty.

But first, to fully appreciate my mom and all her quirks, it’s important to provide a little bit of background.

I wrote the following a few years ago as part of an internship application. They wanted to understand why I  wanted to get into journalism. But they also wanted a sense of the people who have influenced my life. Here goes:

***

My sister Lyn (I still think of her every day), myself, and my sister Catherine. I'm not sure where my brother Jay is, but I'd bet my life that he was wearing socks. Even to this day, he'd wear socks to the beach.

If you stood on the bathtub and craned your neck at the proper angle, you could see the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge through the bathroom window – provided the fog or refinery smokestacks didn’t block the view too much.

Back then, we lived on a hill overlooking a bay. Our three-bedroom house – one of the first generations of the phenomenon now known as tract housing – blended in easily with the rest of the modest, neat homes on the block. You could walk the streets of our neighborhood without too many worries but you didn’t leave your bike unguarded in the front yard either.

That’s where my two sisters, my brother and I grew up under the dictatorship created by our mother.

Dad’s general idea of parenting involved bribery in the form of candy bars and trips to the ice cream man. He drove a soda truck 10 hours a day starting at 4 a.m. So once he got home, the “that oughta shut ’em up” approach seemed most practical. We never minded.

Mom, however, took an old-school Filipino philosophy toward child rearing, which meant that you ran like hell when she went looking for her belt. I hated it then even though I can’t blame her for it now.

Under Mom’s dictatorship, there were exactly two offenses guaranteed to bring swift punishment: dishonesty and selfishness.

Once, I tested Mom’s commitment to prosecuting these atrocities.

My sister and I shared a tricycle and one day, she decided to take a ride in the backyard. I grew bored of watching her and decided it was my turn. So I pushed her off the tricycle and she cried. I ignored her and rode off.

Earlier that day, I noticed my mom working in her garden. For reasons I still can’t explain, I drove the tricycle all over her tomato plants. Mom threw a fit. I lied and told her that Lyn did it. Lyn blamed me.

She knew I was lying, so Mom went looking for her belt, then me. I ran like hell. She found me in her room, buried under a shield of blankets and pillows. She unearthed me from my hole before dispensing justice.

To this day, I share Mom’s disdain for dishonesty and selfishness.

Years later, my English teacher told me to give his journalism class a try. He said that I had an above-average ability to write and that my knowledge of sports might help the school paper which needed a few sportswriters. It tried it, fell in love with it and decided that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Mr. Brown thought I could become good at journalism and pushed me to write even more. Each school day for four years, a folded copy of that morning’s San Francisco Chronicle’s Sporting Green waited for me at my desk. Mr. Brown circled that day’s best writing, circling lines and words that he thought I needed to read. Learning from those great writers inspired me to take journalism seriously.

Mom, however, thought that I should to stick to engineering. Those people make more money, she said. Besides, she wanted some sort of return for buying me all those Lego sets when I was a kid. We fought about it for weeks.

“Don’t end up like me and your dad!”

“Money isn’t everything, Mom. This makes me happy.”

By then, I was too old to take a belting and she wasn’t going to change my mind.

For the first time in my life, I defied her and stayed with journalism.

Ironically, the lessons she taught me when we lived in the house on the hill made me suited to become a great journalist.

Mom’s still coming to terms about my decision. She hasn’t tried to sway me back into engineering in years. Sometimes, she even calls me at school and asks how things are going with my classes and the internship hunt.

Maybe she’s not crazy about my choice of career, but I figure begrudging acceptance is a cozy compromise.

Of course, I really never knew where she stood on my decision until about a year ago. I made a surprise visit home and found Mom having coffee with a few of her friends from work. She jumped off the couch and gave me a big hug before heading to the kitchen to fix me something to eat.

“So, how was Boston? It was the Globe, right? I heard you covered the Red Sox? That must’ve been exciting!” Mom’s friend said.

“Yeah, I had a great time. But how did you know the Boston thing?”

“Your Mom talks about you at work all the time. Sometimes, she brings your stories in and makes us read them. She’s really proud of you, you know.”

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Please let me introduce myself…

On the field at Yankee Stadium after Game 6 of the 2009 World Series. I got pied.

HARLEMIt was the fall of 2005 and I had just been given a summer internship at The Washington Post. But to my horror, the paper demanded a personal bio. I decided that I hadn’t: 1.) Gone to a prestigious enough college 2.) Spoken enough languages or 3.) Fed enough Guatemalan villagers in my spare time, to write a straight bio.

So, I said “fuck it” and rolled with this*, figuring it was too late for them to fire me anyway:

***

A few days before I officially landed this gig, an editor at the paper gave me a ring. He sounded a bit confused.

“So, you’re 26, huh?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And you’re a graduate student at the University of Nevada, Reno?”

“Actually, undergrad, sir. I’m done in May.”

“Why the hell is it taking you so long to get through journalism school? Is there some prison time we need to know about?”

“Do four semesters of Spanish count?”

“This says you’ve interned or worked at five newspapers. Is that right?”

“Yeah, the Contra Costa Times, the Monterey County Herald, the Riverside Press-Enterprise, the Reno Gazette-Journal and the Boston Globe. I loved every minute.”

“This thing also says you want to be a sportswriter.”

“Yes, sir. I grew up watching the A’s back home in the Bay Area. The dream? To become the next Rickey Henderson. The problem? I throw like Florence Henderson. So, sportswriting seemed to be the natural fit. Like I said, I’ve loved every minute.”

“Favorite journalist?”

“You, sir.”

“Nice try. No, really.”

“Mike Royko.”

“And I also hear you’re a golfer. What’s your handicap?”

“Putting, chipping and driving, sir.”

“We’ll have to get back to you.”

***

* The paper ran this vignette in a booklet that they handed out in the newsroom. As I had suspected, many of my colleagues that summer had 1.) Gone to prestigious colleges 2.) Spoken multiple languages and 3.) Fed tons Guatemalan villagers in their spare time.

And I didn’t get fired. At least, not immediately.

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