“This ain’t football. We do this every day.”
So said the legendary Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver, and the point was that — unlike the big-event atmosphere of an NFL schedule, with just 16 chances to get it right — baseball is a day-to-day grind and one loss is nothing to get excited about. And you have to ride out some ups and downs and roll with some changes. (Contest: how many cliches were in that last paragraph?)
Anyway, the same thing goes for covering a baseball team. I’m not going to as many Charlotte Knights games as I have in the past, and I can tell the difference when I do go to the ballpark. One constant at the Triple A level is change in the roster. Because it’s the last stop before the major leagues, players tend to come and go more than they do at the lower levels of the minor leagues. So there are always player moves to catch up on.
The Knights added a couple of players from the Class AA Birmingham Barons to their roster the day before. I always start looking for a possible story angle early on, even before the game starts, knowing of course that that can change. I thought a good “first game in Triple A” from either of the newcomers, pitcher Brian Omogrosso and infielder Brandon Allen might be a possiblity.
I was hoping for an opportunity to write about Buffalo pitcher Lance Broadway, a former Knight recently traded by the Chicago White Sox, Charlotte’s parent club, to the New York Mets, Buffalo’s parent club. But I learned that he’s pitching out of the bullpen for the Bisons. He didn’t play in Buffalo’s 10-3 victory over the Knights.
Omogrosso, who was second in the Southern League in wins (7) at the time of his call-up, didn’t have a great debut. He gave up four runs in two innings of relief pitching. So that left Allen. He’s a 23-year-old Texan who has been considered one of the White Sox’ top prospects but had had some hitting struggles in his first minor league seasons before finally blossoming a little at Birmingham.
He had a nice first game in Charlotte — 3-for-4 with two doubles and an RBI, about the only bright spot for the Knights at the plate. I arranged to talk with him after the game.
As I introduced myself, I tried a conversational gambit that I try to teach my students — do whatever you can to establish a little rapport with the interviewee. I decided on the Texas connection. Allen is from Montgomery, Texas, a little town of about 500 people about 40 miles west of Houston. It’s just down Texas Highway 105 from Navasota, a charming little town where Jayne and I both worked for the weekly newspaper when I was in graduate school at Texas A&M. The two high schools have often been in the same district for athletic competition.
I mentioned that connection to him and he took the bait positively. “Oh, yeah? Rattler Country,” he said with a smile, mentioning Navasota’s nickname. The rest of the interview went well, coincidentally or not.
I must also note that this doesn’t always work. I was part of the coverage for the 1994 Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh for my employer at the time, the North Hills News Record. My previous paper, the Pensacola (Fla.) News-Journal had contacted me to do a story for them about Travis Fryman. The Detroit Tigers’ All-Star third baseman had been a Pensacola-area high school baseball star.
I approached Fryman during a media availability the day before the game, told him who I was and that I used to work for the News-Journal and even threw in a reference to Tate High School, his alma mater, for good measure. His reaction to all that was the same as if I had just told him I worked for the newspaper in Wausau, Wisconsin. A blank.
The approach may have fallen flat, but I suppose that’s the difference between a young minor-leaguer and a major league veteran. Professional that he was, Fryman was cordial and gave me a good interview anyway.