Dewey Hammond says his job is harder than it sounds.
It's difficult to believe the Loyola Blakefield alum and Ravens blogger when he recounts a boxing match he attended at the Playboy Mansion in June, or when he talks about hanging out with Buffalo Bills running back Marshawn Lynch during Super Bowl week.
Hammond, 29, is managing editor at Yardbarker.com, a sports Web site and social networking platform for bloggers, fans and athletes based in California. Sometimes referred to as "the Digg.com of sports," the site has grown from a startup media company to a nearly 500-blog strong network of original sports content that generates approximately four million unique visitors per month, according to the company.
Hammond is the man charged with deciding which stories get featured on the site's front page, while also serving as a frontline reporter of sorts for "the Yard." For the past year, he has been living the dream of many a sports blogger, overseeing content on the growing Web site and traveling to high-profile sports events to represent his company and pull back the curtain for the common sports fan.
But he wouldn't call it luck. "I feel fortunate to be where I am, but I'm proud of myself for creating an opportunity for myself. I heard this saying recently that I agree with: 'Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.'"
Hammond has been living and working in San Francisco for the last eight years, but he traces his family roots, and sports roots, back to Baltimore.
Only a few months after he was born in 1978, the Hammond family moved from Syracuse, N.Y., to the Pinehurst area of Baltimore County. From the very beginning, young Hammond was hooked on sports, playing baseball, basketball, lacrosse and soccer during his childhood.
"Dewey always had a natural sense of how games were played," said David Hammond, Dewey's father and a former swimmer at Cornell, who encouraged his three sons to play sports. "In baseball, he always knew which base to throw to; things like that came naturally to him."
But he was also a dedicated sports fan at an early age.
"My mom always likes to tell this story about when I was a kid: She came home one day and found me watching women's weightlifting on TV," he said. "I'm pretty sure she was confused and possibly alarmed.
"When she asked why I was watching it, I said, 'Mom, it's the only sport on right now.' I was more interested in watching women's weightlifting than any other show, just because it was a sport."
Hammond soon found a local team to love in the Orioles. He has fond memories of going to Memorial Stadium and later Camden Yards to watch the Orioles, with a few youthful indiscretions thrown in here and there.
On the way to Game One of the 1997 American League Championship Series against the Cleveland Indians, Hammond's friend found that he had lost his ticket. The two then-college students didn't have enough money to buy a ticket from a scalper, so they tried an unconventional method of getting into Camden Yards -- climbing the iron fence around the park.
"He scaled that fence like Spiderman," Hammond recalled. "It was unbelievable that nobody saw him and kicked him out. There must have been thousands of people on the street, and none of them were looking."
Learning to love the Ravens was another story, however. In the Hammond house, the Bills were king. When the Ravens came to town in 1996, Hammond had set football loyalties in place.
But after the retirements of Bills superstars Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas, Hammond decided to give the Ravens a chance and become a fan ... in January 2000. One year later, the Ravens were Super Bowl champions, beating the New York Giants, 34-7.
"It was a good year to switch," he said. "I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for the Bills, but the Ravens are my team now."
'Our neighbors hated us'
After graduating from Loyola Blakefield, Hammond went to Villanova where he studied communications. After earning his degree in 2000, he headed west.
"I love Baltimore, but I knew that if I hung around that area, I was going to stay there forever," he said. "I decided to go to San Francisco, and once I had lived there for two or three years, I realized that it was where I wanted to be."
He doesn't regret the decision, but he still misses his hometown.
"It's tough. There aren't as many rabid sports fans as there are on the East Coast," he said. "I miss the Orioles, blue crabs, snowballs, friends, family, the familiarity of my childhood; Charm City is close to my heart."
In San Francisco, Hammond worked in corporate communications and advertising brand strategy, a field in which he enjoyed some success. It was a good job, but not the perfect job.
"Dewey was great at his job. He's a brilliant guy," Chris Finnegan, a childhood friend of Hammond's who worked with him for several years. "But I could tell he was stifled."
He started freelance writing in his spare time, reviewing albums and concerts. At the time, he thought of it as an easy way to get free tickets to shows.
"I didn't really care about writing per se, but I did it well so I could keep getting jobs and tickets to shows," said Hammond, whose writing led him to assignments for several music Web sites and magazines and scored him a tour with Phish one summer. "When I got older, I kind of got out of the music scene and fell in love with writing itself."
Hammond also picked up a job with Playboy Magazine doing celebrity interviews. His experience was relatively innocuous, but he met some controversy when wide receiver Terrell Owens "outed" ex-teammate Jeff Garcia in Hammond's interview in September 2004. He also worked as a stringer for the San Francisco Chronicle, churning out a handful of stories about veterans returning home from Iraq.
His passion for sports was still alive and well in California, and he and a close group of friends celebrated Sundays with the Ravens in an Oakland Raiders-dominated region.
"Sunday was like a holiday for us," said Finnegan. "We would have these huge parties and whenever the Ravens won, we would fly a Maryland flag outside and just go crazy. Our neighbors hated us. We've almost gotten killed a few times at Oakland Coliseum when the Ravens played there -- we had to wear Ravens clothes under our regular clothes."
Hammond's fanatical devotion to the Ravens manifests itself in unusual ways. He keeps to superstitions: He knocks on wood whenever somebody says something positive about the team and he has his friends switch sofa cushions when the Ravens turn the ball over. He owns season tickets to Ravens games, even though he lives on the West Coast. He also designed his own NFL draft day pants -- corduroy jeans stitched with Maryland state colors and the Ravens' team emblem.
"He looks like a hippie clown at a tailgate or something," Finnegan said. "But he's such a ridiculous fan. The guy is a total character, and when he does something, he does it absolutely all the way."
In 2005, Hammond experimented with blogs for the first time, posting some music reviews online via Blogger.com. He found it to be a frustrating and liberating experience.
"It was too much work. Blogger didn't have nearly as much functionality as it does now, so it took a lot of time to set up" he said. "But I liked not having to pitch stories or work with an editor. I like writing because I enjoy doing it. Sure it's nice to get your stuff published in a magazine, but to me it wasn't worth having somebody tangling with your stuff and changing it."
He revisited blogging in March 2007 when he began BlogimoreRavens.com to give his opinion about NFL draft picks. A draft junkie since birth, Hammond enjoyed the experience and kept the site going to document his experiences as a Ravens devotee.
"My entire motivation behind Blogimore Ravens was not about making money or getting readers," he said. "I want to be able to look back in 15 or 20 years and recollect and reflect on my opinions as a fan."
After seven years of working in corporate-public relations, Hammond's life came to a crossroads in the summer of 2007 when he decided he was going to leave his full-time job. He liked the company, and he didn't mind the work, but it wasn't his passion.
Hammond gave himself until the end of the year to find a new career. If he hadn't seen anything he liked by his deadline, he would learn Spanish and go to Central America for a year.
As fate would have it, things changed for Hammond when he began receiving promotional e-mails from Yardbarker. After a little investigating, he saw there were job openings at the company and sent in his resume. Before he knew it, he was sitting in a coffee shop with Pete Vlastelica, the current CEO and one of the founders.
Vlastelica was looking for someone to oversee the content of the site and choose which items to feature, a job that belonged to a computer program at the time.
After reading Hammond's credentials and cover letter, and after talking to him for a while, Vlastelica felt he had found the right man for the job.
"He was very impressive," Vlastelica said. "I could tell right away that he had an unusual passion for media, the Internet, and sports in general. It was also obvious that he was an incredibly hard worker. I called some of his past employers and all I heard were glowing reviews."
Today, Hammond is the unofficial face of "The Yard," e-mailing users about updates, commenting on hundreds of blog entries, choosing which content is promoted on the front page and representing Yardbarker on the ground at major sporting events like the NFL draft and the ESPY Awards. He is often counted on to reprise his role of interviewer from his Playboy days, chatting with personalities from a variety of sports, from NFL quarterback Vince Young to two-time Nathan's hot dog eating champion Joey Chestnut.
Even though the job would sound like a dream to some bloggers, Hammond doesn't just rub elbows with celebrities all day. He says he's usually in the office 80-90 hours per week, awake by 5 a.m. taking in as much sports news and reading as much blog content as he can.
"Since I'm such a sports fan, it all just kind of blends together," he said. "Even when I take a day off, I more than likely will be watching a game or something. I'm pretty much working anytime I'm awake. The lines blur."
And the hard work is paying off. Yardbarker's network traffic has quadrupled since Hammond started in October 2007, according to Vlastelica, who adds that the staff has tripled during that time. The expansion has been fueled in no small part by Hammond's control over "the voice of the Yard," Vlastelica said.
"I'm the face of the company to the industry, but Dewey is a better person than me or anyone else at the company to structure our voice and the kind of content our brand becomes known for," Vlastelica said. "The guy absolutely loves every sport on the face of the planet and every sport is worth his attention; that's the kind of attitude we're trying to project on the site."
Perhaps more importantly, Hammond's friends and family can tell he's happier.
"He's a sports guy, so he's just in heaven," said his mother, Margie Fick. "He always just totally engrossed himself in whatever he wanted to do -- he goes in with his guns loaded. And this job really encompasses all of his interests and talents."
'We can accomplish so much more'
The issue of sports bloggers vs. traditional sports media has been a hot-button issue, and like many bloggers, Hammond has his own opinions.
"I think the way the media related to their audience was just 'report and consume,' but now there's more discussion about sports," Hammond said. "Yardbarker is about empowering people to have a voice, and really leveling the playing field. There's still room for traditional media, but they won't be the only ones at the pulpit."
Hammond thinks that overall, blogging will help skilled writers rise to the top.
"If you aren't talented, then another writer, whether it's a reporter or a blogger, can overtake you. People will have the ability to choose where they get their content, and it's hard to argue that more choice is a bad thing."
For now, Hammond is focusing on improving Yardbarker for the thousands of members who access the site daily. He wouldn't call it luck, but he knows he's landed in a good situation and he makes the most of it.
"I feel fortunate to be a part of the team that's making opportunities for fans and giving them accessibility and a voice. I wake up every day hungry for the Yard, wanting to make it better and wanting more," Hammond said. "That's how we stay successful: We take satisfaction in what we accomplished, but I know we can accomplish so much more."
Meanwhile, his friends are still in shock about the opportunities and sports fantasies their buddy's job allows him to fulfill.
"He used to joke all the time about hanging out with athletes. When his phone rang, he would say, 'Hold it guys, it's Ed Reed.' Now it's true: he'll hang out with Bart Scott or Marshawn [Lynch] or someone like that," Finnegan said. "He's going to be a media star. He's passionate about sports, but also absolutely brilliant so he can do whatever he wants to do. He's someone Baltimore should be very proud of."
Kyle Goon is a freelance writer and regular contributor to baltimoresun.com. He also is the author of 'It Never Rains in College Park,' a blog on the Yardbarker network.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun