Attending Tuesday afternoon's IronBirds Media Day at Ripken Stadium was, as always, interesting.
There's a real sense of urgency in the air, as players scramble around the club level, giving interviews, filling out questionnaires and just generally try to get everything sorted out so they can start playing baseball, with many of them counting Aberdeen as their first stop on the professional level. Here are some thoughts I jotted down in my notebook during the spectacle that is Media Day:
We don't know the half: Attempting to talk with 19- and 20-year-old ballplayers, most of whom haven't been assigned a publicist nor been schooled in the art of sports cliches, always cements for me the thought that we, journalists, even those of us who might have played in college or high school, don't really know what these guys are going through mentally to succeed in the pro ranks. I usually throw out the old standard, "what did you work on over the winter?" at the start of an interview, and you can tell the players want to say, "a hundred little things, a thousand little things, everything, and I don't have time to talk about them all." Instead, they usually offer something brief about how they worked on their swing, how they're going to stay patient at the plate and see more pitches this season, and how hitting is a constant struggle to stay in top form (that's just the position players, pitching is another beast altogether).
This brings to mind a story I like. Supposedly, Yogi Berra was once standing outside the batting cage at the Yankees' spring training facility, trying to explain to a group of non-roster invitees how he changed the position of his hands on the bat in relation to the count (i.e. "on a 2-0 count, I put them here"). Growing frustrated by his inability to relay the information succinctly, and by the inability of his audience to grasp what he was talking about, Berra gave up and jogged into the batting cage, saying "never mind all the talking, just watch my hands." I'm sure these guys could explain exactly what they worked on over the winter, but it would be frustrating for them, and I wouldn't get it all.
Interview fail: Unlike in previous years, this time around the players were brought to the attending journalists (all two of us), one at a time. Without warning, as I was scanning the unofficial roster looking for names I recognized, the IronBirds public relations man walked over to my table with a player in tow, saying, "Dewey this is Sam, he'll answer any questions you've got." I froze, and not wanting to look at the roster to figure out who I was talking to, lest I look unprepared, I quickly asked, "so, Sam, what did you work on in spring training?" Turns out I was talking to Sam Kimmel, a catcher who was picked in the 18th round of the 2012 draft, out of Stetson University in Florida, so he had not been at the Orioles' spring training camp, and I had just shot myself in the foot. Kimmel grinned and said, "Ahh, I was playing in college, so I wasn't there, but . ." Knowing is half the battle, kids.
Aberdeen's new manager is awesome, but he scares me a little: The IronBirds' new skipper, former major league catcher and Norfolk Tides manager Gary Allenson was giving interviews out of his clubhouse office on Tuesday afternoon. Allenson, with his impressive square mustache, high-and-tight haircut, and forearms that obviously belong to an ex-athlete, looks like he could grab any smarmy sportswriter he wanted, and break them into two pieces over his knee. Speaking of his playing days, Allenson was the front line catcher for the Boston Red Sox in 1979, his rookie season, notching 104 games behind the plate that year. On that same Boston team were four Baseball Hall of Fame members: Carlton Fisk, Dennis Eckersley, Jim Rice and Carl Yastrzemski. Think about that, folks. This guy mixed it up with baseball royalty during his first trip to the big leagues, and was tough enough to hook a job as the starting catcher. He's been there, and done that.
Also, he very much looks like the kind of manager who, when asked a stupid question, would glare until the person asking left the room or caught fire, or would simply say, "that's a stupid question." I once asked former Aberdeen manager Gary Kendall one of the dumbest questions of my career (why do you guys keep hitting into so many double plays?), and he answered me without getting mad, but Allenson doesn't strike me as the type who would. But, I don't even know the guy yet, and he was pleasant enough to everyone in his office on Tuesday, actually offering up some funny anecdotes from his own playing days, so we'll wait and see. It's a long season, and I'm sure I'll ask some stupid ones.