Thunderous Fun at Interview #1 (Part 2 of 2)

On to the game. Jack went over to the wall where the players were stretching out. He’d brought the bat he’d gotten from a minor league game in Arkansas and he was collecting player autographs. I was sitting a few rows back. There was a whole line of kids lined up for autographs. At least…most of them were kids. Look at the photo and tell me which autograph seeker stands out.

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Exactly. This dude was an expert autograph hound. In fact, he passed up on most players. He was clearly seeking one guy and the field attendant helped get the player over to sign in the binder.

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I found it a little odd. And as we went back to our seats it led me to take a good look at the crowd. It was a good hour before the game started, it was a Monday night, and the forecast called for rain. This meant a thin crowd which fell into 2 distinct groups.

Group 1: Mutants.

These were not the beautiful people. The hard-core AA minor league baseball regulars were in the house, and they were a sight. There was a large grimace of a woman wearing what appeared to be a pink, Trenton Thunder bathrobe and a white Thunder hat covered in signatures. There were 3 guys in a row who appeared to be eating ribs through their noses. There was an enormously obese family including two kids wearing tuxedo T-shirts. The creepy autograph collector fit into Group 1.

These people all knew each other. They all knew the ushers. They were Trenton Thunder regulars and quite frankly…they were awesome. In fact, I believe I was looking at my future. My retirement plans have always involved regularly eating steak and eggs for breakfast AND being a season ticket holder for a minor league team. Folks…behold my future. These are my people.

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Group 2: Scouts.

We were seated directly behind home plate and we were literally surrounded by baseball scouts. We chatted with one of the guys who worked for the Marlins, who was super nice. But there were at least 25 of them. They all had clipboards and speed guns.

This was a distinctly different crowd than the mutants. They wore khakis and were generally trim. Most scouts are former baseball players, and you could tell just by the way they carried themselves that they were former athletes.

They were an odd crowd to sit among. Some chattered with each other about rules. Others just glared at the game, looking stern. However, none of them cheered for strikeouts. They didn’t countdown with the crowd at the end of the watermelon-eating contest. Not one of them sang along to “Take me out to the ballgame.” It made the viewing experience somewhat self-conscious for me.

Check these guys out:

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As for the seats…if anyone ever offers you scout seats, you should say YES. We were literally 3 rows behind home plate, which gave you an amazing perspective on the game. I could genuinely tell what pitch was thrown – fastball, breaking ball, curve. I could hear the loud thwap of the ball hitting the catcher’s glove. At least once an inning a ball would get tipped back right at us, and I’d scream like a girl and dive for cover as the ball hissed into the black protective netting. The seats were so good I eventually took off my glasses.

Jack and I watched the game, keeping score and talking about the pitches. Every time a ball was hit into the stands, Jack would bolt off in that direction, hoping to get a ball.

Meanwhile, Alex was still madly taking photos. He kept switching between the telephoto lens and the regular lens, each time scaring the crap out of me that he’d hurt my boss’s camera.

It rained for a bit in the 5th inning, and then a rainbow came out across the field. Then as it got dark we could see lightning in the sky as a backdrop to the game.

It was a a quirky game. The final score was 11-7, but no home runs. Almost all the runs were on singles. And at the top of the 7th with 1 out, I looked up at the sky behind the lights and it hit me just how much I love being at a baseball game. Especially with my boys. I reached out and grabbed a boy’s head in each hand. They both had their heads shaved 2 weeks ago, and I rubbed my face on their prickly heads.

Alex’s Photo Gallery

At his photography lesson, Alex asked what was the most important thing to do. He was told: “Take TONS of photos.”

Alex took 618 photos at the game. Here are some of the selects:

“I like this because he’s in the middle of the sun.”

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“This shot has 2 butts in it.”

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“I want one of you and Jack.”

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“You can tell how fast he pitches.”

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“I think it’s so funny how it says Pork Roll next to the guy.”

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“Can you see the umpire and the other guy? I swished the camera back and forth for this. I really like the colors so much.”

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Thunderous Fun at Interview #1 (Part 1 of 2)

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Our summer project – Jack is setting up to visit a series of minor league ballparks, interview “top prospects”, and then write an article about his experiences. He’s hoping to get it published in Sports Illustrated for Kids. Cool, right? And Alex has decided he’s going to be Jack’s photographer.

Monday was our first trip: The Trenton Thunder.

We actually started at my office with a string of amazingly nice people who I work with.

  • My boss, Gerry, loaned Alex a camera. This was not just any camera. This was a high-end camera with an additional telephoto lens. This is a solid grand of hardware, and my boss is cool letting a 7-year-old use it. This filled me with terror.
  • One of our art directors, Paul, gave Alex a 30-minute photography lesson. It included a series of tips, including the most important tip: “Take TONS of photos.” He even made Alex a little pocket card.

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  • Our account planner, Diann, then gave Jack a lesson on interviewing people. They ran through his questions, practiced what he would do, got comfortable with the recorder.

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By 5:00 I was headed to Trenton with two boys filled with confidence and enthusiasm. We picked up our tickets and press passes at the front window, and then went inside.

We had 2 interviews set up. First was with Jeremy Bleich, a relief pitcher for the Thunder. Jack did a great job going through the questions, but it was pretty obvious to me that this guy had undergone intense media training to say absolutely nothing interesting. His answers were the standard rote crap you hear on ESPN. “I just want to help the team.” “Hitter are always making adjustments, so I need to keep pushing myself to be better.” Don’t get me wrong, the guy was nice and Jack thought it was awesome. But I found his answers intensely boring.

Jack actually stumped him when he asked: “What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you on the ball field?” The guy literally didn’t know how to answer the question.

But while Jack was asking his questions, Alex was going to town taking photos. He’d taken the lesson “Take TONS of photos” to heart. Alex spent the entire interview circling like an electron and snapping photos from every possible angle. At one point Alex actually laid down on the ground between Jack and Jeremy and snapped photos from that extreme angle.

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Jeremy thought Alex was funny, but Alex was not laughing. Alex was deadly serious and laser focused on his task. I spent the entire time wondering if Gerry would fire me if Alex dropped the camera.

The other interview was with the Thunder broadcaster, Adam Giardino. This guy was fantastic.

Adam told Jack all about his career. Adam wanted to be a broadcaster in high school, went to U Conn and became the voice of the college basketball team (including an NCAA championship), and is now working his way up the professional sports ladder.

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Adam shared his game notes and told Jack how baseball is the hardest sport to broadcast because there’s so much downtime. Adam works 14 hour days, regularly takes 8-hour bus trips with the team…but he’s only 24 years old and having great success. He and Jack talked for a solid 15 minutes in the broadcast booth. He was actually our host throughout the whole thing. He’s the one who set us up with the passes and the scout seats.

Probably the best part was that Adam treated Jack and Alex (mind you, 7 and 9 years old) like professionals. He didn’t talk down to them and he wasn’t humoring them. He was 100% on the level. (Downside of being treated like professionals: no Thunder swag, dammit).

In all honesty, part of the reason I like this project so much is because I think it’s good for Jack. Right now the entire social pecking order of 5th grade boys is based on athletic ability. Jack’s small for his age and has his father’s mediocre athletic genes. Sometimes Shani and I worry about his self-confidence. That’s really what this project is about.

So with that in mind, interviewing Adam Giardino was pretty friggin’ ideal. With our interviews complete, Adam took us out to our seats. We were in “scout seats”.

“Thanks so much, Adam,” I said, shaking the hell out of his hand. “Jack’s really enjoyed hearing about your job.”

“The hours are awful, the travel is awful, the pay is awful, but I’m really loving the way my career is going.”

Current list of people to write thank you notes to:

  • Gerry for the camera
  • Paul for the photo lesson
  • Diann for the interviewing workshop
  • Jeremy Bleich
  • Adam Giardno

Interviews complete…it was time for the game. Part 2 coming soon.

Major Summer Plans in the Minor Leagues

Mr. Kevin Linton

Director of Community Affairs, Wilmington Blue Rocks

801 Shipyard Dr.

Wilmington, DE 19801

5/11/13

Dear Mr. Linton:

Hi, my name is Jack. I am writing an article about prospects in the minor leagues and I want to interview some of your biggest prospects. I am going to submit my article to SI KIDS.com.

Sincerely,

Jack Nuckols

That’s the letter Jack wrote. We have sent it out to the Trenton Thunder, the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, the Lakewood Blueclaws, the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Staten Island Yankees, the Reaging Fightin’ Phils, the Aberdeen Iron Birds, the Delmarva Shorebirds, and the Scranton Railriders. Basically, every minor league team within 3 hours.

This is a great idea because:

  1. These guys are gonna roll out the red carpet for this cute kid on this wholesome project, right? That means we’ll get stadium tours, interview prospects, and get a crapload of swag and hopefully go to some games for FREE.
  2. Jack is a genuinely good writer and this is a super project for him to undertake over the summer.
  3. If Jack wants to be a baseball player, I really have nothing to teach him. But I can most definitely teach him how to write — shit, I do that every day.
  4. This is fodder for some awesome blog content for me.

Damn — is this a great idea or what?

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