Press for a Day: August 30 at Nats Park

DISCLAIMER: all quotes are paraphrases—I was not recording the conversations.

As I think I mentioned, I won the MLB charity auction for Shannon Forde Field fundraiser, which was “press for a day.” Actually, it was more like “hang out with the press for a day,” since I didn’t actually get to ask questions or go into the clubhouse. But I did get a full media guide, and a whole bag of Nats swag (unfortunately, not P-Nats swag, so no Werth/Kolko).

From Dusty’s pre-game conference:

Dusty’s getting tired of hearing about the 73 vs. 62 HR with Stanton in pursuit of the 62. “I was there when 73 happened, so it’s 73 for me. You, the media, you decide where to put the asterisks.”

“Harper’s getting a bit testy because he wants to play, and he can’t. I can tell when I talk to someone, and he’s getting a little snappy.”

By the way, Nats media have an agreement, not a rule, that they don’t tweet during the press conference so that the conversation can be focused. That’s why there’s a bunch of tweets right after the conference ends. Only team to do this. Taking notes on the phone or on a pad (paper pad, not iPad), as I noticed several of them doing, is fine. The conference is really low key, I have to say. I’m used to DC press conferences which can border on a scrum—and these are exactly the opposite. Really felt like a conversation between the press and Dusty.

Went down to the visitor’s dugout for Mattlingly’s conference. It took place after the stadium music had started, and then the phone rings (LOUDLY) at random intervals, so it’s a difficult venue. But he’s perched on the back bench of the dugout, answering standard questions like “looked like you were having trouble with runners in scoring position last night” with standard answers like “well, there were opportunities and we didn’t take advantage of them.”

He did answer a question about September call-ups that I thought was interesting. He said that sometimes he likes a player to get a September call-up so that he gets all the little “first time” worries out of the way (i.e. dress code, luggage, family/girlfriend, finding way around), so when the player comes up in the spring that’s all behind him. I actually had a bit of a chat with Mattingly while he was waiting for his media to show up, he wanted to know about my background and how I got the pass. He asked if I was going to have any questions (by then, I knew I wasn’t supposed to) so I said, “no, I’ll let the real media ask the questions.” By then, Yelich chimed in with, “hey, you’re here, you’re as qualified as they are!” And Mattingly wrapped up his conference by specifically asking me if I had any questions (maybe tweaking the Nats’ media guy behind me, since I’d said I was going to behave in case I wanted to come back). Mattingly (and others) got a laugh out of my explanation of why I bid on these experiences: I prefer to collect experiences instead of things because you don’t have to dust an experience. One of the broadcasters said he needed to tell his wife that.

Speaking of the dugouts, my media guy was talking about what a mess the dugouts are after the games, between the spilled drinks, food, sunflower seeds (I saw one a couple of weeks ago after Seniors Stroll the Bases. He wasn’t kidding—yecch). He goes through several pairs of shoes a year. The grounds crew has to get all the seeds out of the grass and warning track gravel after each game, which is a tough job.

I did get to go down to the area under the stadium where they park the TV trucks. The TV trucks have more complex consoles, and more cameras, than the Kennedy Space Center used to launch the Shuttle. Seriously impressive, and seriously compressed working space. Six people in a space that might be two or three office cubicles, controlling all the video feeds, replays (not the “challenge decision” replays), the graphics on the screen in the Park and on the air.

Comments from meeting with the media guys: Pittsburgh’s media area, although a little lower, is so far back from the field that the bullpen feels as far away as Half Street. The Braves media people were the ones who tried to get a paper airplane onto the field from their perch down the hall from the Nats media. So far, the National’s press has only lost the occasional game notes out the window (although they remember the “lost scorebook page” episode. We still have that page, if anyone can figure out who it belongs to).

Speaking of windows, the press box windows are really expensive, really heavy, and require special training before you’re allowed to open or close them. If they collide, and they have, they break (but to the inside: fans are not in danger). No foul balls have ever come up that high, so that’s not an issue. The broadcasters have some window stories: in Cincinnati, the window is propped open with a board because the springs are wearing out. Feels like working under a guillotine.

On the topic of other ballparks, Charlie and Dave talked about the time in Atlanta the lights went out because they weren’t moving enough (that might be carrying “green” a little too far). I think I should get Charlie and Dave one of those bobbing birds so there’s always some motion to keep the lights on in the Atlanta booth. Maybe their interns should flap their arms between looking up stuff. . . Dilbert’s company had to hire interns to do that, right?

I settled down in the front row of the press box to watch the game, about 3 chairs down from the official scorer.

There is no cheering in the press box, but there was applause for the 99-year-old veteran throwing the first pitch, and for a well-sung National Anthem. Discovered that it’s hard to remember not to cheer (or moan) in response to the play on the field. Food and beverage not bad, though! Nice to have coffee right there. The soft serve ice cream is very popular . . . as is conversation during the game. Had a nice chat with Mike Wallace regarding the uses and abuses of statistics. He was intrigued by my idea for researching the correlation between going fully through the arbitration process and player tenure with the team. I intend to compare that with players who filed for arbitration, and then settled before going through the process.

Comment from one of the Nats’ media guys: clinching out of town does have its advantages—for the staff. Media is easier to handle, and you get to make a serious mess of someone else’s clubhouse and then leave town. More fun for the fans if it’s in town, though.

On the way down to the post-game, the media folks were saying I had to come back since this was such a great game and “I was batting 1.000.” My responses varied from “invite me back anytime” or “maybe quit while I’m ahead.”

The post-game press conference was as low-key as the pre-game. About the only substantive question was the one from Mark Z about “what would it have taken for you to pull Stras in the ninth?” “Realistically, another runner getting on base.” As Dusty said, this was Stras’ day, and he had everything working.

Anyway, it was a fun experience, and they might do the auction again next year—or, they might do something else as a fundraiser in connection with the Winter Meetings. I said I wouldn’t bid on the same experience, as I wanted to give someone else a chance.

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