So after a 1.5-hour drive in a car without air conditioning, I pull into scenic Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester, NH. Home of the Fisher Cats, whatever the hell they are. WEEI has sent me to interview Portland Sea Dog (AA affiliate of the Red Sox, which I guess makes as much sense as a Fisher Cat) Stolmy Pimentel, ostensibly as a follow-up from his appearance at the minor league World Futures game a year ago. The real goal is to find out why he is, in short, sucking.
I had gone back and forth with editor and WEEI baseball writer Alex Speier about what questions to ask him, his coaches, and catcher Tim Federowicz, who had caught Pimentel at several minor league levels. My list was set, and off I went.
I pull into the stadium, no problem. Get my press pass, no problem. Meet media coordinator Matt Leite, who tells me I have about an hour before the clubhouse closes to the press. Again, no problem. He takes me down to the field (nice, but small compared with Fenway, with large buildings behind it creating an enclosed effect), and we look for Pimentel. Problem. He isn’t at the stadium: illness or something. Oh crap! Now what do I do?
I called another editor (I have like eight), Rob Bradford, who suggests some backup story ideas. None of them sound all that interesting, but I decide that trying to make something out of nothing is still better than … well … nothing. I sync my iPhone with the wireless in the press box (I have decided I will never go on assignment without my laptop ever again), and start doing emergency research so I won’t sound like an idiot during what is now going to be a 10-minute interview at best.
At the last second, Rob calls me and suggests a story that I like: interview Federowicz on the development of Andrew Miller and Daniel Bard, whom he played with at UNC. I do some quick research on their college careers (i.e. I Wiki them), jot down a few questions and book it back down to the dugout.
Leite brings out Federowicz. We sit down for a five-minute interview in which I do my best to ad-lib questions and milk as much from Federowicz as possible. He alleviates my fear that he wouldn’t want to do an interview entirely about other, more successful players, and gives me both good quotes and honest analysis of what makes a good pitcher. I finish my interview, grab a drink of water from the press box, and head back to Brighton.
I’m slightly frustrated by the experience, especially in that this is the second minor-league excursion that, despite my best efforts, has not gone according to plan. I realize, however, that this is something I will probably have to deal with over and over again in my career. Every single person I will work with, from players to coaches to media people, will ultimately be on the side of the player. They need us far less than we need them.
If a player really doesn’t want to do an interview, a coach will not tell that player to do it anyway. If a player is sick, the coach may or may not remember the press is interested in him, and may or may not let the press know ahead of time about that player’s availability. And if it turns out a lack of communication made a reporter’s job a bit more of a hassle, that coach will probably not lose much sleep.
With that being the case, it’s important to game-plan an alternate story ahead of time, with the intention to write it later in the season if the initial plan works out. If it doesn’t, you haven’t just wasted a half-tank of gas.
I won’t write this story for a couple of days, so right now I have no idea if I got anything useful from Federowicz, or if this will be a “going through the motions” story, something every journalist writes from time to time. I wish Pimentel had been available for interviews, because I think that story had more meat to it. But in not being able to interview Pimentel, perhaps I learned a more valuable lesson about being a sports reporter: always have a Plan B.