Monday, January 24, 2011

“All me, no ghost, no 16-bit like Sega Genesis”

So last night I was looking at some of the pictures I took this past summer and thinking about how much I liked writing here when I had the time. Then I remembered that I was taking six hours during the second semester of my senior year at UNC and figured I might have enough time to stop in here and jot down some thoughts. I'm not really sure what I'm going to do with this space, but I think it will be a lot of me reflecting on random things I come across in my life. There will definitely be talk about sports because I love sports and spend a lot of time thinking about them, but this will not be a sports blog. I like to think that I have other interests and more to offer the world than "PUT KENDALL MARSHALL IN!!!" If anything, sports will be used as a sort of prism of looking at things or as a sort of shorthand way for me to express abstract ideas when I don't have the writing chops to do better. While I will definitely write things like, "I felt like Gerry McNamara during the first half of the 2003 National Championship game," I will also try to make an effort to explain what a phrase like that means to the sort of person who has more important things to remember than G-Mac's six first-half 3-pointers against Kansas. I'd like to think that I will use this space to tell stories about myself or the people and things I see around me, but it might just devolve into, "Hey, did you see this cool link? Here's why I think it's cool." I don't really know, yet. Regardless, I appreciate your time and interest.

Anyway, the last time I wrote to you, I was writing as a blue-and-orange bleeding New York Mets fan from a Top Pot Doughnuts in Seattle. Now, I am writing as an "objective and unbiased journalist" from my apartment in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I guess before I do anything else, I should explain how I got from there to here, both physically and metaphysically. And so, here is the first installment of a brief outline of what I did the past six months of my life:

1. I drove across America (again)

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

From left: My friend Mike; me; my Seattle housemate Jake; Jake's girlfriend/Mike and my friend, Shawna

If I had to retrace my steps from There to Here, I guess I would have to start in the driver's seat of my black Toyota Avalon somewhere in Wyoming, my main man and college sportswriter extraordinaire Mike McCall riding shotgun. We were driving back to our respective east-coast hometowns after spending our summers as interns in the Emerald City. Mike had worked as an associate reporter for, getting paid to be a Seattle Mariners beat reporter and write about baseball. I had spent my summer considerably less productively, fetching Subway and surfing the Internet in the radio studio of 710 ESPN Radio Seattle, the flagship station for Mariners baseball. I did not get paid or really do anything of meaning. It was mostly miserable and almost always drizzling.

Mike and I drove together some 20 hours between Seattle and Boulder, Co., where I eventually dropped him off so that he could make the trip back to Gainesville with a fellow U of Florida Gator, and I could take the northern route back to Long Island. We took turns driving, jammed out to bad music and brainstormed ideas for ridiculous t-shirts we'd like to own. But I guess after you're alone with someone long enough, you start running out of Lil Wayne lyrics to discuss and start talking about more important things. So we talked about our families and girls we'd crushed on and sports journalism and where it was going. It was then that I decided I was going to try to make this sportswriting thing happen for real.

I've always been interested in a career in sports journalism, but I don't think I had ever really planned out a course of action the way I did then. I guess I had done the things I thought I was supposed to be doing (joined the school newspaper, got internships doing sports journalismy things), but never really thought about how what I was doing was going to get me where I wanted to go. Maybe I was just never willing to work hard enough. Anyway, I decided then that I wanted to get an internship like Mike had done in the worst way. To do this, we decided I needed to get better as a writer. I would take every assignment I could and show my work to Mike, my colleagues at the DTH, my housemates and anyone else who would read it and give me constructive feedback. I would then take this advice and make myself a better writer. As Mike pointed out, nobody sets out to be covering men's soccer their senior year, but if that's what I was assigned to do, I should make the most of things and treat soccer with as much seriousness and care as I would the football beat. If I worked my tail off and did the things we talked about, maybe I could start getting where I was trying to go.

There's a really wonderful passage in "All the King's Men" where the narrator writes that since human existence is defined by relations with other human beings, you in a way stop existing when you are driving alone at night in the rain. It's one of the truest insights anyone has ever written.

Between Colorado and Port Jefferson, I had a lot of time to think about what I had been like when I had last existed in Boulder and what I would like to be like when I started existing again on Long Island, and later, in Chapel Hill. For three hours a day I had the company of Howie Rose and Wayne Hagin on the WFAN Mets radio network, but mostly I was alone. I thought a lot about the things I did well in life and why I did those things well and I thought about the things I didn't do well and why I did those things poorly. I made sweeping declarations of the things I would do once I made it back to civilization. When I got back, I would go to the gym every day and no girls would hurt my feelings and I would be focused and confident and industrious and I would become the best writer to come out of Long Island since Walt Whitman, or at least Chuck D.

And no, outside of the first month of school I did not spend much time at the gym, and yes, I did wind up letting a girl hurt my feelings for a short period of time. I have not written anything nearly as good as "Fight the Power," much less "Leaves of Grass." But I was mostly industrious and mostly confident and mostly focused, and two weeks ago the people from called to tell me I would be spending my next summer as an associate reporter covering the New York Mets. I am not perfect, but I'm much, much better than I was when I last wrote to you six months ago.

A lot of times I think back on my summer in Seattle as a waste of my time and my parents' money, two months spent listening to my bosses trade fart jokes and trying to restrain myself from yelling back at nasty sports-talk radio callers. But then I remember that if I hadn't spent all of that time transcribing asinine interviews with middle relievers, I never would have had that conversation with Mike about becoming a real-life sportswriter and maybe I never would have made the time to draw a blueprint for a better me. And then I think that maybe if I had stayed home that summer or even gotten a more productive internship elsewhere, I might still be a borderline-mediocre sportswriter and an uninspired self-defeatist.

In a way, my internship at 710 ESPN Radio got me exactly where I hoped it would when I signed up. I advanced my career, made a professional contact I could use as a reference and grew exponentially as a person. I just took a 5,800-mile detour along the way.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Fixing the New York Mets

Three weeks ago, the New York Mets were leaders in the National League Wild Card race and breathing down the necks of the Atlanta Braves in the National League East. They were alive and kicking, playoff contenders by any stretch of the imagination set to return arguably their best player to the lineup after the All-Star Break. This was, of course, before the wheels fell off. Since the 4th of July, the Mets have the worst record in the entire National League, winning just four times in their last 17 tries. They are 7.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East and 5 games out of the Wild Card with four teams between them and leaders San Francisco. Along the way, the Mets have lost 12 games on walk-off hits and seem poised to hold the dubious distinction of losing more games via walk-off in one season than any other baseball team ever (the current MLB record is 16). Though the starting pitching has been good, the Mets have not hit with runners in scoring position, they do not show a disciplined approach at the plate, they do not play their optimal lineup on a regular basis and they are run by a top-down organizational philosophy that values saving face far, far more than it does winning ballgames. It is with great regret that I admit that it is once again "that time of year," the time at which we accept that "they just don't have it this year". While Mets fans will continue to watch, because watching the Mets is what we do and because, against our better judgment, there is a small part of us that will always be waiting for another miracle, we know deep down that for the 24th consecutive year the Commissioner's Trophy will belong to someone else.

However, all is not lost. The Mets have a very strong core consisting of a group I like to call "Homegrown Mets Revolution" (HMR, pronounced "homer"). HMR consists of first baseman Ike Davis (a.k.a IDB for "Ike Davis, Bitch!" We are not calling Ike a bitch, but instead emasculating anyone who dares question his prodigious talents); dynamic, albeit injury-prone shortstop Jose Reyes; All-American, all-world, face-of-the franchise third baseman David Wright; impressive young catcher Josh Thole; prodigal son-turned-fourth outfielder-turned centerfielder of the future Angel Pagan. On the bump, HMR features emerging star and bearded beanstalk Mike "Big Pelf" Pelfrey, curveballer extraordinaire Jonathon Niese and flame-throwing reliever Bobby Parnell (a.k.a." Bobby Punch-out"). The point of all of this is to say that the Mets have a number of good, young players who are ours, all ours, for the foreseeable future and figure to be in the mix for a while. The Core will be complemented over the next several seasons by superstar lefty Johan Santana (affectionately known around these parts as "57") and free-agent flameout Jason Bay (who smart money says will find his stroke eventually. Remember Carlos Beltran's 2005, anybody?). Here is how the Mets can go about building a champion around their rock-solid foundation in the years to come.

  1. Learn the concept of the sunk cost, and act accordingly:

The sunk cost is an economic principle that states that once you have paid for something, the amount of time and money you have invested in it is unrecoverable. As a result, a rational actor should disregard the prior investment when making decisions about the future. The common example used in textbooks to illustrate this principle is a scenario in which a person has already paid for tickets to a concert he no longer wants to see and is trying to decide whether he should go to the concert and get his money's worth or go to the beach with his friends. According to the textbook, a rational actor should go to the beach because it is more optimal to have spent $30 and gone to the beach on the shores of Lake Any Pitcher Not Named Oliver Perez than to have spent $30 and sat through a truly miserable concert ("The Oliver Perez Experience" with supporting acts "The Sub-Replacement Level Second Basemen" and "Frenchy"). Though it sounds simple enough, this 101-level economics concept is one Mets General Manager Omar Minaya has struggled with mightily, giving precious playing time and roster spots to players like Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez who are not performing, simply because he has already paid them a lot of money. How the head of personnel for a multi-million dollar company can fail to grasp a concept understood by a 21-year-old who spent most of his one semester of economic training on Facebook is sort of mind-boggling. In any event, the Mets need to stop putting valuable time and development resources into these players and instead shift them to players who may prove to be of some worth in the future (Dillon Gee, Ruben Tejada, where you at?). The past two years have been like watching one of your friends continue to pursue a girl who's just not feeling him in hopes that his emotional investment will pay off and the girl will ultimately come around instead of turning his attention elsewhere. Oliver Perez isn't coming around, Omar. It's time to cut your losses and move on.

(Side note: Continuing this metaphor, a fun thing you can do after you've been relegated to the Friend Zone and have decided to cut ties with a girl is to send a text message out to all of your friends announcing something to the effect of "Jane Doe (Sophomore/Chemical Engineering) has been designated for assignment. No corresponding move yet announced". Your male friends will think it's hilarious and your female friends won't get it, so it's not even sexist!)

  1. Throw in the towel and rebuild

    Too often, the Mets organization has undermined itself with the idea that if they just make it look like they're trying and the team is playing "meaningful games in September," fans will be satisfied enough to keep buying tickets. In addition, they also seem to act under the impression that "New Yorkers won't tolerate rebuilding". This notion is ridiculous. Mets fans--well, most of us--aren't stupid. We know that dynasties aren't built overnight and would be more than okay with a year or two of rebuilding if it meant a championship team down the line. Furthermore, the Mets have enough quality players already in place for the future that even if they do not actively add pieces in pursuit of a playoff run in 2011, the team is still going to play at or around .500 ball.

    Since this season is essentially over from a competitive standpoint, the Mets should act accordingly. This means that if they have any players not part of the long-term plan that can be shipped away for useful parts, they should make those deals. For instance, Hisanori Takahashi has proved himself a decent reliever. Unfortunately, he's 35 years old and probably not a piece of the puzzle in the years to come. With relief pitching a valuable commodity in this year's trade market, why not try to see what the Mets can get back for a decent fifth starter/reliever? If the Mets could net even a league-average corner outfielder or utility infielder, this player would be an upgrade over the outgoing Jeff Francoeur or the garbage currently rotting on the Mets bench.

    With Takahashi gone, the Mets will have a chance to give some of their Triple-A pitchers an opportunity to prove themselves at the Major-League level. If nothing else, the rest of 2010 can serve as an evaluation period for the team. Maybe they can get Nick Evans some at-bats. DFA'ing Rod Barajas so they're not carrying three catchers would open up another spot on the bench to get someone big-league at-bats.

  2. Make 2012 your go year and build toward that

    As noted earlier, the Mets have plenty of pieces. Though they have shown an unwillingness to cut ties with bad contracts Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo and Alex Cora, these players come off the books after the 2011 season. Unfortunately, so does Carlos Beltran, and given his age and injury problems, I don't think it would be prudent to re-sign him. Still, the Mets will have plenty of roster space and payroll flexibility for 2012 if they can keep themselves from making any stupid, over-the-top free agent signings beforehand. Here is how the roster should look:

    C: Josh Thole

    1B: IDB

    2B: ? Possibly Minor-league Ruben Tejada, although I'm not totally sold on him as a big-leaguer just yet. If Daniel Murphy ever makes it back from injury, he could perhaps be taught to play second base and should be given a shot at this role.

    3B: David Wright

    SS: Jose Reyes

    LF: Jason Bay

    CF: Angel Pagan

    RF: ? Perhaps a free-agent signing for the 2012 season, maybe prospect Fernando Martinez.

    Basically, the team needs to work with this roster in mind, and slowly collect pieces to complement it. Finding a decent second baseman and rightfielder (JAYSON WERTH) seem to be a must. They don't have to be incredible because there are already enough good hitters in this lineup (especially if Bay starts hitting), but they need to be significantly better than Castillo and Francoeur. Under no circumstances should they mortgage the future for a chance to win in 2010 or 2011.

    Starting rotation:

    1. Johan Santana (although it remains to be seen how good he will be in 2012)
    2. Mike Pelfrey
    3. Jonathon Niese

    The fourth and fifth spots in the rotation will be contingent upon whether knuckleballer R.A. Dickey can continue to be effective and whether Jennry Mejia, a teenager with electric stuff, is ready to be a big-league starter. If both have proven themselves worthy, they should be in the rotation. If not, the Mets should have payroll flexibility to add a starter from the free agent market. The bullpen should be spearheaded by Bobby Parnell, Francisco Rodriguez and a re-signed Pedro Feliciano. Okayish middle relievers are pretty much a dime a dozen.

I think this is a pretty solid plan. When you think about it, this team has a year and a half to acquire two to four pieces, with all of the major parts already in place. Being in a big market, the Mets should be able to spend money to get these players when the time is right. The main key is just to act rationally and remember that the goal should be winning championships instead of half-assing it in constant fear of an empty Citi Field. If the team builds a consistent winner, the tickets will sell themselves for years to come.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Hella Hyphy Road Trip


Sorry it's been forever since I've written anything. I had meant to update this at least once every week or so, but a unique confluence of events including a visit from my parents, an unusually resilient cold, a spat of laziness and an extended period without an original or particularly interesting thought has kept me from the keyboard. I'll do better next time. Anyway, I know those of you who are my mother have been eagerly anticipating an update, so I'll get to it.

For the most part, things have been pretty slow here in Seattle. I don't do a whole lot outside of going in to the station for my internship, but it's been really nice to have some time off to sit around in my underwear watching professional wrestling and screwing around on Facebook. I did, however, leave the relative comfort of my bedroom for a four-day pilgrimage to San Francisco to see my beloved Metropolitans take on the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park with my cousin Eric, who had recently moved to the city by the bay when Sears moved its Apparel & Home division, of which he is Chief of Staff.

A trip to San Francisco was something I had been thinking about ever since I'd decided I would be spending my summer in Seattle. Even before telling my friends and family, the first thing I did after being offered my internship was figure out where the nearest National League ballpark was and when the Mets would be playing there. San Francisco is about a 14-hour drive down from Seattle, so I decided to stop in Crescent City, California, conveniently located about halfway between my starting point and my destination, to see Redwood National Park.

My love of the outdoors is something that always surprises people when I tell them about it. In general, I'm a pretty extroverted guy, and I think people have trouble imagining me being alone and keeping quiet long enough to properly enjoy nature. Perhaps under different circumstances, I wouldn't be able to, but I think growing up an only child has taught me to enjoy and appreciate solitude in a way I otherwise wouldn't. I guess if I'm going to be alone for long stretches of time, it's better to be alone beneath hundreds of magnificent and gigantic Redwoods than sitting at my desk staring at a computer screen.

I was pretty excited about being in the Redwoods, so I woke up at like 7 a.m. to do the longest dayhike the Park offered, a 12-mile jaunt through the woods along the Pacific Coast.

The hike into the woods was pretty much perfect. It was really pleasant to just be out for a walk by myself for a few hours and get my head straight. I was able to start planning and mentally preparing myself for my senior year of college. In hindsight, I'm not really thrilled with the way I spent my first five semesters at school, so I feel like I have a lot to make up for in my last year at Carolina. While being as happy and successful as I want to be next year will take a lot of effort, I have a lot of things to accomplish and I'm really excited to get to work.

The scenery itself was gorgeous. The "Last Chance Trail" I walked was named as such because it presents hikers with their "last chance" to walk part of the California Coastal Trail before hitting the Oregon Coast Trail. The Redwoods were as impressive as I had always imagined them from hours spent playing "Cruisin' USA" on N64. The trees were dense enough to provide a really refreshing sort of sanctuary from the outside world, but allowed for enough space for the sun to break through and illuminate all of the flowers and shrubbery along the ground. At times the path would emerge from the woods to offer a view of the Pacific Ocean. I am not a good enough writer and do not know enough about different kinds of flowers and trees to really describe the things I saw, so here are some pictures I took with my iPhone:

Exhausted from the six mile trek in, I stopped for lunch (turkey sandwich, granola bar, Propel) on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. It was a pretty choice lunch spot.

My hike back out was somewhat less enjoyable. Prior to leaving for Crescent City, my parents asked me if I wanted to purchase hiking shoes. Already spending Winn Dixie bags full of their money living in Seattle this summer, I declined, assuming that I wouldn't have much use for them and that I would be just fine in an old, beat-up pair of Adidas that were not only cost-effective, but complemented the scenery quite nicely.

Despite being aesthetically pleasing, my Adidas were a mistake. Almost immediately after getting back on the trail after lunch, I started feeling pain in my left heel and the balls of my right foot. As I continued through the reeds and tall grass of the marshy area closest to the water, this pain spread to every part of both of my feet. It was sort of like walking across a North Shore beach for six hours, without being able to stop and lie in the sun (those of you reading who have not spent extensive periods of time on the North Shore of Long Island: just imagine a beach as a place where people gather to lie on a bed of rocks and never go swimming because the water is too cold). Combine the constant pain in my feet with a growing rash of mosquito bites and a pair of legs that were not as strong as I had previously thought them to be, and you had the makings of a fairly excruciating walk back to my car.

Anyone who has ever been around me after I've had three drinks or more knows that I will, from time to time, declare that I have "the heart of a champion". This was not one of those times. I yelped in pain as I was forced to run down every hill I encountered, the strength in my quads eroded to the point that I would not otherwise be able to stop my momentum. I made grunting noises usually reserved for female tennis players and shouted expletives at unsuspecting trees. I stopped to lie down on several occasions, suddenly crumbling to the ground as if I were a member of the 2009 New York Mets. Unfortunately, resting only seemed to make the pain even worse when I ultimately regained my footing. It is safe to say that if there were an easier route back to my hotel, I would have taken it. Alas, the Last Chance Trail was similar to a Puff Daddy record in that there was No Way Out. I had no cell-phone service, no Internet and no way back to my car other than to finish the hike. And so, I sweated, grimaced and hobbled my way through perhaps the most unpleasant and uncomfortable experience I have ever known at a speed only slightly faster than "backwards". But in a testament to my extraordinary perseverance complete lack of any other option, I ultimately arrived at the end of the trail around sundown. Moral of the story: If your parents offer to buy you something of even marginal utility, let them.

After getting a good night sleep at the appropriately named America's Best Value Inn of Crescent City (it really was a great value), I once again climbed into my trustee black Avalon and hit Highway 101 en route to San Francisco. The view was scenic, the accompanying soundtrack (JUST the right mix of Jay-Z and Ira Glass) was delightful and before I knew it, the Golden Gate Bridge was in sight.

Eric was gracious enough both to take me out to dinner and let me crash on his couch. After dinner, Eric gave me a tour of his new neighborhood, which is pretty sweet and only a few blocks from the famous Lombard Street switchbacks. He's done pretty well for himself.

We also had ice cream at the original Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory, which was really cool. You can see how they make the chocolate and everything, definitely something I would recommend seeing if you're ever in San Francisco. The next day Eric went to work, so I explored all of the touristy things San Francisco has to offer. I did a walk through the Japanese Tea Gardens and San Francisco Botanical Gardens at Golden Gate Park. GGP is sort of like San Francisco's Central Park, and it's a pretty nice place to take a walk while working up an appetite for clam chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl.

Once I decided I was sufficiently hungry, I boarded a bus (the surest way to avoid losing an argument in a Cable Car) bound north for Fisherman's Wharf, the tourist hub of San Francisco. The breadbowl was as delicious as I'd imagined it would be and there is perhaps no more exhilarating feeling of community than the one you get as a visiting fan in a foreign city, exchanging high fives with blue-and-orange-clad strangers and holding discussions about the Mets' need for another starter, thousands of miles from Flushing.

But the most poignant moment of the trip for me came while I was visiting a college sports paraphernalia store in Fisherman's Wharf that I had visited when I was last in San Francisco five years ago. At the time, I was on the lookout for Syracuse gear, a sixteen-year-old almost certainly bound for the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Now, I'm a sort of walking billboard for the University of North Carolina, a place that has become so much a part of me that I refer to it as home and have trouble even imagining spending the last three years anywhere else. It's hard for me to explain to people who didn't know me in high school how in love with Syracuse I was and how many random things had to happen for me to end up heading south instead of north. Until being in that store, I had almost forgotten there was a time when I was anything besides a Tar Heel.

After cooling my jets at Eric's apartment for a few hours and eating a pretty solid dinner in Chinatown, we headed to AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. Prior to coming to AT&T, I had read and heard lots about how it was the nicest place to watch a baseball game in the world. While there will always be a part of me that is partial to Shea Stadium, the first ballpark I ever visited and the place I learned to love baseball, I can confirm that, from an objective standpoint, anyway, AT&T Park is probably the best place to watch a baseball game anywhere. The park is clean, it is state of the art, it is comfortable, it usually provides good to great weather and it affords a magnificent view of the San Francisco Bay.

Unfortunately, on this warm July evening, the Mets' bats went absolutely frigid in a 1-0 loss that might as well have been 10-0 given the way the visitors were hitting. Giants' starter Barry Zito seemed to have hopped into a time machine destined for 2002 (23-5, 2.75 ERA, AL Cy Young), expertly mixing his fastball, changeup and curveball in such a manner as to make the depleted Mets lineup (M.I.A: Jose Reyes, Josh Thole, Angel Pagan) look very, very silly. New York managed just three hits and failed to score a run off either Zito or Brian Wilson, the detestable Giants closer on whose upper-90's fastball the Mets were simply unable to Get Around. I would be remiss not to mention that the Mets' starting pitcher, "Homegrown! Mets! Revolution!" member Jonathon Niese, was quite good himself, yielding just one run in seven innings of work. Alas, Alex Cora's throw home on perennial Met-killer Pat Burrell's grounder was late, and Aubrey Huff was able to score the only run the home team would need.

The lack of offensive fireworks during the game was somewhat made up for by the actual fireworks provided by AT&T Park afterward. While the Giants fans in our section loudly proclaimed how much better the fireworks were after a victory and stated that they would not want to sit for fireworks after a loss, I would contend otherwise. Even when the Mets lose, being at a Mets game is pretty much the best thing that can happen to me on a given day. Throw in a scenic view, the company of family and post-game fireworks and it was as close to a perfect an evening as you're going to get when you've got out-machines like Jeff Francoeur, Jason Bay and Rod Barajas in your lineup. Also, we won the 2000 NLDS, Barry Bonds was a cheater and all of the best moments in San Francisco Giants history happened in Uptown Manhattan. So there.

Even after watching the Mets accumulate one hit for every ten hours I spent driving to see them, I still felt compelled to listen to the entirety of their 8-4 loss to the Giants on the radio the next night as I drove home, confirming something I had always suspected, but never been entirely sure of: There is nothing the Mets can do that will make me not love them.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Sorry it's been so long. Please direct any comments, questions or concerns to my e-mail at, or holler at me on Twitter @aptaube. Stay fresh.

Friday, June 4, 2010

…Well I Guess This is Growing Up

On Wednesday afternoon Ken Griffey, Jr., centerfielder extraordinaire, masher of some 630 home runs and savior of professional baseball in the Pacific Northwest, announced his decision to retire from baseball after a quarter-season's worth of struggles for the Seattle Mariners that saw the erstwhile superstar become a bit player on a losing team. In the days that followed, there has been a lot written about a man who is inarguably one of the greatest baseball players to ever live. There have been stories about what his retirement means for baseball, for the city of Seattle and for the Mariners themselves. But to a certain segment of the population, say males between the ages of 20 and 25, Griffey's retirement signaled something else entirely.

This added significance comes not just because Junior was the most prominent baseball player during the decade in which we fell in love with the game but because he was known as much for his youthful exuberance as he was his picture-perfect swing. Though some sports writers, like's Jim Caple, have asserted that watching The Kid go from precocious teenager to retiree made us all "feel a little older," I can't help but think that Junior's retirement made some of us feel as if we'd gotten older a little bit faster than everyone else had. For those of us in the Tomagotchie generation, Griffey will not be remembered in the same way that we will remember Pujols or Manny, or even Derek Jeter. To us he is not just an extremely good baseball player, but as one of my friends described him, a "cardboard cut-out."

Though Griffey finished third behind Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire in the celebrated Home Run Chase of 1998, he remains to this day the most iconic of the group. More affable than McGwire and more marketable than Sosa, Ken Griffey Jr. was nothing short of ubiquitous to those of us who started following sports during the 1990s. From him we learned to wear our hats backward and how to properly admire a home run. In our formative years he was everywhere, but now, at least until his induction into the Hall of Fame in 2016, he is nowhere to be found. To be clear, I do not contend that I will be waking up in a cold sweat this evening wondering where Griffey went. Still, it is more than a little weird to think that 15 years have passed since the 1995 ALDS when you consider that in 1995, fifteen years meant two lifespans into the future and was a sort of incomprehensible thing to contemplate (I suspect any sort of imagination of 2010 at the time would have somehow involved flying cars).

What stands out most for me about the career of arguably the greatest centerfielder ever, and this is going to sound extraordinarily stupid and self-indulgent so bear with me, is his sponsorship of "Ken Griffey Junior Presents Major League Baseball" for the Super Nintendo video game console. The game had awful graphics and featured made-up player names with the exception of its eponymous presenter but was pretty much the best thing to ever happen to a six-year-old boy who loved sports but was not much good at playing them. While my one season of Little League yielded exactly one base hit, KGJPMLB allowed me to circumvent these athletic limitations as I led the San Francisco Giants to a 100-win season and a World Championship. Somewhere in the Taube Residence of Port Jefferson, NY, lies a photograph, taken by my mother at my request, of me posing next to a screen congratulating me on what is to date my proudest sports-related accomplishment (aspiring blackmailers: this picture is probably a pretty good place to start). It was during this "championship run" that I took over as play-by-play announcer and color commentator for these video game Giants and constructing storylines about the fictional players on the team. In a way, it was my first attempt at sports journalism.

Once upon a time Ken Griffey, Jr. patrolled centerfield at the Kingdome in Seattle while I sat in my pajamas on Long Island and played his video game. Today, the Kingdome is Qwest Field, Junior is no longer a professional baseball player and I am living alone in Seattle, some 3,000 miles from my parents and the Super Nintendo they bought me for my fifth birthday. A year from now I will graduate college, enter the Real World and wonder what happened to all of the time in the interim. On June 2nd, 2010, Ken Griffey, Jr. retired from baseball and all of us felt a little older. Some of us grew up.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

So in my last post I told all of you about what my internship entails when I'm at the studio. While sending highlights to affiliates and cracking jokes with my main man Tim is certainly a fine way to spend an evening, days when I get to accompany my boss, 710 Mariners reporter Matt Pitman, to Safeco Field are a whole 'nother level of awesome. Wednesday was my first such day, and it was pretty much everything I've ever wanted out of life.

Before the game I followed Matt into the broadcast booth, where I sat with him while he did the pre-game show as I marveled at the view of magnificent Safeco Field. It's a really gorgeous ballpark if you haven't been or seen pictures. I would have taken some of my own, but I was busy "Acting Like I've Been There Before" instead of like a wide-eyed college student completely and totally ecstatic about being let into a big league ballgame for free and getting to walk around everywhere wearing a press pass. After Matt did his thing, I got to meet a few of the Mariners radio announcers, but unfortunately not local legend and Hall-of-Fame inductee Dave Niehaus who has been calling games for the Mariners since the team joined the Major Leagues in 1977. Next time.

I even wore this around my house a little bit

After that we headed down to the press box where the rows are lined with journalists, some of whom type up notes on their laptops while a larger proportion check their Facebooks and update their fantasy teams. As for me, I kept score with a little bit of help from Matt who helped me work on my scorecard technique. I think the finished product came out pretty good, especially given my handwriting limitations.

The Mariners' half of my scorecard. Sweendog, ftw!

Former Met Jason Vargas (sent to the Mariners in the ill-fated deal that brought us Sean Green, JJ Putz and Jeremy Reed) pitched competently if not spectacularly and the Mariners staged a dramatic late-inning comeback to beat the Tigers as I ate free hot dogs and watched from directly behind home plate. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon. After the game I was sent downstairs to the visitors' clubhouse to "gather sound" for the postgame show from Tigers manager Jim Leyland and starting pitcher (and Pasco, WA native) Jeremy Bonderman. This means that I go up to the aforementioned parties and hold a high-powered recorder up to them as they are interviewed by reporters. Since I am an unpaid intern, I am forbidden from asking any of my own questions. In the wake of Stallingsgate, this is probably in everyone's best interests.

(A moment then, to explain Stallingsgate to those readers who do not work for the sports department of the Daily Tar Heel or the UNC Athletics Office. The most embarrassing moment of my journalism career to date came in the wake of a walk-off grand slam by UNC's Ryan Graepel that gave the Tar Heels a 6-2 victory over High Point. Now it would seem that Graepel's home run would be the big story all of the reporters wanted to talk about in the post-game interview with UNC coach Mike Fox. However one intrepid student journalist (me, in case your reading comprehension skills have failed you) was more curious about a home run hit earlier in the game by Jacob Stallings, the first one he'd hit of the season. Naturally, I came out with one of my usual well thought-out and hard-hitting inquiries, "How 'bout Jacob Stallings first home run?"

While you may not believe me, this seemed like a very good idea at the time. Coach Fox paused for what seemed like forever and answered my question with a question "Yeah…how 'bout that?"

Still blissfully unaware of how badly I was embarrassing myself, I answered Fox's question with another of my own, "Yeah…right!?"

Unimpressed by this bit of first-rate journalism, Fox reiterated his earlier response of "…How 'bout that?"

In listening to the recording after the fact, it is at this moment that I seem to have caught up to everyone else in the room in realizing I was a moron, briefly attempting to salvage the moment by rephrasing my stupid question before ultimately giving in to my own idiocy. On tape you can almost hear the wheels turning in my head: "Yeah, what'd you think of that especially after he…okay sorry, that was a bad question..." To his immense credit, Fox cut me off and sympathetically answered my question anyway, giving me a pretty good quote in the process.

Still, when I arrived for my gig as one of the softball team's Public Address announcers a few days later, the softball Sports Information Director (SID) informed me he'd heard from the baseball SID that I'd had the "question of the year" at the High Point game. As you can imagine, my friends at the sports desk have all done an excellent job of reminding me of this particular post-game interview.)

ANYWAY! Going down to the visitors' clubhouse was extremely cool. Though I was not able to speak to Leyland, I could practically taste his post-game cigarette from how close I was standing. After the interview in the manager's office, I ventured into the Tigers locker room. Although I've always known that, by their very nature, locker rooms are places people go to shower and change, it was still sort of weird to see players talking to reporters while undressing as if this were a totally normal thing to do. I guess when you're a professional baseball player it's just part of the routine. More than anything though, I was just totally blown away by the fact that I was standing 10 feet from Johnny Damon and nobody was acting like I didn't have every right to be there. This experience will be especially surreal if I get to go to the stadium for any of the games against the Yankees and have the opportunity to get up close to all of the players I have grown up detesting from afar (except Mo Rivera. I love that guy).

Despite battling a steady stream of thoughts that amounted to little more than "OHMYGOD,DONTRELLEWILLIS!" I was able to maintain my composure and professionalism. I succeeded in collecting audio from the people I was assigned to get sound from, and part of the stuff I recorded from Jim Leyland was played on the air during the post-game show. It was probably the most thrilling event of my young journalistic career, and I can't wait to go back.

See you soon, Safeco!

A couple of other quick updates before I hit the hay:

  • I learned to cook my first non-processed meal yesterday, ground turkey quesadillas. My housemate Jake taught me how to make them and they actually came out pretty good. That sound you hear is my mother's head exploding.
  • While I had made a goal of reading John Steinbeck's East of Eden, I have instead been spending most of my spare time watching the first season of the West Wing. The show has an Entourage-like quality in that it is endlessly entertaining in its sharp dialogue and "cool stuff happening," but never seems to go anywhere because everything always turns out okay in the end. However, I feel like this won't last for long. A show can't employ the bad guys from both Wayne's World and Billy Madison without one of them turning on the President somewhere along the way.
  • I have not yet found out the name of the mysterious ice cream scooper around the corner. I attempted to make another trip Thursday, but was shocked to look into the window and see some guy working behind the counter, instead. I did not bother getting ice cream.
  • The New York Mets are pretty much the greatest team in the history of baseball, having taken 2 out of 3 games from the defending champion New York Yankees, and winning three straight games against the hated Philadelphia Phillies by a combined score of 16-0. That's 27 innings for the Phillies without a run, if you're scoring at home.
  • I ran five miles today. Just thought you guys should know…

I'm really flattered by how many of you have told me you've been reading and all of the nice things you've had to say. Thanks again for all of your support, and please do send any constructive criticism to Thanks so much for your time.

Monday, May 24, 2010


Hey folks,

I'm about settled in here in the Emerald City, so I figured I'd give everyone an update on what I've been up to.

As some of you know, I'm out here to do an internship with 710 ESPN Radio Seattle, which I started on Monday. It's been a lot of fun so far. There's not a whole lot for us interns to do while the games are on. While I'm on call in case any of the producers, soundboard operators or talent need me to do anything, my primary responsibilities during the game are to watch baseball and go on food runs. This works out nicely because eating and watching baseball are probably my two favorite things to do. Before and after the games I transcribe interviews, make rejoiners (basically the thing that's like "You're listening to Mariners baseball!...on the Mariners radio network!") for the postgame show (this skill is still a work in progress. Adobe Audition has supplanted Final Cut Pro as the editing software most likely to drive me crazy), send off highlights to our affiliates and answer phone calls from listeners. Things get sort of hectic after games because most of the workload comes in all at once, but I think I'm learning to adjust a little better day by day. I'm confident I'll be able to do everything smoothly in the very near future.

The station itself is pretty sweet. There's lot of cool memorabilia and it's pretty neat being in a working radio studio after watching Mike and the Mad Dog on YES for all those years. The people have all been pretty friendly thus far. The other intern working on 710's Mariners coverage is a pretty solid dude. I like him because he does play-by-play of everything he sees and does, and has a deep, dark past in professional wrestling fandom. Plus, he's a Catholic, which has always been my favorite Christian sect. We get along swimmingly.

Shot of the 710 Studio and Matt, who runs the soundboard

When I haven't been working, I've been spending my time watching the West Wing on my computer and exploring the University District and U-Dub's campus. I'm pretty comfortable exploring the Ave by now and have found a good gyro place, my new coffee spot and several really good places to get chicken teriyaki, which seems to be something Seattle specializes in. The U-District is cool because it's sort of like a traditional college town the way Chapel Hill is, only it's nestled inside a major city. There's also a really awesome ice cream place around the corner from me that was featured in the New York Times. I'm not sure whether it's just because I associate her with ice cream or not, but I have a pretty massive crush on the girl that works at the counter. I'm not really sure what to do with this, but I think finding out what her name is strikes me as a necessary first step.

The Varsity Theater...Seattle

Campus itself is really cool, and sort of reminds me of UNC a little bit. They even have a sunken brick courtyard that serves as the center of campus, only it's called "the Red Square", which is infinitely less cool than "the Pit". They have a long bike/running trail I've been (slowly) making my way through the past few days. It's really pretty, but has taught me that I am woefully out of shape after avoiding physical activity for the past two months. I also went to a softball game for the Daily Tar Heel since UNC was playing at UW. Both the UW softball park and the football stadium (Husky Stadium) have a pretty incredible view of Lake Washington.

The view of Lake Washington from Husky Stadium

I also snuck into the UW sports hall of fame inside the basketball stadium and saw one of Tim Lincecum's Cy Young awards and an exhibit on my main man and three-time Slam Dunk Contest Champion Nate Robinson. I very seriously considered dropping $60 on a Robinson Knicks jersey I saw in a store on the Ave.

Tim Lincecum's Cy Young

Because I know the vast majority of you are curious, I've also gotten a taste of the nightlife here in the U-District. I went out with a couple of my housemates and a friend from UNC who was in town to a bro bar called Dante's. Dante's is really awesome on Thursday nights because they have beer pong, air hockey, foosball and $2 pitchers of Miller Lite. There were very few females around, so I decided it would be a good idea to drink two pitchers and see how drunk it would make me. In case you were wondering, the answer to this query is "very drunk". After a fairly successful outing at the beer pong table, my friends and I decided to move the party to Earle's. For the Tar Heels reading, Earle's is the U-District's answer to Players. For those of you who've not had the pleasure of visiting Chapel Hill's #1 nightclub, Players is a poorly-lit establishment where people go to listen to awful top-40 music, grind up on drunk girls and make generally poor life choices.

By the time we got to Earle's I was not quite out of the game, but the pitching coach was definitely at the mound telling me to settle down and throw strikes. Unfortunately, Earle's' signature drink is its infamously potent Long Island Iced Tea. Perhaps more unfortunate is my habit of, as I'm known to tell people in a drunken stupor, "repping Strong Island, son!" I'll refrain from further detail on the evening's events, but I will continue the poorly constructed baseball metaphor from earlier in this paragraph and will say that I did not have a relief liver warming up in the bullpen and the results were most unpleasant.

Anyway, that's about all I've got for you guys right now. I'm planning to put up a post of "Sports Thoughts" at some point of the near future. For those out of the loop, we're about halfway through a week of monumental importance to a certain baseball team I'm known to be fond of. If you're one of the people who reads just to check up on what I'm doing with my life, you're totally free to spare yourself and skip that one. I won't hold it against you.

I can't thank any of you enough for reading, and I hope y'all are having excellent summers wherever you're reading from. Feel free to e-mail me any comments, questions or concerns at . I'd love to hear from you.

Stay fresh,


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Hello, Seattle

Greetings from the University District of Seattle, Washington!

I got in to my home around 4 PM Pacific Standard Time (7 PM real time) yesterday and have since been getting settled in and enjoying the company of my new housemates. I live with (I think) seven other guys, six of whom are University of Washington students. Everyone seems really cool.

The house is probably not the cleanest place I've ever been, but I think that's to be expected of a place housing eight college-aged guys. What it lacks in cleanliness, I think it more than makes up in charm (it is sort of like Wrigley Field in this respect). Below is a picture of the common room's large and beautiful television from behind a pair of super-comfy couch recliners. On the right is my housemate Jake returning from a day at the chemical engineering building. Almost everyone in the house is a science major of some sort. Hopefully they will like me enough to let me mooch off them when they are successful and I am a starving journalist working the Division II baseball beat for the St. Cloud Times.

The living room is also equipped with two beer pong tables, one of which can be seen here a day after several intense games of battle pong. For the uninitiated, battle pong is a really fun way to get really drunk, really fast.

There are beer cans pretty much all over the house, which is awesome. Here are some of the special issue U of Washington-themed Bud Lights used for decorative purposes above the entrance to the kitchen.

This example of decorative creativity, however, pales in comparison to my housemates' pièce de résistance. This painting was originally of Jesus guiding some guy as he steered a boat. However, the guy's face has instead been replaced by a picture of University of Washington quarterback Jake Locker. Perhaps if I hang a similar picture of TJ Yates in my apartment, UNC might beat NC State this season.

The drive to Washington was somewhat exhausting, but a ton of fun. After hitting Chicago, I drove through Wisconsin which was surprisingly really cool. The weather was pretty gross as I drove through, but there was a lot of nice scenery with a lot of little lakes and rivers to look at. I stopped at a place called Coffee Grounds in Eau Claire to get some caffeine in me. Little did I know the Coffee Grounds is not only an internet café, but a local beer emporium, as well. Jackpot. I picked up a trio of six-packs for my future housemates, two of which I found to be pretty good. If you ever get a chance to try Oso beer, you should definitely do that. I unfortunately did not pick up a six-pack of "He'Brew".

After Eau Claire, I crossed the Mississippi and lit out for the territories. There's not a whole lot in the state of Minnesota after you get past the Twin Cities. I ended up spending the night in Bismarck, North Dakota, which was similarly not much to see. However, western North Dakota is all sorts of awesome. On a whim, I decided to make a detour to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the ND badlands. Despite the lack of vegetation, the Badlands are really pretty to look at. I went for a mile hike, but it was really hard for me to leave. I'm definitely planning to budget some more time there on my way back and look forward to future photo opportunities like the one seen below. Note my road trip scruff and spring break t-shirt.

The eastern half of Montana, however is probably the most boring place I've ever been in my life. When you drive through, you have four choices on your radio dial: Christian talk, contemporary Christian, classic country and contemporary country. Choosing a station is like picking a favorite son if you hate all of your children. You can imagine my elation then when I stumbled upon a station playing "Should I Stay or Should I Go," the greatest driving song of all time. Rolling through the high plains blasting the Clash at 90 mph was easily the single most perfect moment of my road trip. The second most perfect moment was my visit to the unfortunately named "Kum & Go" of eastern Montana. They serve a frozen drink a called a "Koolie". I don't think I really need to write a joke here.

Western Montana is pretty cool because of all the mountains and stuff. Unfortunately I wasn't able to snap any really good pictures of the landscape, but take my word for it—it's a gorgeous mix of open green spaces and imposing snow-capped mountains. I'm dying to make a trip across the Wyoming border to Yellowstone on my way home. Washington is a pretty sweet state to drive through as well. I didn't get to snap any pictures of my trip across the bridge to Seattle which offers a nice view of the city, but here's a cool picture I took above the Columbia River in the eastern part of the state.

I'm currently living in the U-District of Seattle which is a neat blend of city life with a neighborhood feel because of all the college students. It's right next to the University of Washington, which has a really nice campus despite being located in a major city. There's a trail to Mt. Rainier that I really need to see. I also live about a block and a half from the fifth Starbucks ever built. As you might imagine, Starbucks is a pretty huge deal here in the Emerald City, as evidenced by the fact that three of my housemates rolled in with frappuccinos about a half hour after I moved in. The Starbucks on University Way (or "The Av," as everyone seems to call it) was pretty cool to see, since the original five Starbucks all have this creepy old logo in them that the newer ones do not.

I'm starting my internship at 710 ESPN Radio Seattle tomorrow, which is equal parts exciting and nerve-wracking. I just hope I'm able to do a good job and that my employers like me. I think I'm going to go hang out with some of my housemates a bit now that they're all done studying for the night (UW is still in session). Before I do that, though, I leave you with the most Seattle picture ever. It is of me wearing a Mariners cap and updating my blog while drinking a mocha from the fifth-ever Starbucks. The picture is taken by my housemate Sean, who has a sick beard and likes photography and indie rock.

Thanks for reading. I love you all.