When I started writing on Camden Chat, I never had any grand dreams of anything. I love the Orioles and I like writing, so blogging as a fan made sense. I watch 85% or more of the O's games anyway. I never had an expectation of recognition. As a blogger, you kind of figure you're going to be on the outside looking in, because that's the nature of blogs. And yet the traditional media outlets such as The Sun and even MASN host blogs, presumably because there is something about the spirit of blogging that can be incorporated into mainstream media for a better product.
On the other side of the divide, blogs are able to be more like mainstream media thanks to the Internet democratizing a lot of the information that is available. You don't have to read all the box scores in the paper any more because you can get them yourself. Statistics, prospect info, and more are available and your fingertips.
While blogs and traditional media have come together some in recent times, there is still enough of a gulf that a fan-blogger can experience a lot of new and awesome things on a night like last night's MASN Blogger Night at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. In attendance were myself and Stacey, Kevin Brotzman from Card "O" the Day, Daniel Moroz from Camden Crazies, Jon Shepherd from Camden Depot, and Anthony Amobi and James Baker from Oriole Post.
We met in the home plate plaza at 4:30 and our gracious MASN hosts for the evening, Jim Buckle and Lindsay Rykiel, soon arrived with our daily media credentials and made sure everything went smoothly for us. I'd like to thank them for taking time out of their regular duties to be sure we got where we were supposed to go.
We stepped into the special press-only elevator, which we rode down into the basement – no strange place for any blogger. I had dim memories of being down there before back when I was in middle school and our band played the national anthem. We stopped briefly to sign in with an usher and Jim Hunter slipped past us, talking on a cell phone about last night's game.
Just next to us was a small playroom for children of O's players, although it was empty while we were standing there. On the way out to the field we passed the Ernie Tyler umpire room. There was a plaque with his name and picture and a paragraph about his time with the Orioles. That was a nice touch. As for actually getting out onto the field, I don't think I had to duck quite as much when I was a middle schooler.
We were out on the field to meet with Adam Jones, and while we waited we talked amongst ourselves and watched players take batting practice and a little fielding practice.
I found it really cool to be so close to this regular part of the routine. This was before the gates were even open for fans to get into the stadium. Players who I remember taking swings were Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee and Nick Markakis. Vlad was really launching the BP balls, but even Nick parked one on the flag court. I did not observe flabby arms. I actually found it a little tough to tell who was who while we were watching all of this because the players were in warm-up shirts and not in the jerseys with their names and numbers on the back.
Buck Showalter watched over the proceedings, doing that thing you see in one of his commercials where he stands there with his arms behind him, holding a bat parallel to the ground against his back. Peter Schmuck was talking to him for several minutes and he was (to my surprise) not wearing a Hawaiian shirt. I also saw Gary Thorne next to the batting cage talking to several players and coaches. For all of them, this is every day, but for me it was quite a treat to be up close.
At five o'clock the gates opened and then the ball hawks came streaming in, maybe a dozen people who were trying to chase down every last BP ball that had landed in the stands, and numerous other autograph-seekers came down to try to get the attention of players near the dugout. This was a weird phenomenon to observe.
When the O's PR rep brought Adam over to talk to us, it was a little bit of a star struck moment for me. I had never been party to a conversation with a professional baseball player before, let alone a major leaguer who was brought over just to talk to the group of us. I found Adam to be very friendly and he humored all of our questions even as there was a lot of topic jumping. I think every question that anyone asked he gave an expansive answer and it seemed to me like he put some thought into everything he was saying. (Stacey will have a detailed account of the Q&A later)
There was kind of a weird moment towards the start of our interview because two random guys who were guests of someone walked into our circle and started asking Adam questions. We looked at each other like WTF? I was annoyed at the intrusion at first but I actually think those guys helped to break the ice and give us time to think of questions. One of the guys was older and he asked Adam why the team doesn't use the sacrifice bunt any more, and Adam replied, "Because this is the American League."
Before he moved off to sign autographs for a number of kids who were also on the field, Adam shook hands with all of us. I appreciated this gesture because he didn't have to do it at all. AJ also had a little chat with former Raven Mark Clayton, who was there as his guest. I like to think it was good mojo from the bloggers that powered him to a 3-for-4 night with a home run.
Next, we were off to the MASN pre-game set up in the bullpen picnic area at Camden Yards. Walking out there, Brotz and I were talking to one another about how it was cool to be important for the day. Normally walking along the concourse you are just one more among the throng. Last night we had credentials. We belonged! That was a great feeling.
Getting to stand up on the stage of the set was also something of a surreal moment. Usually I watch this on TV, and there I was, in person. Hunter and Rick Dempsey were both sitting at the desk, making notes about the upcoming pre-game show. The producers were talking to them through the earpieces constantly, and just watching the process was interesting.
We did get a few minutes to ask questions. Jim showed us his big bag of books when someone asked about it. We'd seen him flipping through a well-used baseball prospect almanac and were wondering what else he carried. I was curious how often they have someone talking in their ear while they are on the air and Jim said it is pretty much constant and you learn to tune it out. He talked a little bit about how the post-game show is a bit more complicated than the pre-game because it's less planned out; for instance, they never know quite when Buck's post-game presser will start and they have to cut to it immediately.
We left them to finish preparing, and crossing back through the concourse, the pre-game show began. That was also surreal. Five minutes ago I was standing there, and now it was live on TV!
After that went to the MASN broadcast booth and talk to Gary Thorne and Mike Flanagan. Unfortunately, we were behind schedule so Gary was eating his dinner and unable to talk to us. We did get to have a nice conversation with Flanny, whom I am fairly sure was drinking soup out of a cup while chatting with us. This was very kind of him to do as he could have just stayed in the press cafeteria but I think he didn't want us to leave empty-handed.
Flanny shared a lot of insight with us about some of the nuts and bolts of broadcasting. Having the curtain peeled back on the broadcast was great. He talked about how he tries to prepare for each broadcast and have an idea of what the current narratives are that they might talk about, but that you have to temper your excitement to tell every single thing you know. Sometimes it just doesn't fit into the flow of a game. Flanny's phrase for it was preparing for a three-hour rain delay that probably won't come, but you want to be ready in case it does.
The best part was a funny story Flanny related to us from when he was newer at broadcasting. He said there was a game against Cleveland either during or the year after the O.J. Simpson trial. In that game, there was a Cleveland pitcher named Chad Ogea (pronounced Oh-jay) warming up for the Indians, and Flanagan joked, "Looks like they've finally gotten Ogea in the pen." Right away he realized maybe he shouldn't have made that joke, but he and (I think) John Lowenstein were unable to stop themselves once they started, cracking jokes about whether Ogea's glove fit and so on. This had us all laughing out loud. Flanagan said he was afraid he might get fired, but clearly it wasn't as bad as he thought.
Upon leaving Flanny, Stacey, Moroz and I got to go see the production truck, so it was into the bowels of the stadium again. Down there, we passed by the weight room, a bike rack for Orioles players only, and row after row of metal kegs full of either beer or soda. There were five bikes on the rack, so I guess Guthrie's not the only one who rides to the park.
Seeing the inside of the production truck was incredible. When I had always pictured "production truck" in my head I imagined something the size of a UPS delivery van. The truck is more like the size of an eighteen-wheeler trailer. The back two-thirds of the truck are full of video editing equipment and the people who put together all the replays.
The front third of the truck is where the director and producer of the pre-game and game itself operate. Also, the person who inputs pitch f/x data is here. There are something like thirty TV monitors on the wall, showing what's on the program, the view of every camera in the MASN arsenal, some in motion and some just showing stills. We were in the truck during the pre-game show, so we stood quietly and listened as a woman was talking into a headset, saying stuff like, "Get music under this!" and "OK, flash, then go 3," or maybe, "9, get on the warehouse, get ready to pan." After the pre-game show ended the producer and director left the trailer, as different people handle the game itself. We followed them out, and then it was off to the club level for the hospitality of the MASN suite.
I had never been in a suite before. This was quite a treat. It is stocked with food: crab cakes, shrimp, oysters, hot dogs, sausages, wraps; with a fridge full of soda and a cooler full of ice, beer and wine. This is all inside an air-conditioned suite with several TVs, so if you want you can sit on chairs and couches inside and watch the game in the cool area. We all wanted to be out with the crowd, though, so we only went in for food and drink. Since we did that we actually missed an appearance by Joe Orsulak. Whoops!
The view from the suite is incredible. You can see everything in the stadium except for the very corner of right field where the vehicles come out, and you can see the flight of every ball except for infield pop-ups. When Luke Scott homered onto Eutaw Street I saw exactly where it bounced. And as for the rest of the game, you already know how that went.
Somewhere in the course of this night I had a life epiphany: if I ever got to do something like this for a living, that would be the best ever. A dream for the future, I suppose. You're stuck with me here for now.
Oh, and as for all that food? Later on in the game, someone came out and yelled at us to eat more. Even with that command given, there were boxes of leftovers, so at the end of the night I walked out of the suite having just watched an Orioles victory, and in my hands was a box full of crab cakes and shrimp on the house. Now that, my friends, is Birdland.