As I walked towards an elevator to go up to my seat in Kauffman Stadium, the doors began to close. An older gentleman was the sole occupant of the elevator, and I was prepared to let the elevator go, so I could catch the next one. It was early enough; there weren’t very many people at the stadium yet.
But the gentleman, crowned with white hair and wearing a crisp button-up shirt and slacks, saw me approaching. He kindly held the door for me.
I thanked him, and we started to ascend. It was September 30, 2017. The weather was exceptional for Game 161 of the baseball season—it was 76 degrees and sunny at first pitch—and I mentioned as much to him. It was great weather for baseball.
“Any weather is great baseball weather,” he said with a subtle twinkle in his eyes.
When the doors opened, the man gestured at me to let me go first, so we didn’t bump into each other on our way out. We went separate ways after we exited. I went to find my seat, sitting down and preparing myself for a night of baseball. I assumed he did the same.
All that is relatively normal for a baseball game, except for that specific night: my seat was in the second row in the press box. I had just received my credentials inside the Gate C doors, and my elevator ride occurred in a closed-to-the-public place that connected the clubhouse to the press box and front office space.
And that kind gentleman with whom I shared the elevator? That was David Glass, billionaire and owner of the Kansas City Royals.
Royals Review is not, strictly speaking, a professional operation. None of our staff are trained, professional sports journalists. None of our staff are full-time employees of SB Nation, the umbrella website under whom we operate. None of us are former professional athletes.
Yet we have, with some assistance from SB Nation’s considerable branding and marketing muscle, a sizable audience. Between 2014 and 2015, the years of Kansas City’s two championship runs, we amassed 26 million pageviews.
Through this combination of viewership and corporate muscle, we were able to secure a press pass for the September 30 game. Indeed, we were credentialed through SB Nation—the Royals’ policy is to not give passes to ‘independent blogs.’ If they did, we would have likely acquired full-year passes versus single-game passes, and our coverage this past year would have been markedly different.
Getting specific information about where I was to show up, when I was to show up, where to pick up my pass, and where to park was like having your pulling teeth after your dentist dipped his tools and hands in vasoline. In other words, we just didn’t get any from the Royals in time.
Thankfully, Kansas City Star beat writer Rustin Dodd was extremely helpful in getting those details and helping me out. I also elicited advice from other sources: Sam Mellinger from the Kansas City Star, Eno Sarris (who I reached out to because of his excellent article regarding a Royals clubhouse incident) from Fangraphs, and my friend and college comrade Kasia Kovacs, a reporter at The Island Packet in South Carolina.
Remember, I’m a trained musician and a blogger, not a reporter. Had Eric Hosmer asked about which one of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies is the best (the Fourth, obviously), told me to play an excerpt from said symphony, and requested I write a music-themed baseball recap, I would have needed no assistance. But they didn’t, so I sought help.
Lacking a press/staff parking placard, I got to pay to park in the standard lot. I lugged my backpack to Gate C—the one behind home plate reserved for fancypants Diamond Club attendees—where Steve Physioc was walking in front of me before he peeled off to kindly acquiesce to a few fans’ selfie requests. I was waved inside by an employee and picked up my press pass from a booth tucked behind a corner door.
Months earlier, I went on a tour of Kauffman Stadium for my birthday. I recommend it to any Royals fan, as it’s quite a fun romp through places you almost assuredly have not been, and the best deal is two hours’ worth of baseball-related entertainment for $30 per person. In that tour, you’ll go through the dugouts, clubhouses, press box, suites, and interview room, in addition to some less exclusive parts of the stadium (ostensibly aimed at out-of-towners). Because I went on that tour, I knew roughly where everything was. That was extremely helpful.
Shortly after arriving, I left my backpack in an open seat in the press box, which is located directly below the upper deck centered behind home plate. I then took the same elevators I previously used to get to the press box down to clubhouse level.
The Kansas City Royals home clubhouse is spacious, but somehow still felt surprisingly small. Part of that was due to the ping-pong table set up in the largest open area of the room, and I walked into the clubhouse as Salvador Pérez and Joakim Soria were playing a raucous game of ping-pong, slinging the ball and quips in rapid Spanish at each other with similar intensity.
In Yordano Ventura’s former locker rested a plaque, a picture of Ventura in the World Series, a pair of cleats, and an empty bottle of championship champagne. To the team, he never quite left.
It was about three hours till game, and as Dodd had predicted in an email to me, the clubhouse was sparsely filled. Eric Hosmer was by his locker, quietly speaking to a visiting reporter, and left shortly thereafter. Guys like Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, and Lorenzo Cain were nowhere to be found. Few other position players lurked, and the guys sitting by their lockers, scrolling on their phones or tending to their things, were mostly relievers.
It was, after all, the second-to-last game of a season that was not going to end in playoffs. And, of course, it was the penultimate game with the triumvirate of Hosmer, Moustakas, and Cain as Kansas City Royals.
In hindsight, I picked a poor game at which to make my first appearance. The mood in the clubhouse was nostalgic and weary. As Brandon Moss said to me after the game, they weren’t in the head space to think about much else other than missing the playoffs and soaking up the ending to an important era in Royals baseball. It was such that even a question specifically about nostalgia and the past whiffed because it wasn’t quite right.
But beggars can’t be choosers, and I tried to talk to Danny Duffy before the game, where the players were captives to those who were hungry for information. Duffy, however, was busy with Joel Goldberg and then Dodd. Before I could ask him anything, Ned Yost’s dugout press conference was about to begin, signaling the end of reporting time in the clubhouse.
I journeyed to the dugout, where I stood and took notes as Yost spoke to us reporters. Not all had questions—myself being one of those questionless—and it was over after less than ten minutes. After the general reporter scrum, Yost slid over to do an exclusive interview with Ryan Lefebvre, ostensibly for television. Meanwhile, I stood around watching, not quite sure what to do.
After Lefebvre finished with Yost and they disengaged, I walked over and introduced myself to him. I had introduced myself to Goldberg in the clubhouse earlier, in addition to Dodd and Jeffrey Flanagan, and planned to find Rex Hudler and Jeff Montgomery later if I could.
Lefebvre—or just ‘Ryan’ to most Fox Sports Kansas City viewers—was very kind. As we chatted, he asked some personal questions about me, professional questions about my work, and about Royals Review (which he did indeed know existed).
Eventually, I asked him a question I’ve always wanted to ask: how advanced statistics impacts his broadcast decisions. His answer was pretty fascinating, and I’ll post it in an article later this winter (it’s a very long offseason when you don’t make the playoffs).
As we stood on the steps of the dugout, watching the Royals take batting practice, I felt comfortable for the first time all afternoon. I was in my element—discussing baseball statistics and media coverage with someone of like mind. Not an athlete myself, I felt and still feel that professional athletes by necessity approach things very differently than those who cover them.
I don’t have any qualms about admitting that I was scared. I was leaping into a world that revolved around dozens of talented millionaires, a world with its momentum, own unsaid playbook, and its own rhythmic idiosyncrasies to which I was not attuned. The reporters knew each other and the players. After more than 100 times of doing anything, there’s a level of familiarity that develops organically. Beat writers exist in part because the comfort that the players feel with the beat writers translates into better stories and more pointed insights into the craft. And the main ingredient which develops that familiarity is time, of which I possessed little.
After our conversation, Ryan and I parted ways, and I went back to the press box to grab some grub. There are a number of food options available to the press; hot dogs, pretzels, drinks, and desert were free, while the salad bar was $10 and freshly-made food was $10. I had the salad, which was excellent. The cookies were absolutely fantastic, too. And anywhere that offers free Dr. Pepper is an instant favorite of mine.
I watched the game in the press box, where I wrote and published my recap immediately following the game. The most interesting thing that I realized was that the scorekeeper announces everything even remotely relevant to the game through the press box PA system as soon as it happens. That’s why beat writers know things so fast, like home run length or whether or not something was an error.
After the game ended, I rode in an elevator with Dodd, Flanagan, and Lee Judge down to the manager’s press conference. I was stunned by how quickly the conference happened, with only a few questions lobbed toward Yost, who answered them efficiently. Maybe everyone was just going through the motions; it couldn’t have lasted longer than three or four minutes once Yost answered the first query.
I followed the real life reporters into a somewhat rambunctious clubhouse, as they swarmed around Jake Junis for some comments. Not knowing what else to do, I stuck with them. Once they dispersed, I again tried to talk to Duffy, but by the time I spotted him he was in street clothes and zipping out the door.
So I asked Moss about the Wild Card Game—the 2014 one—which you can read about here. Then I left, waiting to get into an elevator to grab my things in the press box. I stood next to Salvy, who was waiting around for someone and signing a few bobbleheads. It was extremely busy outside the clubhouse, and my guess is that there were more guests than usual due to the ‘finals week’ feeling that lingered around everything like a fog.
The building emptied, and I waited for it to continue doing so. Then I left, backpack in tow, my first evening as a credentialed reporter behind me.
It was a fantastic experience, and one that I hope will be able to happen again, hopefully more than once, in 2018. Baseball is fundamentally different when the players you’re covering become real, live people. It’s not just stats on a page; baseball is as human as a game can get.