Tuesday, October 7, 2008

My first champagne bath

My tape recorder didn't work.

My notebook was drenched, every stitch of clothing on my body smelled like a wine cellar, and my tape recorder didn't work. I looked like I just crawled out of a business meeting in a gin joint. My hair was sticking straight up in the air, and I don't use hair gel. More importantly, though, my job is to interview baseball players and put what they say into newspaper articles, and my tape recorder didn't work.

It's OK, though. David Ortiz drowned it. Julio Lugo, too. Coco Crisp can be blamed for some of the damage. Mostly, though, it was Ortiz -- while my recorder was in the face of Jed Lowrie, collecting his garbled thoughts about his walk-off hit that sent the Red Sox to the ALCS, Ortiz cracked open a bottle of champagne and dumped it all over Lowrie. And while Lowrie was trying to tell us about the pitch he hit (a curveball) and how the pitch on which he struck out on Sunday night (a curveball) prepared him for it, Ortiz wrapped the skinny shortstop in a bear hug and started jumping up and down. Lowrie, his huge blue goggles covering most of his forehead, had no choice but to start jumping, too.

This was my first champagne bath.

I just started covering the Red Sox this week; I moved from Minnesota in late September to take over the duty of covering the Olde Town Team for the New Hampshire Union Leader. I showed up for the first time on Saturday afternoon for between-games media availability, and I didn't have a clue what I was doing. I covered big-time college basketball for The Daily Tar Heel at UNC, and I even got to cover the Twins twice in my two years at the St. Cloud Times, but the Red Sox are the Red Sox. Before I could even start acting like a journalist, I had to get it through my head that I was going to be covering the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

I had to get all of that out of my system on Saturday. I sat in the bleachers behind the first-base dugout for a few minutes, taking in everything from the grass to the lights to journalism legend Peter Gammons getting set up with the ESPN cameras in front of the dugout. I took in everything from the tour group in the left-field bleachers to the antique Cask 'n' Flagon sign beyond the Green Monster. I told myself to be cool, but even I couldn't pretend I wasn't overwhelmed by where I was.

I got through that first day, those first press conferences. I got through my first game, the 12-inning thriller that Erick Aybar won with a single to center field off Javier Lopez. I got through my first pregame media session in the office of Terry Francona; I didn't even garble my first question. But when Lowrie's single rolled through the right side, my editor back at the Union Leader told me I had about half an hour to get a story on Lowrie and Jason Bay and get it filed in time for the metro editions.

That meant sprinting for and squeezing into the elevator. That meant fighting through crowds heading for the exits to get to the entrance of the Red Sox locker room. That meant walking into a zoo of overgrown frat boys dumping cans of Bud Light over each other's heads as if they'd never felt so excited in their lives -- Ortiz, who cemented his postseason legend four years ago, was completely out of control. Theo Epstein walked by in a red shirt that already was soaked through with champagne. Francona took a swig of champagne from a bottle and spit out the suds. Jon Lester was already surrounded by reporters and TV cameras, and Julio Lugo was spraying the whole group with bubbly.

I needed to find Lowrie. I needed to find Bay. I couldn't hear anything because the music was so loud, but I needed to find my guys and I needed to finish my story. I slalomed around the Japanese reporters talking to Daisuke Matsuzaka and the coaches and training staff and assorted other support-staff faces I'd never seen before in my life. A New England Cable News camera eventually found Lowrie and I jumped in, shouting a question about how it felt being a newcomer to the postseason in a clubhouse full of playoff veterans. He shouted back an answer. Someone else shouted a question that probably was about the pitch he hit; it was hard to tell because the music was so loud.

I then left Lowrie to go track down Bay -- he was back in the training room. Jacoby Ellsbury emerged first, goggles on and champagne spraying, but Bay came out a moment later. He went first to his locker to slide his batting gloves under the sheets of plastic covering everything; I trailed him the whole way, like a puppy -- I couldn't afford to let him slip away if I was going to file my story. When another reporter stepped into his path, we boxed him in and shouted a few questions ("How did it feel scoring that run? What were you thinking when you saw Lowrie's hit? How does this first playoff series win feel?") over the melee before he slipped away again to go find his wife.

By that time, it was 11:57 and I needed to get writing on my story. I ducked out of the clubhouse to head back upstairs and start writing; I smelled like a bachelor party, but I was free and clear and ready to start writing. All I had to do was transcribe a few quotes from Lowrie and Bay and fit them into my play-by-play and analysis. And my tape recorder didn't work.

I was covering the Red Sox in the playoffs, though, so it's all OK.

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