AT THE BALLPARK/Rich Galen – Spring Training Washington Nationals vs. Florida Marlins

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I find myself in Jupiter Florida which is the summer home to both the Florida Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Sometimes, things just work out: I had a speech this morning in Palm Beach which ended at a little after noon. I had wanted it to end at about 11:45 so I could get to the game early, but I was sooooo engaging that people wanted to keep asking questions.

Or maybe I was sooooo obtuse, that what I said needed a good deal of clarification.

At any rate, I am kicking off my third year as a credentialed reporter covering the Washington Nationals for the Mighty Alexandria Times newspaper.

When I started I was about five games into the regular season before I figured out how to get onto the field at RFK Stadium before the game. Why didnt I just ask someone? I was too self-conscious.

I can walk into any political event, anywhere on the planet and more-or-less instantly figure out whats going on and how to get where I want to go.

If not, I have no problem asking someone, because I am asking from a position of strength, not weakness.

That that make any sense?

Anyway, this being my third season, I am far from being a rookie.

When I realized I had a speech on Friday I looked at the Nationals schedule and saw they were in Kissimmee on Saturday (playing against the Houston Astros) and home in Viera (near Melbourne) on Sunday.

Excellent, I thought. Ill spend the weekend in Florida and catch a couple of games.

—–

It came to pass that I was the speaker at the annual meeting of the Hearing Industries Association on Friday morning as opposed to Friday afternoon or Friday evening which I could have known at any point in the previous three weeks when the speech was booked if I had any capability of looking beyond the next 48 hours, which I do not.

When I found that out I looked to see where the Nats were playing on Friday afternoon, thinking maybe Ft. Lauderdale or someplace where I could drive to from Palm Beach and maybe catch the final few innings.

As it happened, the Nats were playing the Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter which is only about 20 minutes from Palm Beach so I could make it a three-game sweep, so to speak.

I talked to the Nationals media folks in Washington who put me in touch with the appropriate person in Florida who assured me that creds at all three venues would be available.

Heres the part about not being a rookie.

As I was driving to Reagan National Airport well before the crack o dawn on Thursday, I reached into the glove compartment of the Mullmobile and pulled out my Media Credentials for the Nats from last season.

Just in case, I said aloud as I shoved them into my backpack.

On Friday, I drove my rental car from the hotel where Id delivered my speech to the stadium. I drove into the first open gate, flashed my 2007 Season creds to a guy with a yellow shirt and clipboard and asked where press parking was.

I guess you should park right in here, the guy with the clipboard said, waving me through.

I parked in an unmarked spot, slipped the lanyard holding my credentials over my head and found another guy with a yellow shirt and a clipboard.

Wheres press check-in? I asked.

The guy looked at me and said this was the Cardinals side of the field, and I should walk all the way to the other end of a long structure, inside the gates but outside the stadium where I would find the Marlins offices.

I thanked him, and headed off to the direction in which he had pointed.

I looked up and saw a foul pole, meaning I was at the outfield end of one of the baselines. If my long, long experience as a credentialed reporter covering the Washington Nationals for the Mighty Alexandria Times has taught me anything it is this: The press box is not likely to be in the outfield.

I stood on my tiptoes so I could see the other foul pole and saw I was down the left field line so I turned left and headed toward where I knew the press box would be.

I found an open gate and went into the stands just outside first base. I found someone with a yellow shirt but no clipboard and asked how to get up to the press box. He found another guy with a yellow shirt and no clipboard but with a radio! That guy glanced at my 2007 Media creds twirling in the wind and told me how to go down a flight of stairs then take the elevator up to the second level.

I hauled off to do that, walked past an elderly woman in a yellow shirt who was guarding the elevator saying, press box second floor, right?

She said to turn left when I got off the elevator. I didnt want to reprise a scene from a Lucy and Desi movie which had a lot of turn left, right? dialogue, so I let it go.

I walked into the press box and walked up to a guy with a yellow shirt sitting at a table with a sign which read: Press Lunch $7. The press meals at RFK were $10 but this is spring training, so I could see that it should be less.

You know who, I said pointing to the two-tiered press area, is the Marlins press staff?

He said he would be on the lower level next to the window, so I walked down the row of reporters/staff and said aloud, Marlins staff?

A guy without a yellow shirt turned and raised his hand. I stuck out mine, told him I was Rich Galen from the Alexandria, VA Times (I left out the Mighty part) and he was supposed to have credentials for me.

He said he did, but they were (pointing to the Marlins offices on the far side of the left-center field wall) in the office.

I said unless he thought I needed them, I was fine. I asked him what the rules were for seats, he said I could take any empty seat on the second row. I found a seat in the middle and asked the reporter sitting next to it, Mark Zuckerman of the Washington Times, if the seat was open.

Yes, but I dont think youll see much, pointing at the pillar clearly blocking 70% of any view of the field.

Thanks, I said picking up my backpack. I dont want to have to use my x-ray vision this early in the season.

There was a seat next to the Washington Post beat reporter Barry Srvluga which he indicated was available, so I sat there and only had to deal with the same thin strip of aluminum everyone had to deal with.

Beat reporters have to write several articles a day. The main piece is about the game itself (called, as you might expect, The Gamer). They will often write a side bar piece about players injuries, clubhouse gossip, etc.

During the season, when the huge majority of games are played at night game and, therefore, end near or beyond the early deadlines for newspapers, the beat reporters have to wait until the game is over to make sure they know who won, race down to the interview room for the 10-minute press conference with the manager, run over to the locker room to get a comment from a few players, then back up to the press box to put it all together in a coherent fashion while their editor is demanding to know when the piece will be ready.

I asked Svrluga and Zuckerman if they have to tell their editors how much room to reserve. They both said that they have to write to the same length every night 800-850 words for the Washington Times; about 900 for the Washington Post.

The reality is, you get used to writing to a set length. Or at least I have. Mullings, goes about 750 words three times a week. Sometimes it drifts up to 800, and rarely (usually when its very late) Mullings will check in at around 700; but 750 or so is a good bet.

In fact, I just checked the word-length of Mullings from this morning: 746. Innerestin, huh?

Spring training games, in contrast, are largely afternoon affairs and, at least at this point with three weeks to go, few starters stay in the whole game. Pitchers (who had been limited to 30 pitches last week) are up to about 50 pitches before they are taken out this, in contrast to the modern limit of 100 pitches during the regular season.

The pace is slower, an
d the games begin at 1:05 in the afternoon and so are over well before 4:00 pm.

Today the game didnt start until 1:13 according to the guy in the press box who keeps track of these things. He also added that the game time temperature was 83 degrees and the wind was 20 miles per hour (blowing from right to left).

To make my point, again, todays game ended with the Marlins winning 3-2. The time of the game, according to that same guy who keeps track of such things, was 2:21 so it ended at 3:34.

The beat reporters missed the last two innings, getting a head start on their stories by interviewing the starters in the Nats (or Marlins depending upon which team they are covering) locker room while the lower-ranked players got in a few innings.

Nevertheless, when they all got back to their places shortly after the game ended and the easy banter during the game (which often ended with questions like howd he get on second?) was replaced with a dead silence except for the muted tapping of keys on laptops.

All in all it is a great way to spend a late winter afternoon.

More tomorrow from Kissimmee when the Nationals take on the Houston Astros.

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