Cactus League trip a memorable event
Interviewing players, watching BP up close among highlights
This weekend, I had an opportunity to jet to Arizona to check out the Reds, Indians, Royals, Padres and Angels as they prepared for the 2012 season. And what a trip it was.
My first stop on Friday was the Reds' player development complex. Every morning, manager Dusty Baker makes himself available to the media in his office. I was part of the scrum (group of media members) that gathered around Baker's desk that morning. Baker's son, seventh-grader Darren Baker, took up a seat in his clubhouse locker, situated right next to his father's, to watch the interview unfold. I managed to squeeze a question in edgewise amidst all the pros!
With the pressure of the first question lifted, I sat down with Mat Latos, Brandon Phillips, Andrew Brackman, Sean Marshall and Brett Tomko. The first thing that struck me was how surreal it was to be having conversations with the players I'd only heard about and watched play from the stands. And I was elated to find, as I would throughout the weekend, that the players were every bit as kind and genial as I'd hoped they would be.
I headed outside to take in the spectacle that was batting practice. Not only was it great to hear the crack of the bat and the smack of ball against glove again, but I got to witness it up close, standing right behind the cages.
Next, I was off to watch the Reds host the Royals at Goodyear Ballpark. Before the game started, I took off my media credential and stood along the third-base line, blue ballpoint pen in hand, to try and get some autographs. It was a successful endeavor -- scads of players make their way down the line on their way to the dugout every day, and it's extremely easy to interact with all of them.
I then set up camp in the media workroom, which overlooks home plate. I set to work, poring over the day's game notes and conducting a bit of last-minute research on my laptop. Before I knew it, the game was over. That meant that players would soon be heading out to the buses that would take them back to the player development complex, so I headed "backstage" -- an area behind the outfield fence and beneath the grassy expanse that stretches from one foul pole to the other.
Before long, players started trickling in through a door in the outfield wall. A few stopped off to take their hacks in the batting cage, but most proceeded to the clubhouse. One of those was the man I was slated to interview, rising star Eric Hosmer of the Royals. Hosmer and I were whisked off to an adjacent elevator lobby to do the interview, as a posse comprised of my mom, my editor for the weekend, and several members of the press followed behind. Nervous though I was, I was told the interview went well. I immediately went back to my hotel to write it up, and within hours the story was live on MLB.com!
The next day, I became a movie star! Ben Platt of MLB Advanced Media flew in from Los Angeles to film me interviewing players at the Indians Player Development Complex. And interview I did! I spoke to Indians manager Manny Acta and six players: pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez, Frank Herrmann, Justin Masterson and Derek Lowe, outfielder Shin-Soo Choo and second baseman Jason Kipnis. I even took a few swings of batting practice from Matt LaPorta. (I went 2-for-4 -- a .500 average!)
At the game that afternoon, I was able to catch up with former Red Yonder Alonso, who was sent to the Padres in a trade that brought Latos to Cincinnati this offseason. I then headed off to the home of Wendy Selig-Prieb, daughter of Commissioner Bud Selig and former owner of the Brewers, her husband Laurel Prieb, who is MLB's vice president of western operations, and their 13-year-old daughter, Natalie Prieb, a friend and fellow writer who I got to meet for the first time after countless hours spent on the video calling service Skype.
Shortly after my mom and I arrived, another guest arrived at the Priebs': Commissioner Selig himself! I was able to interview him before being treated to dinner by the Priebs at Don and Charlie's, a world-famous Arizona baseball-themed restaurant. I ordered the chopped steak a la Bud Selig, which I wholeheartedly recommend.
Sunday was my last day in Arizona, and I spent it at Goodyear Ballpark watching the Reds take on the Angels. I was interviewed by one of my writing idols, MLB.com columnist Richard Justice. After the game, I was able to interview Angels bullpen members Trevor Bell and Rich Thompson. I finished off the day by transcribing interviews and writing this article!
Throughout my trip, I asked players their opinions on what the best and worst parts of Spring Training are. So I figured it would be appropriate to answer that question myself: the best part of Spring Training is getting to interview players behind the scenes. The worst part? The tedious task of transcribing those interviews!
Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the fall of '11. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.