Meet the press
A day in the life of a member of the Sox press corps
Imagine attending every Red Sox game, home and away, for free. You have a front-row seat, and it's free. The airfare to the away games, and the nice hotels when you get there ... all paid for by your newspaper or television station. You get to be around the players, talk with manager Terry Francona every day, hang out in the dugout and the clubhouse. Sounds pretty good, huh?
Now imagine that starting with spring training in February, and running into October if the Sox make the postseason, you are rarely home. You don't get to see your friends, your spouse, your kids, or sleep in your own bed very much. You work 12-hour days, sometimes 18- and 20-hour days, with no overtime. Some of the people you work with are friendly, but a lot of them are competitive and constantly looking to outdo you. Oh, and the players? Yeah, you get to be around them a lot. But many of them are kind of wary of being around you.
Welcome to the life of a reporter covering the Boston Red Sox.
There are roughly 50-60 beat reporters, columnists, TV and radio announcers, and crew who cover the team full time, including road games. One of them is Ian Browne, who covers the Sox for MLB.com.
"There is probably a lot more work and hours than fans realize, Brown said. Watching the game is such a small part of it. It's definitely better than a 9-to-5 job. But it's not all show business."
Dave Heuschkel covers the Sox for the Hartford Courant. He doesn't travel to all the away games, just enough to make it a grind.
"We watch games and get paid to write about them. It's not like manual labor, he said. But it is a job. You think its glamorous but it's anything but. There is a lot of standing around, dealing with players egos, the travel. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made in your own kitchen never tasted so good."
Says Chris Snow, who covers the Sox for The Boston Globe, "On travel days you're up at 6 to get to the airport. You're always going through security, living out of suitcases. There's no reason to complain. We ride comfortable planes for free, eat for free, stay in good hotels. But it quickly becomes less glamorous. Being home is the greatest thing in the world."
By the time the game starts, reporters covering the team have already been at work for several hours. Most get to the park for a night game around 2 or 3 p.m., trying to get bits and pieces of information, or quotes from players, that they can use in their stories.
Most reporters make their way to the clubhouse, which is open to the press from 3 p.m., as the players are showing up, to 6:15, 45 minutes before the game. (Still photographers aren't allowed, to give the players some privacy while they're dressing. TV photographers have access to the clubhouse starting at 4, by which time most players have their work clothes on.)
The clubhouse is one of the smallest in the majors. It's a tough environment for a competitive journalist looking for a unique story. Reporters who start a conversation with a player often look up to find several of their colleagues gathered around listening in. And there aren't many scoops or exclusives to be had during Francona's pregame news conference as 30 reporters crowd into his office just off the main locker room.
But the size of the clubhouse is just one of the reasons the coverage of the Sox is known as perhaps the most intense in all of professional sports. Packed into that clubhouse is one of the biggest press corps in the majors. The large number of people covering the team, according to Sox media relations chief Glenn Geffner, stems directly from the intensity of Red Sox Nation.
"You can't compare this to anywhere ... the passion and interest of the fans," says Geffner, who worked five years for the Padres before coming to Boston. He's seen most media markets in baseball. "The fans of the Sox want as much coverage as they can get."
As Francona said the other day when the Sox made lots of off-the-field headlines, trading a disgruntled Jay Payton and Johnny Damon openly questioning his managers move to put Curt Schilling in the bullpen: "This kind of stuff happens everywhere. It's just, when it happens in Boston, it's a much bigger deal."
One reason that the press corps is so big is that the fans of the Red Sox live not just in one city but across an entire region, a region that includes a lot of medium-to-large sized cities. Each of those cities has its own newspaper or TV stations or radio stations, each of which sends at least one person, sometimes more, to cover the team.
"The Sox sell papers, help improve ratings, so the coverage expands to meet that demand," Geffner said.
Add to that the fact that reporters in Boston are experienced and talented. "Covering the Red Sox is a final destination professionally, not a stepping stone", Geffner said. "So they get it. The press corps here is pretty good."
Which also means that they're pretty aggressive.
And that makes Geffner's job -- he works from 9 a.m. to midnight, with a couple hours on the computer when he gets home or back to his hotel room -- pretty stressful. "The day to day intensity is incredible. Every game is big. There's always a story. Or if not, the media will make one up. There's always something going on. Each day has new fires to put out."
Some of that firefighting involves mediating the naturally adversarial relationship between players and the press. Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald has been covering the Sox for nearly 20 years.
"You try not to be antagonistic, to find a way to ask a player a question about something he might have done wrong during the game in a way that's intelligent and fair, so he doesn't just walk away," she said.
Her Herald colleague, Steve Buckley, has followed the Sox since '79.
"There are always a few players who may be less than gracious, but by and large they are all pretty professional," he said.
During fielding and batting practice, a lot of reporters wait out on the field or in the dugout and ask for impromptu interviews as the players and coaches come and go, trying to get in a question or two without their journalist colleagues/competitors around, so they'll have a unique story for their readers. Local TV crews set up their cameras for live reports for the early evening news. The TV and radio crews who broadcast the game are busy with their preparations, taping pregame interviews with players and coaches. It's actually amazing to watch as the players have to weave their way through the media just to come and go from the field.
At the end of batting practice, the print reporters head up to the press box and write up their "sidebar" items, those "news and notes" sorts of columns, so those can be finished before the game starts.
Meanwhile, in the TV control truck in the parking lot behind center field the NESN production crew prepares for the game broadcast, doing things like entering player stats and video highlights from previous games into computers so they can be called up on a moment's notice during the game.
Russ Kenn is the producer in charge of the broadcast, overseeing a team of 25 people. If you've watched a Sox game on TV in the last five years, Kenn pretty much decided what you saw.
"It's like being at the epicenter of the whole thing ... all the people in the bars ... all the people planning their nights around watching the game on TV," he said. "It's kind of a power trip to think that you're the one deciding what they'll see."
Show biz it may be, but glamour it's not. Starting with spring training, Kenn produces nearly every Sox telecast, all season. And let's face it. Long stretches of a lot of those games are slow and boring. Which makes it tough to keep the professional enthusiasm up.
"Doing 130 to 140 games, it's a challenge to get up the energy level to do the best job you can do," Kenn says.
On top of the grind, there is the travel. Kenn has three kids less than 6 years old. While they're growing up, he's out in Oakland or Chicago or LA, living out of a suitcase, part of the traveling press corps that keeps Red Sox Nation in touch with the team.
Still, for a native New Englander who produces the telecasts of sporting events, Kenn knows how good he's got it.
"When I feel like complaining I say to myself 'I'm really luck to be in this spot'. For a local guy like me this is the pinnacle."
Nonetheless, the sacrifices of being a Red Sox reporter are severe. So why do the Geffners and the Russ Kenns and the Chris Snows and Ian Brownes and David Heuschkels put up with it? Guregian says with a sigh, "You can't take the love of sports out of a person. I played sports. I watched sports. I read the sports pages with my father. Even the challenges haven't tainted that. It's still fun watching the games."
Buckley gets to the heart of what nearly all of them say: "I love baseball. I really do. The game. The history. You look past the travel and the deadlines. Its still the game. And this is not a job. It's fun."