Last night I had the chance to do something that most diehard baseball fans will never get to do: hang out in an MLB locker room. It was terrifying.
One of the worst parts of the experience was how quickly it arrived. One second I was walking into PNC Park, the next I was wandering around a massive hallway, wishing it had taken longer to acquire my media credential. I immediately found a place to check in. Next to it sat a pair of double doors.
The rest was a blur. I went through the doors. I quickly turned a corner. And there I was, facing the Pirates' locker room. If only there could have been a long hallway for me to prepare myself for the upcoming ordeal. Maybe that's why the aisles married couples walk down are so long - it's their last chance to really think about what they are getting themselves into. I can only hope that there will be a long hallway before my first job interview, or the birth of my first child.
But there was no time to brace myself. There wasn't even time for me to ditch my backpack.Terrified, in front of a major league clubhouse, carrying a backpack. As if there was any doubt, I looked like an intern. And I had no idea what I was doing.
Backpack or not, I screamed rookie. And the first Pirates player I strayed too close to pounced on it. Maybe he was just being friendly, or maybe he knew that his fellow reliever Evan Meek was a hot interview since having made the All-Star team last week. Whatever the reason, he was intent on getting me an interview with Meek.
Only I didn't want an interview with Meek. I would have actually rather done anything than interview someone without any questions, or any real idea what I was doing. I found myself in a very ironic position for a sports reporter - or any reporter for that matter: I had too much access to a source.
There have been times when I've waited hopelessly for interviews that never happened, times when I had stories ruined because I couldn't talk to someone. But this was the exact opposite. And it was embarrassing.
I felt like a relief pitcher - ironically, the same position on the field as the Pirates player who had caused me so much trouble. There I was, thrust into an unknown situation. The other reporters had been in the game for a while, they knew the lay of the land, who to talk to, how things operated. They also knew the players, and knew a lot more about the Pirates to ask intelligent questions. I had been put on the spot all of a sudden. I hadn't even had enough time to warm up in the bullpen, I was coming in cold.
I kept on hoping that the Pirates reliever would forget to "help me out." But he didn't. I don't think I ever even spoke with Meek, but the excuse I eventually gave the Pirates reliever will forever be etched in the history books. Trying to explain that I actually didn't need to talk with Meek, I at some point used the word "supervisor." I can't remember the exact phrase (those 5 minutes of my life are a blur of embarrassment), but I know I used the word "supervisor."
Supervisor. Supervisor? I tried to explain that I was just helping out the newspapers' other reporters - and thus didn't know what quotes they wanted me to get - but I must have come across as a bumbling idiot to the Pirates pitcher.
Thankfully he finally let the issue go, and I slid back to the anonymity of wandering around the locker room as the seasoned reporters chatted with players. I was like a hurt animal retreating from a fight, glad to no longer be in the position of asking questions.
There was redemption later on in the night for me, though. After getting shelled for 8 runs on 10 hits in my debut, I bounced back like any good pitcher.
Following the Pirates' 11-9 win, I came into the locker room armed with players to talk to and a few ideas of questions to ask. With the agility of Andrew McCutchen, I bounced from interview to interview, feeding off the questions asked by the veterans ask the questions.
But I would have my own moment to shine. During the second-to-last interview of the night, I asked rising star Pedro Alvarez about the significance of he and Neil Walker stepping up their offensive performances in injured McCutchen's absence.
I don't even remember what he said. It didn't matter. I guess I'm better as a closer than as a reliever.