Spy in the Press Box

One of my favorite baseball books I read as a kid was, “Moe Berg: The Spy Behind Home Plate.” If you aren’t familiar with the tale of Moe Berg, he was a major league catcher in the 20s and 30s, serving as a spy for the CIA afterwards. 

Saturday night, I felt like Moe Berg. Well, not really - but let me explain.

For reasons unrelated to Hot Foot, I had a press pass to Saturday night’s Mets-Angels game. The work I had to do was easily accomplished before the game started, so the rest of the evening I was able to just take in the experience from press row, the view behind the glass. 

To start off with, I had to make something clear to myself before I went to the game: even though I was credentialed, I am still clearly a fan. Going to one game with a press pass didn’t mean I was selling my fandom - even though my work was done, I was going to experience the entire press shabang for the novelty of, “hey, when am I going to be able to do this again?” 

The way I solidified this to myself, I wore my lucky Mets tube socks beneath my khakis and button down, so even if I were disguised as press, I still knew underneath I was a fan. Despite the white socks under khakis, I still felt overdressed among the other media types. 

For the record, these are the same lucky tube socks that were written about in Sports Illustrated, and the same socks that - when worn - have never resulted in a Mets’ loss. Thus, the outcome of Saturday night’s game was decided as early as when I got dressed in the morning. (For the record, this isn’t the type of thing I claim after the fact - I tweeted before the game that I was wearing the socks. They are very powerful, but I fear wearing them too often…you can’t stop them, you can only hope to contain them.)

Some parts of having the press pass were naturally awesome as a fan. Getting to see all the players just hangout in the locker room? Incredible - it made the human element of the game realer than it ever has been. The locker room itself is very nice, where the players hangout with their iPads, iPhones and the such. As a tournament Scrabble player, it was very tempting to offer players help in their games of “Words with Friends” but I figured that would be bad form and I held myself back.

Similarly, being on the field before the game and hanging out in the dugout was a phenomenal experience. I got to watch Fred Wilpon chat up Terry Collins behind the batting practice cage. Probably the coolest part was getting to watch the players go through drills. Outfielders had to shag fly-balls and hit cutoff men, just like on a high school baseball team. Hitters in the cage had to lay down bunts, with discerning coaches watching closely from the foul lines. My favorite was watching Chip Hale stand at 2B with a bat, and nail choppers to Lucas Duda standing at first, helping him with short hops and picking the ball. Clever. 

In the dugout, I became friendly with some of the reporters who were all interesting and happy to see a new face. There is an intriguing dynamic between the players and the press, where for the majority of the time the media-type are flies on the wall, while depending on one’s closeness with specific players can insert himself into the mix more often. Kevin Burkhardt for example, who does an outstanding job as the field-reporter for SNY and will undoubtedly do great things with his career - is clearly well respected and liked by the players, which allows him to banter and chat with them in a way that other journalists wouldn’t attempt to in the dugout.

Interesting side note - the players’ food spreads are obviously off-limits to the press. But there was a definite unwritten code that writers can take from the boxes of gum in the dugout. I saw almost every writer do it. Gotta wonder how weird things like that develop. They have cheap food options available to the press, but if I’m at Citi I’m going to take advantage of the awesome vendors. So yes, I waited 20 minutes for Shake Shack. It was worth it, and I was still back in my seat for the first pitch. 

Oh, did I mention my seat? I didn’t have a section number, a row number or a seat number - I got to sit in the press box. The view - although it’s through windows that open nearly all the way vertically - is fairly good. It’s on the 5th level - the same one with the luxury boxes and the annoucers’ booth - slightly up the left field line from home plate. But, let me tell you, as a fan there was nothing worse than the atmosphere inside the press box. 

Like I wrote on Twitter during the game, being in the press box was like being in purgatory. I was at the game, but not really. It’s the middle ground between being at the game physically, but not emotionally. You’re at the game, but watching through glass. The Mets score and you see and feel the crowd cheer, but you can’t do so yourself. I was antsier than a 3-year-old with chicken pox. 

Here’s a brief list of things I wanted to do, that I would do in the stands at a normal game, that I couldn’t from the press box:

  • Sing the national anthem
  • Cheer/Clap
  • Throw peanut shells on the ground
  • Spit sunflower seeds
  • Pay too much for beer*
  • Give nasty looks to fans of the opposing team
  • Do the wave
  • High-five strangers

Let me tell you, there was no worse feeling for me than seeing Carlos Beltran’s 460+ foot home run that landed at the back of the Shea Bridge, only to look around and not be able to high five the strangers sitting around me, as is completely customary to do in the stands of a game after something like that. I felt like a traitor. Probably like how Ice-T felt when he started playing a cop on television. My younger self would have despised it. Hell, my present self did. 

I went down to the locker room after the game, because hey, if I had the press pass I was going to ride it for what it’s worth. It was great getting to see the players joke around after a win, see them poke fun at each other and be normal people. Josh Thole teased Ruben Tejada about his luggage. Jose Reyes made fun of Jason Bay for showering so quickly. Scott Hairston and Willie Harris brought their kids in. I loved it, I ate it up. 

Unfortunately, the rest of the press, the beat writers, saw right through that. Many of them are great writers, who I was thrilled to meet…some of their columns I read religiously. But, they’re there just churning out a story. They all huddled around Mike Pelfrey’s locker until he walked in, waited until they got their quote and then moved to Carlos Beltran’s. Then Reyes’s. Just to crank out some post-game copy.

Thank god I’m back home now to read it - even if I do write professionally one day, I never want baseball to become a chore. 

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