Flying solo with MLB.com

So the day finally came when I was given free reign over the Indians beat, and it was quite the experience.

Coming off a 10-day road trip, the regular Cleveland beat writer was given a much-needed two days off, leaving me to handle Tribe coverage for the first half of a four-game set with the Angels. As luck would have it, those turned out to be two of the busiest news days we’d had all summer. I wrote A LOT.

On Day 1, before I’d even left for the ball park, I wrote a 1,200 word overview of the top prospects in the organization’s pipeline that had been budgeted for the following day. (To be fair, I had about a week to write it, but I waited. What can I say, I’m used to a deadline.)

After that, there was a flurry of news. The team made a roster move, the great Tony Gwynn passed away — my editors wanted reactions from around the league on that — and I found out Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving had been scheduled to throw out the first pitch. He even showed up for a little photo op in the clubhouse.

Kyrie doesn’t look too bad in a Tribe jersey.

From here, normally all you have left is a running gamer and write-through. However, I wound up filing a handful of short news posts while also trying to, you know, watch the game.

1 – The AL All-Star ballot update came out. Michael Brantley was still on the leaderboard, so that warranted a small story.

2 – Brantley got pulled in the fifth inning with a “mild concussion” — if any concussion can truly be considered mild. Short update filed.

3 – Asdrubal Cabrera had a home run confirmed by replay review. We’re expected to write something brief about any review or challenge that happens during the game, so that was another story.

4 – On top of all of this, the team put out a press release stating that it had signed one of its top draft picks. So that was obviously deserving of a write-up.

By the time I had started my running gamer, it was the fifth or sixth inning. It definitely wasn’t my best, though luckily I was able to make up for it in the write-through. I got to write about the Indians winning the game on the all-too-rare seven-out save — from a long relief man, no less.

On to Day 2, when (surprise!) the team officially announced it had signed four more of its top draft picks, including the first-rounder. Surprise No. 2 came when I learned that all four were in Cleveland and would be available for an impromptu press conference.

CLEpresser

The guy in the center: Justus Sheffield (Gary’s nephew), an 18-year-old pitcher from Tennessee who got $1.6 million for signing.

So in addition to the regular notebook, I wound up writing a pair of feature-y stories on the draft picks. I had actually broken the story that the third-round pick (a high-schooler) was planning to sign with the team about two weeks earlier, so it felt pretty satisfying to see him in Cleveland with a finalized contract.

Once again, I didn’t get everything filed until the game had started, because there was a lot to write about each. My multi-tasking abilities have gotten top-notch this summer.

That might have been the most I’ve ever written in a two-day span, but it was still an incredibly rewarding experience to have. I feel like it’s pretty rare for an “intern” to be given that type of freedom on the job, and it’s reassuring to know you can handle a heavy workload by yourself.

I’ll be on my own again — for three days this time — starting Friday. Yes, I’m working the 4th of July. The price we pay.

Baseball nights with MLB.com

Summer just wouldn’t be summer without baseball.

I suppose I should be introducing myself. For those of you who don’t know me — at least a few, I’d imagine — my name is Alec Shirkey. I’m not a Grady student. In fact, I didn’t even seriously consider a career in sports journalism until about mid-way through my junior year. Less than two years later, I’m helping cover the Cleveland Indians for MLB.com before I return to Athens for a final semester of college. Funny how these things work out.

Putting my backstory on the back burner, I’ll get to the real reason you’re reading this: learning more about this “internship.” Firstly, they don’t call you an intern. You’re an “associate reporter.” They don’t baby you like an intern, either, which for me was one of the program’s main selling points. Sure, I was eased into the role — they definitely didn’t have me writing everything on day one. But once you get the hang of how things work, you have a decent amount of freedom and the experience largely becomes what you make it.

“Why Cleveland?” you surely ask. It was one of my top three choices for cities when I applied, because most of my family actually lives in Ohio (cue the carpetbagger jokes) and I was already somewhat familiar with the team and its history. MLB.com assigns one associate to each of the 30 teams around the country, meaning that if you want and if you meet the criteria, this program can be your ticket to just about every major city in the U.S. Also: the position, while paid, does not include housing costs. So would you rather pay rent in downtown Cleveland or downtown New York? That obviously factored into my decision.

Even with the family ties to northeast Ohio, I’d hardly been to downtown Cleveland before this summer. But for what it’s worth, I think the city gets a bad rep — they’ve got parks, some solid night-life spots to explore and good Italian food. That’s all I really need. Oh, and the Johnny Football circus is in town now, too.

A typical day depends on whether the team is at home or away, because you don’t travel with your club. At home, say for a 7 p.m. first pitch, I’ll get to the ball park between 2:30 and 3:00. The clubhouse usually opens around 3:15, and you’re free to roam about and interview whatever players happen to be there. So, take the other day for example, I talked to the team’s pitching coach about Corey Kluber and wrote about how (and why) he’s been killing it on the mound this year. And then maybe an injured Nick Swisher shows up and he’s asked about how his recovery is going. That’s followed by a media briefing with Francona. All of that stuff will go into your daily notebook.

After that’s written up, I take maybe 20 minutes to grab dinner from the press dining hall, and go cover the game. You file a running gamer, and then an updated gamer with postgame quotes, added context, etc. So it’s a busy day, for sure, but also a rewarding one when it’s over. Usually I’ll be done around midnight for late games, though there was one time involving a 2-hour rain delay, a 12-inning ball game and me getting home around 3 a.m.

Your day also hinges on whether other MLB.com writers are there. Sometimes, the visiting team’s writer won’t make the trip, meaning the associate reporter covers that team. I haven’t had that happen yet, but I know it will before my summer wraps up. Maybe I’ll cover the Royals, or maybe I’ll cover the Yankees (!). Other days, the Indians beat writer might have off, and so I’d cover the Tribe that day. So far, I’ve been splitting the workload with my resident beat writer / boss-man to varying degrees, but it usually pans out that I take care of the notebook and the preview and help with the game story in one way or another.

Now if the team is away, you’re obviously not working at the stadium, and you’re usually only responsible for writing game previews — either for the team you cover, other teams around the league or a combination. They take a little time to compile and can be logistical burdens, but you also learn plenty about other teams you might not have otherwise
known, which can come in handy if you’re covering a visiting team, I’d imagine. Beyond that, I’ll usually watch the Indians game if they play that day and keep up with whatever articles are being written about the team.

That’s the basic rundown. I have plenty of stories re: the day-to-day experience I didn’t include but could have (and some that are probably best left out anyways), but suffice it to say I’ve had a great time in Cleveland four weeks into my summer gig. The work atmostphere is fun — I’ve enjoyed meeting the other media members and folks employed by the team — and the job is an opportunity I really am grateful for. After all, I’m still fairly new to all of this.

Update to come, I’m sure.