A Night on Press Row

Press Box

It’s a Friday night in late May and the Senators are poised to begin a four-game series against the Reading Phillies at Metro Bank Park. A little bit before 5:30 in the early evening, I make my way from the back parking lot to the suite level to begin my night on press row. For most, it’s just another night at the ballpark like any of the 71 home dates on the 2012 schedule this season. But for me, it’s an opportunity that I’ve been given to write about the Senators for The Sports ‘Burger, a website which covers the minor league sports of the midstate.

The Patriot-News’ Geoff Morrow has already been here for at least an hour talking to pitching coach Paul Menhart for a story which will run in Sunday’s newspaper as part of his weekly Senators Notebook. Since the clubhouse closes to the media one hour before game time, I decide I’m cutting it too close and will hold injury questions about Jeff Kobernus and Destin Hood until after the game.

The first stop I make is the media work room located behind the home and visitors’ radio booths to grab the game’s information packet which has both teams’ rosters, game notes, statistics, and starting lineups. From there, I cross the hallway and duck my head in to the control room to grab a new program and say hello to Chris Andree and Aaron Margolis. This is one of the last times before the game is over that either will be available for idle chitchat.

The press box in Harrisburg is unique in that it’s the only one in the Eastern League that is outside among the spectators. I set my laptop up in the usual spot in the corner of the long table next to Suite 21 and directly in front of Senators’ broadcasters Terry Byrom and Matt Dudas. In the next couple of minutes, Morrow and colleague Andy Shay take their place next to me and we go about our pre-game work to prepare for the night’s contest. Scoresheets are filled out with the lineups and the game notes are reviewed for any special information or key statistics. I pay particular attention to how tonight’s starting pitchers, Harrisburg’s Mike Ballard and Reading’s Jonathan Pettibone, performed in their previous outings against the other squad.

Prior to game time, Zack Albright and Terry Walters take their places and the night’s population on press row is complete. Albright handles the pitch by pitch updates on the web, while Walters is the official scorekeeper for the game.

At 7:02, Ballard delivers the first pitch of the game to R-Phils’ leadoff hitter Tyson Gillies for a ball and we are underway.

It would be nice to think we could prop our feet up and enjoy a cold beer while watching the game. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Through the course of the game, Morrow continues working on his Notebook piece. Shay takes over duties as lead Patriot-News beat writer for the night as well as dealing with an issue about the bios for the Travers Award finalists. I’m researching prospects and facts for the next series which starts against Portland on Tuesday. All that and we are all using social media like Twitter and Facebook to update everyone on the pitcher’s duel unfolding before our eyes, not to mention the hotly contested Presidents’ Race won by Abe Lincoln.

Entering the bottom of the ninth inning, the Senators are down 3-1 and after two quick outs find themselves in dire straits. But two straight singles by pinch hitter Stephen King and centerfielder Eury Perez gets the fans on their feet and brings the potential winning run to the plate. However, Jose Lozada hits a ground ball to the shortstop who takes the easy out at second base and the R-Phils prevail.

While the 5,887 fans happily ooh and aah over another spectacular fireworks display, our night kicks into high gear. Morrow sends out a tweet alerting his 559 followers of the final score and Shay e-mails the box score into The Patriot-News. We collectively move our laptops and personal belongings back into the media work room before descending the steps to the lower level and our first stop at the Senators’ clubhouse.

Manager Matt LeCroy waves us in to his office while his post-game dinner sits untouched on his desk. This is easily one of my favorite points of the night as I could discuss the intricacies and nuances of baseball decisions with LeCroy, Menhart, and hitting coach Eric Fox into the wee hours. It also helps that LeCroy is an easygoing, welcoming mountain of a man who genuinely cares about his players. Regardless of the game’s outcome, he’ll answer any question you throw his way and explain the many gut feelings that affect his decisions.

We spend about ten minutes dissecting the game and the Senators’ inability to take advantage of opportunities with runners in scoring position. Shay and Morrow are old school reporters and they transcribe the interview in a shorthand that is much closer to hieroglyphics than English. I, on the other hand, use a voice recorder and worry about getting the verbatim quotes later. Morrow stays behind to tie up some loose ends on his story as Shay and I head over to the Reading clubhouse to talk to manager Dusty Wathan about Pettibone’s pitching performance and Darin Ruf’s two home runs. As we crack open the Harrisburg clubhouse door to leave, we are met with the disappointed sighs of autograph-seeking kids that had hoped for a ballplayer and clearly not us.

By this point, most spectators are long gone and the only obstacle we have to struggle with yet is the contingency of mayflies drawn to the lights by the elevator doors. We ride up the two flights and return to the media work room greeted by Dudas and Reading broadcaster Brian Seltzer as they finish up their post-game shows and recaps.  I plug in my headphones and get to work typing out each answer to our questions as I play, rewind, and replay each recording multiple times before I’m satisfied that it’s accurate. Shay looks over his notes to pick out the key quotes that he wants to use in the two different articles that he needs to write. He has to post both stories by 11:45 PM so the editors at the newspaper can layout and add artwork before the next day’s edition of The Patriot-News goes to press. Many times it’s a factor during the course of a season when games go into extra innings or are delayed by rain, but not tonight since the game clocked in at a brisk two hours and eighteen minutes.

We write, edit, and submit our stories earlier than usual and head out into the darkness that Metro Bank Park has become. Morrow lights the way using his iPhone but we are all old hands at this by now as we’ve memorized that each set of stairs is made up of 13 steps. Thankfully, the gate to the parking lot is still open and we make our way to our cars without incident. We bid each other goodbye knowing full well that we’ll see each other in about 16 hours when we get to do it all over again.

This article was originally found in issue #10 of the Senators’ program and was reprinted with the permission of the Harrisburg Senators

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