The Media Day Virgin

By: Ryan Smith

Fox Cities Stadium: Home of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers and T-Rats Media Day 2012

We here at Cream City Cables often try to come up with story ideas and opportunities that we think our beloved readers would enjoy. We’ve written season previews and positional reviews. We’ve discussed Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke and the “Ace” label. Heck, Kevin Kimmes even wrote an impressive piece focused specifically on baseball trading cards.

Basically, we aim to please.

So when Kevin made some contacts with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers – a Brewers minor league affiliate based out of Appleton, WI – we were thrilled to hear that we would be receiving media credentials with the Timber Rattlers for the 2012 season. Our first opportunity to take advantage of this would be at the team’s Media Day, which would take place on Tuesday, April 3rd at 11 am. As luck would have it, my spring break happened to be during that very week. With both Nathan and Kevin busy with jobs that have actual paychecks, I would be getting the opportunity to cover Media Day for Cream City Cables.

I prepared for the day by getting my hands on a tape recorder to document player interviews, a notebook to jot down notes and questions, and many writing utensils to ensure that I would not be caught without one. Then it dawned on me:

I had no idea what I was doing!

I’m a high school English teacher. I’m a volunteer assistant soccer coach. I’m a devout baseball fan. I even taught an introductory journalism class during my first year of teaching.

But I’m not an actual journalist.

Like all of you, I’m a fan. I love sports. I love baseball. I love the Milwaukee Brewers. One of the main reasons I jumped at the opportunity to join Cream City Cables was because it would give me the chance to write about something I love. But all of that doesn’t make me a professional journalist. In the end, I’m still just a fan.

Then I realized something else: maybe that’s how I should approach Media Day.

Think about it. When you read a season preview in the newspaper or watch the highlights of Media Day on the news, you are seeing all of that from the perspective of professional journalists. These are people who do this stuff all the time. And for the most part, they’re pretty good at what they do.

So instead of trying to emulate what the pros do, I thought I’d write this piece from the perspective of a Media Day Virgin. So here goes nothing.

Upon arriving at Fox Cities Stadium, I went to the front office to get my press pass and find out where I was supposed to go. Chris Mehring, the Timber Rattlers Director of Media Relations, greeted me and walked me through the day ahead. One of the first things he asked me was if there were any specific players I would like to interview. I must admit that I was caught off guard by this question.

I really don’t want to downplay Cream City Cables, but I certainly did not expect a simple blog writer to receive the type of hospitality that Chris and the rest of the Timber Rattlers’ front office staff provided to me. I was surrounded by sports reporters from various news stations and newspapers, all holding expensive equipment and all very familiar with the routine of Media Day. Yet, here was the Director of Media Relations for the Brewers Class-A affiliate asking me which players I wanted to interview.

That was a pretty cool feeling.

The first interview that was set up was with Timber Rattlers Manager Matt Erickson. Want to know something interesting about this interview? If you happened to watch the sports broadcast on one of the local news stations near Appleton, WI that night, you might have seen me. Or, at least, my hand. I was simply one of those reporters gathered around the manager as he answered a variety of questions.

Erickson discussed how the club had ten returning players from the 2011 squad, which he thought would bring a sort of leadership to the clubhouse. He also mentioned how, while his team struggled a bit at the plate during Spring Training, he thought that this year’s club would be quite strong defensively. Erickson touched on how he and new pitching coach Dave Chavarria would approach this season, trying to divvy up starts and innings among their 13 pitchers.

Finally, when asked how he approaches his job as a talent developer, Erickson flatly stated that, while his job is first and foremost to help develop these prospects, he’s still a competitor and he still wants to win. He wants to win for himself, for the players, and for the fans.

With a few other reporters wanting one-on-one time with Erickson, I decided I’d hold off. After all, I had a few guys I was hoping to speak with before the day was over, so I didn’t want to overplay my hand.

Yadiel Rivera, ranked 15th in the Brewers system, was one of the Rattlers nice enough to grant Cream City Cables with an interview at Media Day.

As luck would have it, I was able to land four one-on-one player interviews, including interviews with the three players on the roster that land in the Brewers Top 30 Prospects list: right-handed pitchers David Goforth (ranked #17) and Drew Gagnon (#23) as well as shortstop Yadiel Rivera (#15). You can look for the transcripts of those interviews, along with the interview I conducted with catcher Rafael Neda, in future posts here at Cream City Cables.

In the afternoon, the team came out for warm-ups, stretching and then splitting into groups of positional players and pitchers. I’ve seen this pre-game routine many times, but this time was different.

I was on the field with the team.

I’m telling you, this press pass is a pretty powerful thing. I was literally right behind first baseman Jason Rogers as he took fielding practice.

One quick note: You know how you and me aren’t professional baseball players? And you know how we sometimes miss the ball when we’re playing catch? These guys don’t miss much. Still, I’ve stood behind too many friends who miss the ball while playing catch, only to have the ball ricochet off of my shin and leave me in pain. Even knowing these guys are professional baseball players, I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable where I was, so I shifted over by the opposing team’s dugout.

After fielding practice, they set up the cage around home plate for batting practice. Yup, I was actually standing directly behind the batting cage during BP.

I grew up watching the Timber Rattlers and their earlier incarnation the Appleton Foxes. I came to games with friends, family, work parties, 4-H club outings. I watched BP all the time.

No offense to The American Dream, but let's be thankful that the Timber Rattlers have the other Dusty Rhodes as their hitting coach.

You know what I never noticed while watching from the stands? The players on these teams aren’t simply swinging for the fences. No, each swing is a calculated attempt to improve a certain aspect of each player’s game. Before each pitch, Timber Rattlers hitting coach Dusty Rhodes (no, not The American Dream) gives an instruction to the hitter.

“Opposite field.”

“Hit-and-run.”

“Keep it on the ground.”

“Squeeze.”

“Swing free.”

Maybe you all knew about this, but I certainly didn’t. And what really impressed me was how quickly each hitter was able to adjust his approach to adhere to the latest instruction given by Rhodes.

As much as I wanted to stay and watch the rest of BP and the scrimmage that would follow, I had to be back down by Madison to coach a varsity girls’ soccer game that evening (for those wondering, we won 9-0).

So with that, my first Media Day ended. It was truly an eye-opening day. I started out unsure and a little intimidated. As the day progressed, I gained confidence and started to feel comfortable around the players and the other media members.

But even more important, at no point during the day did I stop being a fan.

A special thank you goes out to Chris Mehring and everyone who works behind-the-scenes for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. I speak for everyone at Cream City Cables when I say that we greatly appreciate the access and the opportunity that you’ve given us. Good luck in 2012 – Cream City Cables will certainly be rooting for you!

Be sure to check back with us to find my interview transcripts and some pictures I took while on the field during warm-ups and batting practice.

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