January 2012

Cue Black Eyed Peas … “Let’s Get It Started…”

Trades of baseball players have nothing on trades of baseball beat writers. Theirs come with “a player to be named later.” Ours came with “beat writers named earlier.”

Two weeks ago came word that your Jenifer Langosch would transition into MLB.com’s reporter for the St. Louis Cardinals, and that I would (try to) replace her on the Pirates beat.

Today, it officially goes down.

Okay, this is not the countdown that you’ve been waiting to hit zero. That one still has 23 days to go until pitchers & catchers.

But personally I’m stoked that this day is finally here. The enthusiasm I had for this assignment two weeks ago has only mushroomed in the interim, thanks to the words of welcome and let’s-get-it-started from so many of you.

I felt this would be a rewarding gig, in a dynamic place. Your reactions only confirmed that suspicion.

I’m going to get to know this team inside and out, upside and down, thick and thin.

I’ll report everything about the Bucs and the Pirates players, keeping you abreast of them and really making you feel like a part of them.

I won’t only be your eyes. I’ll be your ears, too: Got something on your mind, let’s hear it. The lines of communication are open.

But you should know that I’m from the glass-is-half-full school. I’d much rather toast someone, than make him toast.

That does not make me an apologist: If there is bad news or a discouraging side, I’ll know it and through me you will, too. But I’m not going out of my way searching for the negative. Sometimes, the positive is so much harder to find, but so much more rewarding to do so.

Spring is a wonderful time. Neither the grass nor impressions have yet taken root. The canvas is blank. There is no reason to not think anyone can be a winner, no reason to not like anyone.

Forget the seat belts. It’s not going to be a bumpy ride at all. Hop aboard.

Things are going to Potpourri …

Ok, some things to know about me (or, maybe not).

I hate references to baseball as an “industry.” Auto assembly and furniture manufacturing are industries. The noble people in industry who make the country run play baseball games after their shifts.

Remember watching Ed Sullivan introduce The Beatles, dug Simon & Garfunkel and Blood, Sweat and Tears — and now groove to Lady Gaga and think Jay-Z is amazing.

I “pitched” in the last game managed by Gene Mauch. It was a media-Angels charity game at Ho Ho Kam Park during 1988 Spring Training. The next day, Mauch went on a medical leave, and never returned to the dugout. Gave up homers to Dante Bichette and Tony Armas — but did retire Brian Downing on a comebacker.

When I left Pittsburgh for the West Coast, I subscribed-by-mail to the Pittsburgh Press just so I could stay up on the Pirates, even though it was all three-day-old-news by the time it got to me. Internet? Yes, please!

Definition of bittersweet: Had my engagement party on Dec. 31, 1972. Then the music was interrupted by news bulletins of the crash of a plane taking earthquake-relief supplies to Nicaragua.


I covered (all these go in the right-place-at-the-right-time bin):

  • Nolan Ryan’s last strikeout. During a typical seven innings of four-hit, no-earned runs stint in Anaheim on Sept. 17, 1993. Left his next start in Seattle with a bum arm before retiring a batter, never pitched again.
  • Hank Aaron’s last home run. July 20, 1976, in Milwaukee, on an occasional road trip in place of the L.A. Herald-Examiner’s regular Angels reporter. After No. 755, Hammerin’ Hank concluded his career without another in his last 23 games and 64 at-bats.
  • Ken Griffey Jr.’s last home run. Asterisk, please: It came in a 2010 Cactus League game — a walk-off grand slam against the Reds, no less — and The Kid never hit one before his midseason retirement.

Best baseball movie: Bang The Drums Slowly (sorry, Field of Dreams).

Best baseball song: Frank Sinatra’s “There Used to Be a Ballpark.”

Favorite players to cover with the Angels: John Candelaria, Dave Parker. Ellis Valentine, Bruce Kison; gee, wonder why?

To be continued …

Hello, Pittsburgh

I have an old scratchy record — a thing made of vinyl with a hole in the middle that used to play music — on which Rosey Roswell says, “Open the window, Aunt Minnie, here it comes!”

And Bob Prince adds, “How sweet it is!”

Now I get to riff on Roswell’s biggest hit. “Open your arms, Pittsburgh, here I come.”

How sweet it is.

I’m pleased and proud to take a bow as MLB.com’s new beat reporter for the Pittsburgh Pirates, the natural destination of an 11-year journey with this dynamic company.

I grew up in Pittsburgh. Although I spent relatively few of my overall years there, they were the most important, formative years.

There were two major influences luring me into becoming a writer: Roy McHugh, who as columnist with the Pittsburgh Press mesmerized me with his bare-knuckles and literate reports from seedy billiard halls, and Tom Jones (seriously), my English — what else? — teacher at Taylor Allderdice High School.

Then there was the afternoon I came home from Colfax Elementary and plopped in front of the living room TV to watch cartoons and was disappointed to see Bugs Bunny preempted by some baseball game.

But before Elmer Fudd could pop up Bill Mazeroski hit a home run over Yogi Berra’s head past the Longines clock, car horns immediately went off outside the window, and I was hooked.

I was in Forbes Field’s bleachers for Willie Stargell’s first Major League at-bat. Heck, I watched Pete Rose’s Major League debut on KDKA-TV, from Crosley Field. I worshipped at the Church of Roberto Clemente, loved seeing Jerry Lynch come off the bench, and danced to Sister Sledge

So, yeah, I’ve been around the block a few times. But there isn’t a back-in-the-day bone in my body.

Been around a few warning tracks, too. I’ve been blessed to be able to spend my entire adult life as a writer, from newspapers to magazines to wire services. I’ve covered entertainers, politicians, CEOs.

But you know first loves. Never lost my passion for baseball, and was again blessed when MLB.com came along in 2001 and asked me to jump aboard.

I covered the Angels in my adopted hometown — the opportunity to attend UCLA had lured me out of Pittsburgh, the wonder of hippie-era Saturday nights on Sunset Strip kept me from going back — my first year with MLB.com, after which I transferred to New York as an East Region feature writer and then fulfilled the same role in Arizona.

MLB.com enabled me to cover the game in which Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s record for career homers. A “few” years earlier, while with the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, I covered the game in which Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s record.

I believe I’m the only reporter to have covered both of those. Which kinda makes me proud.

But not as much as this new opportunity to cover the heirs of my boyhood heroes, and to bond with their fans.

Jenifer Langosch is a writer I tremendously admire. I join you in wishing her nothing but the best at her own new adventure, covering the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.

She will be a tough act to follow.

But I’ve been rehearsing for this act all my life. Curtain up.