Every once in a while, though, I have to insert myself into the story. Hopefully, you’ll understand why some of these stories are about me.
And this is one of them. Kind of sounds like the beginning of a Law and Order episode, doesn’t it?
“Dun Dun … These Are My Stories.”
I parked my car in the lot down the leftfield line and slowly walked toward the lone solitary door near Clark and Addison, mostly tucked from public view.
It was a very surreal feeling as I headed toward the Administrative Entrance door that Thursday morning back in 1986 – June 12, to be exact. I had entered Wrigley Field literally hundreds of times before, through a turnstile as a ticket-bearing patron.
This was different. This time, I was entering the ballpark as the new Chicago Cubs media relations intern.
I’m often asked, what would be your dream job? How about landing an internship with the Cubs, the team that I had breathlessly followed since I was six years old? I was “that kid” – the one that camp counselors made fun of because I could correctly spell Billy Grabarkewitz’s name.
I may not remember what I ate for lunch yesterday – or if I ate lunch yesterday – but that first day as an intern is etched into my skull.
Work life was a tick easier back in 1986. Not that getting an internship was easy, but there weren’t a whole lot of hoops to jump through. Human Resources was just a concept; the closest the Cubs had to an HR representative was the legendary Salty Saltwell – the one-time GM who became the ultimate jack-of-all-tradesman. Personnel decisions were handled by each department, meaning I only had one interview to survive. And that was nice, considering the pay was a solid $250 per month for six months of indentured servitude. At least I received college credit for missing a semester of class time.
I had come across a newspaper blurb that the Cubs had split their public relations department into two – with Bob Ibach moving to publications to launch VineLine and Ned Colletti taking over the newly created title of media relations director.
I did what you did back then – I sent a Smith Corona-typed letter directly to Ned to inquire about summer internship possibilities. After a short interview process, the internship was mine.
So here I was reporting for duty a little before 9 a.m. I walked past the security guard, up the stairs, past the reception desk, and made a quick turn into the first office on the left. Then I met the soon-to-be-departing intern who was going to mentor me through my first homestand.
And as could only happen in Cubland, the soon-to-be-departing intern – future three-time Stanley Cup-champion Jay Blunk – greeted me with a “Hey, it’s going to be real busy here today. No one is going to have time to talk. Just sit down, be quiet and watch.” At least he gave me his chair.
All I could think was, huh? First day on the job, and already I’m being told to sit down and shut up. Welcome to the big leagues – yeah, right.
So there I sat. Just watching. Quietly. Mouth closed. Eyes and ears open. And right before my eyes, it all played out – my up-close-and-personal introduction to Media Relations, Internal Communications, External Communications, Crisis Communications, whatever job title you want to insert here.
Exactly one hour into my Cubs career, the club announced that manager Jim Frey and third base coach Don Zimmer had been relieved of their duties. The manager who – just 21 months before had led the Cubs to their first postseason appearance since 1945 – was out.
I was mesmerized watching the small media relations staff go into scramble/crisis mode. The press release being faxed … one at a time (no email back then) … to every Chicago media outlet big and small. The phone calls to every important media member to hustle to the ballpark for a press conference. Ned Colletti, a former newspaper beat writer and a future Los Angeles Dodgers general manager (and a genius for hiring me), helping GM Dallas Green with some talking points for the media. Sharon Pannozzo, Ernie Roth and Doris Acosta working the phones and making sure everything was ready for the press conference.
What I learned after the fact – and I did get plenty of after-the-fact time with Mr. Frey, as he uniquely parlayed being fired in 1986 to becoming a WGN Radio broadcaster in 1987 and then the Cubs general manager from 1988-1991 – was that he wanted young kids brought up to the majors ASAP. He was tired of watching some of the veterans who had phoned in it. He wanted to see some of the young ones with fresh legs – not thirtysomethings on their last legs.
Two days later – and two days after he was told his services were no longer necessary – Frey’s “want” became a reality. The Cubs brought up Jamie Moyer – who went on to pitch in 25 major league seasons – and Davey Martinez, who played in 16 major league campaigns.
So, in my first official act as a Cubs intern, I got to help Moyer and Martinez carry their luggage to the clubhouse. That’s what interns do. Welcome to the big leagues.