It was late July 1988, and I was a 22-year-old kid on my first big league road trip.
I was doing everything I could to take it all in, figuratively pinching myself and telling my inner self to play it cool – even though every little experience was so, so cool.
I had flown into Philadelphia to meet the Cubs – who were on an extended trek just prior to the first game under the Wrigley Field lights. My purpose, so to speak … I was taking over media relations activities from my boss, Ned Colletti, who then headed back to Chicago to finalize all media-related details prior to the historic unveiling of night baseball at Clark and Addison streets.
With all the renovations that have been done in recent years, it’s hard to remember that there used to be a time when all 81 home games were played in sunshine. OK, maybe not sunshine, but definitely without artificial illumination.
The Cubs first flew to Montreal en route to Phiadelphia. I then met the team there, overlapping with Ned for a couple games to get a quick tutorial on what you do when you’re on a road trip. I was a true newbie; I had to be shown every strand of the rope on how to do things. After he went back home, I traveled with the team from Philadelphia to Cooperstown to New York.
One of Ned’s biggest strengths as the media relations director was that he was a people-person – especially when it came to the newspaper writers. A lot of that came from the fact that he was a former beat writer himself, having covered hockey for a now-defunct newspaper in Philadelphia. Ned taught me right away to say hello and introduce myself to the other team’s beat writers and broadcasters. And since we were in his old stomping grounds of Philadelphia, he made sure to do a lot of intros on my behalf.
I still vividly recall, at the door of the Veterans Stadium press box, when Ned introduced me to Jayson Stark of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Even back then, Jayson was a legend to me. He had this great weekly Sunday baseball column chock full of news and notes that you couldn’t easily find in those dark ages – also known as the pre-internet era. Back in those days, Sunday was THE day of the week thanks to his notes column. You never knew what you were going to find, but there was definitely a combination of baseball human interest stories and humor.
So here I was … in Philadelphia … with the actual Inquirer in hand … and I was getting the opportunity to shake hands with the person who wrote one of my favorite weekly columns. There’s no other way to say it … I was meeting an idol.
Throughout my time with the Cubs – both in media relations and baseball operations – I talked to Jayson hundreds of times. After working in Philadelphia for 21 years, he moved on to ESPN in 2000 – where he was one of the preeminent writers when it came to chasing down rumors and facts. I could always count on hearing from him during key transaction periods like the trade deadline and the Winter Meetings. Most of the time, he asked the questions. It was my job to make sure not to steer him in a wrong direction.
At the same time, he had this awesome Rumblings and Grumblings column which became a must-read. For people like me who enjoyed trivia and the stories within the stories, his column was essential reading. He would often call just to check in – and sometimes, I was even able to tip him off to a story idea.
Unfortunately, when the ESPN layoffs hit in April, Jayson was one of the people whose services were no longer deemed necessary. I reached out to him then; sadly, I know how that feels.
We have talked a few times recently, and Jayson agreed to speak with me for an interview. That conversation was written for MLB Trade Rumors, and you can read the story by clicking here:
Hopefully one of these years, Jayson will be enshrined in the writers’ wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. I hope you’ll check out the interview to learn a little bit more about Jayson and his love affair with the game of baseball.