Thirty years ago today – on June 12, 1986 – I made my Cubs debut as a media relations intern.
About four months ago, I chronicled that day in my first post after announcing to the world that I had started this little storytelling site. And that story – which was later picked up by The Cauldron/Sports Illustrated – essentially launched my freelance writing career.
You should never forget where you came from. So with that in mind, I’d like to share with you where it all started – both the 25-year baseball career and the (hopefully lengthy) writing career.
Here is the link for the extended version that can be found on thecauldron.si.com website: https://thecauldron.si.com/eyes-wide-open-faf78f2ca3ce#.fz24bvya3
My First Day With The Cubs
Thirty years ago, a media relations intern had a crazy initiation to baseball life and working for the team he loved.
As I begin my career as a writer for the second time, I know that career stories have to be less about me and more about what I saw and the perspective I can bring to the events that took place over my 25-year run with the Chicago Cubs. I was employed in a behind-the-scenes/under-the-radar role with the organization, and I had a distinct view of these events. Working for the Cubs was the ultimate reality show, and virtually every game was televised.
Every once in a while, though, I have to insert myself into the story. Hopefully, you’ll understand why, as some of these stories are about me. And this is one of them.
I parked my car in the lot down the leftfield line, and slowly walked toward the lone solitary door near the corner of Clark and Addison, mostly tucked from public view. It was a 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, but 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. 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. So I did what you did back then — I sent a Smith Corona-typed letter directly to Ned to inquire about summer internship possibilities.
I had quite the resume going at that point in my life, as I could list the Columbia Missourian, the Missouri Sports Information Office and Pro Football Weekly in my career portfolio (I decided that Merry-Go-Round Shoes didn’t have to make the final resume cut). My letter must have been OK, as I got called in to meet with Ned and one of his assistants, Doris Acosta, who was running the search.
I floated up those stairs to meet Ned and Doris that day. Obviously, I nailed the interview, or else I would be writing about some other adventure right now. They said I would hear something within in a week, which I did. I got the call, and I knew my life would be changing in a couple months.
My next time at the ballpark was that day in June. 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 Chicago Blackhawks executive 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.
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.
Thinking back to that first day, it’s hard to believe I could have received a better education anywhere. It’s amazing to recall the cast that was in front of me as I watched everything unfold.
And the intern, Jay Blunk, of Blackhawks fame. That job could have been mine if I had mouthed off to him when he told me to sit down!
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 helping GM Dallas Green with some talking points for the media. Sharon, Ernie and Doris working the phones, and making sure everything was ready for the press conference.
I did get to sit on my butt again later that evening, as my baby brother graduated high school. From press conference to seeing my brother give his valedictorian speech to hearing his graduation commencement speaker — Deborah Norville — it was a day of awakening. How’s that for a first day?
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.
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.