Judging the Royals

It takes a village to ... cover the Royals in the ALDS

“In science, the term observer effect refers to changes that the act of observation will make on a phenomenon being observed.”—Wikipedia

On Thursday night the Kansas City Royals start the American League Division Series and everybody will want to be there.

Radio stations out in East Elephant’s Breath, Kansas, who haven’t covered an inning of baseball this season, will suddenly decide they haven’t paid enough attention to our national pastime and ask the Royals for a press pass.

Station managers, who have been doing their jobs from afar for the past six months, will feel the urge to be in the stadium — their reporters now need a more “hands on” approach. And the station manager might decide his teenaged son needs to come along too.

Basically, anyone who can figure out a way to get inside Kauffman Stadium will be there Thursday, and that changes the way things are done.

The media screws up the team’s routine

Baseball rewards routine like no other sport and now routine will go out the window.

Like most baseball fans, I watched the Wild Card games and was reminded of how intrusive the media can be in the postseason. Most managers would rather not let us in the clubhouse much less do interviews with a reporter and cameraman in their dugout while the game is going on.

Last season, pitchers who came out of the bullpen and ran to the mound were trailed by a cameraman running alongside them. While the pitchers warmed up on the game mound, a cameraman would circle him to give folks at home a close-up view ... nothing distracting about that.

I recently heard that base coaches will be required to wear microphones during the games. Assuming that’s true, now the coach has to worry about dropping an F-bomb or giving away information that the other team can use. (It sounds like the TV people have promised to be careful about that, but it’s something else to worry about when a coach should be concentrating on other things.)

When the media is on the field, we’re supposed to stay off the grass and on the dirt area in front of the dugout. So on Thursday night that area will be jammed with reporters and cameramen. Last season, Dayton Moore and I sat in the Royals dugout and could not see the field because there were so many camera crews set up along the dugout railing.

I asked Dayton if his team was still taking batting practice. There was no way to tell from the dugout.

Ballplayers have a trick for avoiding reporters and autograph seekers: they break into a trot as they come out of the dugout and don’t stop running until they hit the safety of the grass. Last postseason, ballplayers looked like NFL running backs in the open field, juking and jiving to avoid reporters.

Reporters need to justify their presence

During the regular season I have a nice seat in the Royals press box: second row, with a great view of home plate.

During the 2014 postseason I had a nice seat between a guy from Yahoo Sports and another guy from a newspaper in Kyoto – our elbows were touching – with a great view of a pole.

And I was lucky; at least I could look around the pole and see the field.

A whole bunch of reporters had seats that didn’t allow a view of the playing field. They were just watching the games on TV. They might as well have stayed home.

But if you convince your news organization to send you to the playoffs, you have to do something to justify your presence, like getting quotes from players.

Theoretically, knowing the players is helpful ... they’re way more likely to talk to a reporter they know than one they don’t.

But during the last postseason, anytime I talked to a Royals player, a crowd of other reporters would gather around.

Then the player was trapped. If a player was talking to me, other reporters wanted in on it and as soon as those reporters gathered, the player would revert to clichés. They might trust a reporter they know but won’t talk openly in front of strangers.

Last year I stopped to say hi to Greg Holland, the media swarmed in and 25 minutes later Holland was still there answering questions.

I talked to Eric Hosmer, the media swarmed us and as I walked off, Hosmer says, “Thanks a lot, Lee. See what you did?”

The smart players avoid the media; they just don’t have the time to deal with all the reporters that show up in the postseason.

At one point during last year’s World Series, I walked into a jam-packed Royals clubhouse – jam-packed with reporters. There were three players in the room; the rest were hiding out in the areas off-limits to the press.

Never ask a player for tickets

And it’s not just the media that will cause problems.

If you know a Royals player – if one lives down the street or his kid goes to school with your kid or he comes into your place of business – do him a favor: do not ask him for tickets.

When they get to the postseason, ballplayers start hearing from people that attended the same high school, brothers-in law they don’t like and anybody else that can rationalize asking for a ticket to the playoffs.

Don’t be that guy.

Players have people in their lives that deserve to be there, like family and close friends. If you’re on that list, and if the player wants you to be there, he’ll offer you tickets, you won’t have to ask.

Postseason prediction

At this time of year I cannot go to the bathroom or the photocopier without a co-worker asking how the Royals will do in the postseason.

Here’s my standard answer: I have absolutely no idea. I would have never predicted what the Royals did in the last postseason and I’m no more clairvoyant now than I was last year.

Nevertheless, here’s my postseason prediction: the press box will jammed with all the extra reporters who will now show up to see the Astros play the Royals.

And if there’s one thing reporters know how to do, it’s how to eat.

Remember that press box soft-serve ice cream machine I’ve been writing about?

Before this postseason is over, it will either be taken out of commission or broken by the heavy demand the media will put on it.

Now call Vegas and see if you can lay a bet down on that one sure thing.

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