Our sports columnist Sean Gregory is reporting live from the World Series this week. Here, he sheds a little light on the game as seen from the press box.
For a reporter, covering the World Series involves a fair amount of late-game strategizing. While no one watches or cares about our moves – they tend to occur in the dank bowels of ballparks – they can make or break a story. And in my nine-plus years of covering sports at TIME, no event messed with my mind more than Game 6 of the 2011 World Series Thursday night.
Not that it wasn’t wonderful, by the way.
As the Texas Rangers batted in the top of 8th inning, leading 7-4, I began planning for their victory story. Mobs of reporters usually attend major events, and one of the keys during clinching games is to get down to the clubhouse area relatively early. This way, you’re at the front of the line of reporters let out onto the field and into the locker room to gather post-game reaction and color from the winning team. If you’re at the back, you might be waiting, and those minutes are precious on deadline.
And yes, the mindset of a sports reporter is not unlike that of an elementary school student (“I want to be in the front! I want to be in the front!”).
As the top of the 8th came to a close, I began the journey down to the clubhouse. TIME’s press box location is on the third level of the stadium, so reporters must take a freight elevator down to the basement locker rooms. (I asked about stairs, but an attendant said you could only reach the bottom via elevator. Which means, presumably, that the only way back up to the top is via elevator. That has to be some kind of fire safety violation).
Once downstairs at the bottom of Busch Stadium, I joined the reporter hoard gathered around a television. We were informed that about ten minutes after the final out, we would be let onto the field and into the locker room, like cattle. Allen Craig of the Cardinals hit a home run in the bottom of the 8th, to cut the lead to 7-5. OK, no big whoop. Then the Cardinals loaded the bases. Uh oh. Not that I was rooting against the Cardinals. I was rooting for my story, and I already had one in mind, about a Texas win. When facing deadline, reporters act purely in self-interest.
Luckily, Rafael Furcal grounded the ball back to the pitcher, for the final out. The Rangers went quietly in the ninth, and by now, we all know what happened next: the crowd of reporters downstairs roared in disbelief when Nelson Cruz failed to catch David Freese’s two-out, two-strike opposite field fly ball, which resulted in game-tying triple. Now, the Cardinals were on the verge of actually winning the damn thing. My mind, and heart, raced: these deadline stories are an adrenaline rush. But Yadier Molina lined out. I was time for a deep breath.
I went back to the smelly freight elevator, so I could watch extra innings live in the press box. But the very second I sat back down after the slow ride up, Josh Hamilton hit a two-run home run to give Texas a 9-7 lead. I had no choice but to pick my notebook and head for the elevator, like a yo-yo, to prep for a Texas win again. And then, as you know, St. Louis tied it in the bottom of the 10th. Up the elevator, again, I went.
This time, I vowed, I was going to just watch the game to its completion. I wanted to feel the crowd reaction, see the mayhem, or disappointment, surround me when the Cardinals won, or lost, the game. If I wanted to ride up and down an elevator when the World Series was going on, I could have stayed home in my apartment building. So when Freese led off the 11th with his home run to center, I got to see the trajectory of the ball right off the bat. Like the rest of the stadium, I knew it was gone. As the ball landed on the patch of grass behind the center-field fence, one thought entered my head. “See you tomorrow night.”
Reporters rushed to the freight elevator. No one wanted to miss a moment of reaction to this classic. At Busch, reporters share the elevators with stadium workers. Though these workers could not have been more friendly and nice, a few of us let out a groan when they stopped the elevator at a few floors, in order to get on and off. I’m not proud of my petulance. Deadline will do that to you.
In the end, it worked out, I hope (Here’s the story). Please don’t take any of this as complaining: that’s not the intent. It’s just sometimes funny to think about the ridiculous hoops we jump through to cover stories. And I wanted to shine some light on this profession. Some people believe sportswriting is some kind of glamour trade. It rarely is.
Still, I know I was so ridiculously lucky to be able to write about a classic game. When my son is old enough to fully grasp baseball’s history, he’ll think it’s cool that I was at Game 6. Hopefully, his son or daughter will too.
I doubt we’ll be talking about an elevator.