Working the Game: An Interview with Pete Abraham, Boston Red Sox Beat Writer

For the next installment in our series, we switch from the broadcast booth to the press box and chat with Pete Abraham, the beat writer who covers the Red Sox for the Boston Globe.

Peter ---- AbrahamPete is a Massachusetts native,  He joined the staff of the Globe in 2009 after spending nearly 10 years in New York covering the Mets and Yankees for The Journal News in White Plains, N.Y. Pete also covered the University of Connecticut men’s basketball team for the Norwich Bulletin.  You can follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

 

When did you become aware that you wanted to seriously pursue a career as a baseball beat writer or journalist?

I wanted to be a journalist since high school when I landed a part-time job at my hometown paper, the New Bedford (Mass.) Standard-Times. I loved being in the newsroom and observing all the various characters there. My ambition at the time was only to go to college then come back and cover New Bedford High games.

In terms of baseball, I loved covering amateur baseball but had no designs on covering MLB until well into my career when the opportunity presented itself while I was working for The Journal News in White Plains, N.Y. I started working there in 1999 and realized pretty quickly that getting to cover Yankees or Mets games, even sidebars, would be good for my career.

Prior to going to New York, I worked 13 years at the Norwich (Conn.) Bulletin covering UConn men’s basketball. They tried to make me sports editor but I wanted to keep writing so I went to New York.

 

What was the first baseball game you ever worked (if not exactly, then approximately), and how did you get the gig?

This is a somewhat amusing story. My final year at UMass-Amherst was in 1986 and by then I had worked part-time for The Standard-Times for seven years. As a reward, they got me a credential to cover a Red Sox game. I don’t recall the date but I have a vivid memory of going to the game and being amazed that the press box at Fenway Park had beer taps that flowed all game.

The Sox lost the game and afterward the reporters were lined up in the hallway outside of manager John McNamara’s office. They were talking about why Dwight Evans had not been used as pinch hitter late in the game. As the postgame interview went on, nobody asked McNamara about Evans. So I mustered up the courage to ask him. I tried to be polite about it but he shot me a glare. “Where the hell are you from?” he said. Before I could answer he profanely told me to get out of his office. The only way out of the crowded office was through a door that led to the clubhouse. I walked out and was the only reporter in the room and all the players were looking at me.

Evans of all people was standing right there. “What did you ask him, kid?” he said.

“I asked him why you didn’t pinch hit,” I said.

“Good question,” Evans said as he walked away.

I had a beer when I got back to the press box. I needed it.

 

How did you get your break covering a beat for a major league baseball team?

I started working at The Journal News in 1999 for two terrific editors, Mark Leary and Mark Faller. I was a general assignment writer who did mostly high school and college games for a while. I volunteered to do anything and within a few months they allowed me to do sidebars for Mets and Yankees games. That progressed to writing game stories and occasional features.

In 2002, in the middle of the season, they moved the Mets writer to the Jets and I was given the Mets beat. I’ve been covering baseball ever since.  Looking back on it, I was incredibly fortunate they gave me the chance. Covering baseball in the NYC market is a huge challenge and they would have been well within their rights to have hired from outside the staff and gotten an established writer. Mark Leary, who passed away, was a huge influence on me. He taught me things I think about every day. So did my editors in Norwich, Jay Spiegel and Gary Samek.
When did you realize you were going to make it as a baseball beat writer?

I don’t know that there was a particular day. The Mets were a challenging team to cover. During my tenure there I covered Fred Wilpon buying out co-owner Nelson Doubleday, a few manager firings, the Bobby Valentine vs. Steve Phillips feud, a GM firing, assorted trades, scandals and even silly things like whether Mike Piazza was gay.  Meanwhile I was competing for stories against terrific writers from papers like the Times, Post, Daily News and Newsday.

That I survived and kept coming back for more seemed like a sign I could cover baseball.

 

Let’s take about game day: What do you do to prepare for a game before you get to the ballpark?  You wake up in the morning, and you do … what, before the game?

I prepare the night before usually. I unwind after games by updating a stat book I keep and doing a legal pad sheet of various notes that help me write on deadline. There are trends, assorted stats, how the starters fare against particular hitters, etc. I like having the information handy during games.

In the morning, for a typical night game, I’ll wake up around 9:30 (depending how late the previous game was), read the Red Sox clips we get from the team every day, then have a little breakfast. For the last few years, I’ve been pretty good about working out before I go to the park. I could stand to be better about it, for sure. On the road, it’s about the same but you have more time generally.

 

How long before a game do you arrive at the ballpark, and is it different at home versus on the road?

It’s about the same. The clubhouse opens to the media 3.5 hours before first pitch. I usually get there an hour before that to do a little work and just see what is going on at the ballpark. So for a 7:05 game, I get there at 2:30.

 

What are the key things you do at the ballpark between the time you get there and the time the game starts?

I spend time in the clubhouse and on the field during batting practice talking to the players and gathering information for stories. The manager does a pre-game media session. I’ll usually try to talk to some of the coaches or front-office types. It’s better to talk to people in person than get back three-word text messages. I work for NESN, the network that carries Sox games, and appear on their pre-game show. I also get started on my stories for the website and paper. I try to have my “notebook” story done by the second inning.

 

How long before the game do you go to the press box to watch the game from?

I generally try and get in my seat sometime around the national anthem. That can vary depending on whether I’m on the phone working on a story or even just something innocuous like seeing some friends who are at the game.

 

Once the actual game starts, what are you doing?  Are you working the entire time the game is going, and on what?

Once the game starts I try to limit how much I’m on the web (outside of Twitter) and how much I’m texting and just watch the game. It can be easy to get distracted. For night games, I need to file what is called “running” by the 7th inning and then that gets a top for first edition.  If there’s an injury or a trade, that is when it gets complicated.

 

In what way does an injury or a trade complicate your in-game routine?

An injury does not really complicate much of anything; we deal with that most every day. A significant trade adds to the workflow. I’d have to do a separate story, call around for information from scouts, perhaps get on a conference call with the GM. The Globe has at least three reporters at every home game and two on the road, so we can divide up the work pretty well.

 

What is your process once the game finishes? 

Once the game ends you get the manager then get in the clubhouse, hurry to get what you need then go back to the press box and write. You might have a little more time for day games. But it’s usually about 35 minutes tops.

 

Do you do all your writing and filing of stories while at the ballpark, or do you write and file stories after you’ve gotten home or to the hotel room?

Everything at the ballpark after a game. There’s no time to go anywhere else.  Even if there were I’d be afraid I’d get hit by a bus or something. My job is to get them a story quickly.

 

Is there anything about working every day in Fenway that makes it unique among ballparks to work in?

Fenway is not an especially good place to work beyond the vista once you sit down to watch the game. The clubhouses are small and crowded and access to the clubhouses post-game is going against the flow of the crowd. The press box at Fenway is pretty high, too. You don’t get the same view as you would at places like Camden Yards.

 

How many stories are you responsible for submitting on a daily basis, or perhaps in the course of a week?

Daily it’s usually three things. A game preview for our web site then a game story and a notebook. The game story usually has two versions and the notebook as many as three or four. With the web, the updating never ends. So for a week I night do 18-25 stories, each updated several times.

 

In addition to game accounts, are you assigned additional feature stories to write?  If so, who typically comes up with the idea for the subject of the feature?  You, your editor, combination?

Sure, I do features all the time. Typically I generate my own ideas and run them by my editors.  Sometimes they’ll come up with ideas that are good. The Globe’s executive editor, Brian McGrory, is a baseball fan and a few times a year he has some great ideas. I get caught up in the day-to-day details and it’s good when people see the big picture. For instance, in 2013 Brian asked about doing a story on the personal relationship between Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz. It worked out great. Globe sports editor Joe Sullivan and his deputies are great to work with and talk ideas over with.

 

Do you get any vacation or free time during the season?

No vacation. I get a 1-2 days off a week. I like covering all the road games and taking my time off when the team is home.  I usually cover 125-128 games. That’s after spring training and then we cover the playoffs whether the Sox are in or not. Then the GM Meetings and the Winter Meetings.

 

What are the easier things, and what are the harder things, for you to do as a beat writer during the season?

The easier things? I’m not sure anything is “easy.”  It’s hard sometimes to cover the team when execs leak stories to national writers to curry favor with them.  It’s hard to cover the trade deadline, that 10 days or so generally is awful.

 

What are the most common pitfalls to avoid while covering a baseball team?

Two things. You have to remember to write for your readers and not to impress other writers, or yourself or your editors. Write for people who follow the team and care about the team. Inform them. The other thing is to remember you aren’t with the team. It’s a shared experience a lot of the times, going around the country and living in hotels and dealing with travel. But you don’t work for the team and aren’t beholden to the team. Ask what needs to be asked, write what needs to be written and be honest. It’s unpleasant sometimes to write something critical about a person you’ll be face to face with a few hours later. But that is the job sometimes. I think sometimes, especially for outlets that don’t have editors or much in the way of accountability, the “coverage” is basically a lot of back-patting and propaganda. You aren’t doing the job right if the manager doesn’t get mad at you from time to time.

 

Beyond interviews and conversations, what are some of the top resources you use to keep informed about the players, the teams and the game of baseball itself?

Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference are two sites I’m always on. I read a lot of individual writers, mostly analytical or informational reporting. Opinion doesn’t really help much. There are some podcasts I like. MLB Network Radio is really good, too.

 

When the team has a day off, how do you spend your time?  Do you get a day off too, or are you still working a full day?

I usually have a story to do. We cover the team every day of the season.

 

When you’re traveling with the team, what is your favorite thing to do while on the road?

Depends on the city. I have friends in NYC, Tampa, Baltimore and a few other places. I’ve been doing this long enough and been to every MLB city often enough that I’m out of things to see. I’ll occasionally check out museum listings to see if there is some interesting exhibit. Beyond that, it’s baseball, getting ready for baseball and trying to stay organized.

 

How do you spend your time during the offseason?

I have two nieces and a nephew and try to see them as often as I can along with other people in my family. I love attending Patriots games and we usually hit a road game every season. I’ll go on a vacation and every few weeks I’ll drive to a casino in Connecticut and play $10 blackjack all night just for fun. Blackjack is very relaxing. Movies, reading books not about baseball, binge-watching television shows I missed all summer.

 

What baseball writers do you most admire, retired and/or currently active, and why?

There are too many to list and I wouldn’t want to leave anybody out. I respect dozens of people in the business for various reasons. I will say that the camaraderie among baseball writers is strong and we help each other out a lot. I learned a so much watching and reading the people who cover baseball in NYC. A lot of real pros there.

 

What is the thing about covering a baseball beat that most surprised you, that you didn’t expect when you first started?

The general friendliness of the players. I came from a background of covering college sports and most of the players were unspoiled and easy-going with the media. I was fearful professionals would be harder to deal with. But probably 95 percent of the players I’ve covered have been gracious with their time and respectful of my job. The outliers are annoying when they’re All-Star-type players but for the most part MLB players are decent guys.

 

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in covering a baseball beat since you started in 2002?

When I started covering baseball there was no social media and newspapers did not have web sites. So the notion of being on a 24-hour news cycle was foreign. That by far is the biggest change. There’s never really a time you’re not working unless you force yourself not to work. The urge to check Twitter is overwhelming. There have been days I’ve done updates for our web site 10 times on various things.

 

If you were the King of Baseball Journalism and you could make any changes or improvements to the profession or to the process, what would they be?

Anybody who starts a question with “Talk about …” has their credential revoked for two games. Second offense is a week.  That is just lazy.  Also people on Twitter should get electric shocks for asking beat writers questions about their fantasy team.

 

Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you would want people, such as ordinary fans, to know about your job?

Not really. I’m incredibly fortunate to do what I do and never take it for granted. It’s nice knowing that something you do hopefully gives people a few minutes of pleasure a day, or at least a distraction from the realities of life.

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