Archive for the 'Interviews' Category

Open Book Baseball: An Interview with Alyson Footer, the Houston Astros’ Sr. Director of Social Media

Footer: "We want to be as much of an open book as we can."

Baseball is known for clinging to old paradigms, and hugging out-moded–ahem, traditional–viewpoints on media, culture, technology, and copyright. Some figures in the baseball media even pride themselves on their vintage-inspired view of the game.

Alyson Footer is no such figure. The Houston Astros’ Senior Director of Social Media has embraced the creative power of new media with enviable depth and enthusiasm, transitioning from veteran MLB.com/Astros.com beat reporter to full-fledged social media specialist as smoothly as Craig Biggio shed his catcher’s gear and took up the middle infield.

Footer’s blog, Alyson’s Footnotes, is equal parts access and analysis, with a panoply of in-depth posts that are as likely to spotlight a backup catcher’s favorite flavor of ice cream as analyze the task ahead of a new GM or owner. With an interdisciplinary sphere of influence that expands to Twitter and Facebook, she is the voice of the Astros in those spaces that we, our readers, and our baseball blogging friends happily frequent.

Footer was nice enough to take time out of her busy schedule to discuss her role in the baseball multiverse, and to talk about talking about baseball.

(Ed. note: any links added below were added by me.)

TED

Your title is Senior Director of Social Media of the Houston Astros, and the tagline on the header of your blog, Alyson’s Footnotes, is “Your behind-the-scenes, all-access pass to all things Astros.” Could you describe your role with the Astros?

ALYSON

Several years ago, the Astros saw that major corporations were creating Social Media departments, designed solely for the purpose of marketing their brand to the younger generation. With the decline of newspapers and the emergence of Facebook and Twitter, the Astros realized they could better utilize their time and money by steering away from traditional advertising and shifting the focus to new media.

The role of Social Media Director spans in a lot of different directions. We have two main Twitter accounts: @astros and @alysonfooter. The Astros handle is more for marketing and promotional purposes, whereas my personal Twitter handle is interactive. I communicate directly with the fans and answer as many questions as possible. I also offer a behind the scenes look at the team through comments, photos (TwitPics) and videos (TwitVids).

Basically, we want the fans to feel that they are part of the process.

I also blog regularly. The blogs serve a few purposes: they offer insight and analysis to team decisions and transactions, they provide a behind-the-scenes view of the everyday goings-on of the team and they provide info regarding upcoming events and promotional initiatives. We cover off the field and on the field activities on the blog and include pictures and videos to accompany the blogs. Basically, we want the fans to feel that they are part of the process. We want them to feel as if they’re there with us even when they can’t be. We want to show our players and coaching staff in a very real way. We want to be as much of an open book as we can. The Astros are a part of the city of Houston, in good times and bad, and the players are important to our fans. The more we can show them as real people, the more fans feel connected. Social Media allows for fans to get closer to the players than ever before. We have a bunch of players with their own Twitter handles who communicate directly with the public. It’s great for both sides.

TED

How have the players responded to the change in media presence and the sense of increased access? Is there a generation gap between the veterans the younger players?

ALYSON

I would say there is a little bit of a generation gap between the veterans and the younger players, but I think it’s in a good way. The really young players coming up don’t remember a world without the Internet. They don’t remember when newspapers ruled the roost. They don’t know from the old days when media contingents were small and didn’t include web sites, bloggers and 300 cable and radio stations.

Today’s players are tech savvy and online savvy and they like to engage in Social Media. Last Spring Training, we had one player on Twitter. By the end of spring, we had about five. That total has nearly doubled and I expect that by the time the season is over, more than half the roster will be tweeting. I think it’s great. The players really enjoy it and it’s a great way to market themselves. They enjoy the back and forth with the fans and everyone benefits from that.

Last year, I met some of the Texans players and they said the entire team was on Twitter. I find that fascinating.

TED

You spent a lot of time as a reporter for MLB.com. What were the cultural or technological forces that led to your switch to Social Media, and how has your approach to baseball coverage and storytelling changed with the change in roles?

ALYSON

It’s easier from a communication standpoint when the team is doing well and everybody’s happy, but that is not how sports work.

I covered the Astros for eight years for MLB.com and I loved it. When the Astros created a Social Media position in 2009 and approached me about it, it sounded intriguing. I loved reporting but at the same time, I was doing so much with blogging and Facebook and Twitter that it seemed like a natural transition. As much as I liked the Social Media side of things, my reporting duties took up all of my time and that left very little time for anything else. The idea of doing Social Media full-time was intriguing. And I was able to continue blogging, which was important, because I didn’t want to give up writing. I was ready to move into a different genre. It was a nice transition and I’m glad I made the move.

I try to stay away from straight news reporting, because that is now the job of Brian McTaggart, who replaced me at MLB.com. Because my blog lives on the Astros web site, I didn’t want to be covering the same news stories as Brian. That would be counterproductive. So what I try to do is find off-the-field, more human interest stories to write, and I’ll also reference Astros.com stories a lot and provide some insight or analysis. There are times when Brian and I do overlap, but I think over the course of three years it’s been pretty minimal.

TED

The Astros are in a time of major transition right now. What challenges does this present for you, and how have you had to adjust your approach from covering a regular winner to a rebuilding young team with new ownership?

ALYSON

It’s challenging only because when your team isn’t doing well, a lot of the fan base is unhappy. It’s a lot easier from a communication standpoint when the team is doing well and everybody’s happy, but that is not how sports work. So I try my best to explain things in as much detail as I can in terms of the direction the team is headed and what the plan is over the next several years. Fortunately, the new ownership group and front office has a very clear vision as to how to become a contender again, and they have a plan that they will not only implement immediately, but they’ll stick to it as well. That’s hugely important.

It’s easier from a communication standpoint when the team is doing well and everybody’s happy, but that is not how sports work.

Other than that, the challenges are minimal from a big-picture perspective. Teams ebb and flow. I’ve been here 15 years and over the course of that time, the Astros have done a little of everything. They won 102 games in ’98 and two years later ended up losing 90. They’ve won a pennant. They’ve lost 106 games. They’ve taken division and Wild Card races down to the wire. They’ve been eliminated before Sept. 1. It’s been all over the map. I approach my job the same every day and hope for the best for the team.

TED

You are a fantastic storyteller. Was there something about baseball that compelled you to contribute your talents to the game? What have you learned about storytelling as a baseball reporter and social media director?

ALYSON

Well, thanks very much for the nice comment! I do love the storytelling part of this job. Even when I was at MLB.com I’d try to find the weird and wacky every once in a while and report on that. I remember one time, half the team spent an offday playing ping-pong at Orlando Palmeiro’s house. They had a fierce tournament and had plenty to say about it the next day in the clubhouse. I was writing it all down and a colleague said, “You’re writing about this?” I live for that kind of stuff – the off-the-wall, random events that inevitably happen over the course of a six-month season (seven and a half months, if you include Spring Training).

I think it’s important for the fans to know and appreciate the people and stories that will live on forever through storytelling. Why keep that stuff buried?

I’ve always loved baseball, but more than that, I’ve always loved the personalities and characters of the game. I don’t spend much time poring over stats – I find a lot of it boring, to be honest – but there’s so much that goes on around a team, and so many great, smart, funny, polarizing players that have come through Houston and so many fantastic stories that the fans have never heard. I think it’s important for the fans to know and appreciate the people and stories that will live on forever through storytelling. Why keep that stuff buried? My general rule of thumb is, if I find something funny or interesting, it’s likely that others might as well. It sounds pretty primitive but it has served us well. And now that there’s a way to share these items with the world, why wouldn’t we?

TED

With the Astros’ 50th Anniversary celebration going on this year, there must be a font of new and old stories coming down the pipeline….

ALYSON

I certainly hope so! We have a slew of old players we’re inviting back for the season-long celebration this year and I would imagine there will be some interesting tales told! I’ll be listening.

TED

There will be a ton of old school Astros looks rolled out in 2012. Which Astros throwback uniform are you most excited about?

ALYSON

If you mean what throwback uniform would I be most likely to tweet or blog about, it would be the rainbow jerseys. I wasn’t here for that era – I got here in 1997 – but Houston fans absolutely love the rainbow look, especially the orange. That’s what I hear from fans more than anything – bring back the orange!

From a sentimental and personal standpoint, my favorite uniform is the blue and gold shooting star that they wore in the late 1990s. That’s what they were wearing when I first arrived to the team and I have some wonderful memories from my first few years in baseball. No matter what you do in your career or how far you get, there’s nothing more special than when you first started the journey. So I have a soft spot for the uniforms Bagwell, Biggio, Ausmus and Wagner were wearing way back in the day.

The Chains of Victory: Stephen P. King Calls It Quits by Clam Simmons

Clam Simmons is a librarian living in New England. You can find his ongoing investigation of the 1994 Kansas City Royals at the Royals Review. Clam also heads up the Twitter division of the Greater Boston Bigfoot Research Institute at 826 Boston. You can follow his crypto-tweets @bostonbigfoot and regular tweets @orangehunchback.

stephen kingNew England’s favorite gargoyle was cloistered in a lighthouse. His beacon was a hundred miles from the nearest anything. The smell of glue was everywhere. I could not tell for sure but it seemed that the sea tower was the barren womb of a sea god. It was a poor sanctuary from the water, mist covering my glasses and the wave’s salty plates constantly breaking in my ears. There was no electricity and the bully clouds outside turned the inside of the lighthouse into a whitewashed moonscape. Using my cell phone for light I discovered a typewriter sitting on top of a girthy manuscript. The typewriter sat on top of a pleather office chair. It was chained to the ground with irons. Stephen P. King was silently stationed on a Victorian ottoman facing the manacled office chair, a Franklin stove weakly dithered behind him. It must have been casual Friday in the lighthouse because King wasn’t wearing any pants. He wore a yellow smiley face t-shirt and five months of beard.

The master of horrors apologized for forgetting his khakis and scurried out of the lighthouse in his flip-flops. Left alone I climbed the observation deck. The outlook was dim and the lens was shattered. Glass covered the ground like ice. Maybe the lord of darkness had destroyed it in a fit of inspiration. Maybe it was done to spite the modern pirates and lobstermongers. Either way Stephen King would never had made it as a 19th century lighthouse attendant. When I found a bullet casing on the windowsill I decided it was time to leave. As I made for the exit I made note that the sullen tin cup sitting on the stone floor was the only tangible evidence that King had a human’s traditional concern for sustenance. I had to escape before the host of this literary séance returned.

New England’s favorite gargoyle was cloistered in a lighthouse.

Of course Stephen King came back before I could reach the door. He was carrying a couple of green twigs. He was wearing khakis. They were completely soaked but King seemed chipper.

SK: I usually try to dry them before the company shows up but you’ve caught me at high tide. Say that three times fast! Try, dry, high, tide… hey! You’re not trying to leave are you? Ha!

The unshaven lord of terrible genius offered me his ottoman while he placed the moist twigs on top of the stove’s vaguely orange coals. I have always been a sucker for hospitality. It is my weakness and will be my downfall.

SK: Clam, do you have any dry receipts?

I handed my ferry receipt to the King and he examined it before putting it in the stove.

SK: I’m going to have to cut our time short. When those fresh logs are charred I am going to reclaim my stool and get back to my project.

With the sensitivity and respect due for a writer’s in-utero project I asked him if he could possibly describe the project or at least reveal its basic design.

SK: It’s called Alien Sex Planet. It’s 1300 pages long but it feels like an 1800-page story and I think I’m going to have to cut out a 700-page scene. It involves an exile from the original colony of ancient aliens who in a fit of Onanis releases his seed into the atmosphere only to have it evolve into the planets of an alternative solar system. Of course the exile turns out to be the heir to the throne of the ancient alien kingdom, typical fodder.

As King described the power of ancient alien sperm I begin to feel my soul choke. Somehow Stephen King could sense it. He was not without tender psychology.

SK: By the way, thank you for responding to my inquiry on craigslist…you wouldn’t believe the sort of nut-brains out there pretending to be legitimate ghost-writers just to squeeze me of my greenbacks. But seriously Clam, I was very impressed with Elvis Horse Man. You have talent, if you prove yourself you might be able to go places.

I thanked Stephen King for the compliments on Elvis Horse Man. I was very proud of that work. I also stated that I would be very pleased to help with the memoir. Not only was I excited at the prospects of working alongside the definitive master of paranormal barbarism, I was desperate to take a bite out of the debt I had accrued in my five years in the MFA program at Butterman College. Stephen King laughed. He was either unfamiliar with Butterman College and its fabulous faculty to student ratio or the cost of a quality education at the best liberal arts college in the Ozarks. As Mr. King revealed his autobiographical “morsel” he busied himself by plucking hairs out of his beard and watching them smolder in the cinders of the stove.

SK: In 1986 I fell in love with Boston’s baseball team. When that white orb snuck past the gates of Buckner’s legs and the baseball team lost the great contest, it was a big deal. My eyes were opened and I saw horror on the faces of the baseball men and the sadness on the faces of the fans of the Boston baseball men. It was like witnessing one of the cataclysms in my work. It became my duty to commiserate with the despairing horde and to cheer for Boston’s great baseball club, the Red Beans. For several years I found the comfort of familiarity with the puritanical denial of the whole thing. It was great fun. I shared the baseball fan’s curses and roots for the changing field of heroes. I was a big Mo Greenwell fan. I loved Mike Vaughn. I cheered for Nomar Offerman and Jose Valentin. These were my favorite baseball men. I had sympathy for them. They were like the doomed characters in my books, the characters I make likeable only so that when they die on page 940 it will be a horrible experience for all my readers. The Boston Beans had no chance. But then about eight years ago the Red Sox team won the big contest and everything had changed. I felt as if the prisoner I had created to suffer had escaped from the jail with turds in his mouth. Yes, I was joyful for the success of my Red Beans for an hour or two but all the narrative tension was gone. I knew that my cheerings for the Boston baseball men must end. But by that point everyone assumed that I was unconditionally passionate for the Boston baseball team. Everyone gave me free tickets to the game. The seats were great, how could I waste them? I’d take a newspaper, a rough draft anything to distract me fm the winnings on the field. Sometimes, in the pennant chase I would hide inside the belly of the Green Monster with my friend, Manny Man.

Then the baseball club wins the big contest again. Clam, I am tired of triumph! Release me from the chains of victory! Tell the world Clam Simmons. Tell the world properly and I will not only let you ghostwrite my memoir, but I will give you all my pictures with me and the Boston baseball men!

Release Me From The Chains of Victory!

If Moleskine Made a Scorebook: The Bethany Heck Interview

Bethany Heck is the impetus for scorekeeping week. She is a graphic designer whose Eephus League Baseball Scorebook Revival project on Kickstarter, seeking funds to help produce a reimagined and better-designed baseball scorebook, has bounced around the baseball blogosphere for a couple weeks. It even captured the disconnected and rarely timely imaginations of Ted and myself. She is also behind the Eephus League, an online repository of stylish baseball artifacts. Bethany and I discussed scorekeeping in terms of baseball fandom, and her own unique project.

Eric: Tell us about your website, the Eephus League. It’s stunning full of great design, great images, great everything. But what exactly is it? I don’t even know where to start.

Bethany: Well, it is a hard thing to describe, isn’t it? It’s about everything and nothing. It’s a safe haven for all the random things that occur in and because of baseball. There were so many things about baseball that I loved, but no one site to house them all, and none of them allowed user participation either. So I made the Eephus League to fill that selfish desire!

Eric: So out of a clearing house full of marginalia, novelty items, and other disconnected treasures comes an ambitious, artistic, and clearly very popular mission to redesign and essentially restart the baseball scorebook?

I look at today’s scorecards, with 50 subdivisions per batter, per inning, and well… it’s not fun. It’s not inviting.Bethany: Yes. Scorekeeping has always been something that interested me from a record keeping and visual standpoint, and I love looking back at older scorebook designs. They were so much simpler, and you can see why more people kept score back then. Then I look at today’s scorecards, with 50 subdivisions per batter, per inning, and well… it’s not fun. It’s not inviting. And come on, those books are hideous. I wanted something that would make not only scorekeeping, but baseball cool again.

Eric: When and how did you learn how to keep score? Was it love at first filled-in diamond?

Bethany: I wish I had a romantic story about my first experience, but it was at Fulton County Stadium with my father, I was probably 7 years old, and after getting t shirts, pennants, and a duffle bag at the gate, we sat down and he pointed out the scorecard to me, explained a few things. I didn’t keep it up for long, but that was my first experience. I did it off and on until I started working on the Eephus League last summer.

Eric: Were there any particular scorebooks that influenced you? Or even non-baseball material, as you came up with the aesthetics for your own? Ted said they reminded him on the outside of moleskine notebooks.

Bethany: Well Ted is definitely correct about the influence of Moleskine sketchbooks. Once I decided that I was going to make scorebooks, I looked at the different sketchbooks on the market and Moleskines were my favorite. I used that as a size basis and for things like the flap in the back to hold extra materials. The question I asked myself was “if Moleskine made a scorebook, what would it look like?” There are some older scorecards that were pocket sized that were especially inspirational. Teeny tiny grids and limited columns, and you realize that scorekeeping only has to be as space-consuming as you want it to be.

Eric: Why scorekeeping in particular — why should the masses be taking it up? And what’s lost when we don’t keep score by hand?

Bethany: Why doesn’t everyone keep score?  Baseball is a relaxed game, it’s mostly downtime, and scorekeeping is a great way to fill the empty spaces. To start over, I focused on scorekeeping because I think it’s an incredible art that’s dying. It’s rare that you see someone keeping score at a game, and the ones you do see are mostly older folks. And the current scorebook designs are not something you can just plop in a  teenagers lap and say “hey, have at it!”

Eric: Speaking of the artistic aspect, I remember playing high school baseball, and one of our coaches had this palm pilot-y electronic thing we had to use to keep score. It was so embarrassing to sit in the dugout and punch numbers on it with the little stylus like some sort of lost field engineer. Then again, I had terrible hand-writing. So I guess it was fine in that respect.

Bethany: That’s rough. Scorekeeping needs to be done by hand, in my opinion, or with some sort of calligraphic input. It’s like a secret language that is passed along, and everyone adds their own little bits to the vernacular.

Eric: Are there any especially awesome or unique flourishes you’ve come across? Any odd bits of slang?

Bethany: There are so many! I heard recently from an Eephus League member who draws a line past first to indicate a single, and the line stop at the base for a walk. Things like using an exclamation point to note an exceptional play on the field are great. Some people use dots to indicate balls thrown, slashes for swinging strikes, and so on. I love that stuff.

Scorekeeping is storytelling, at its heart.Eric: What is it about visual design that can elicit that kind of expression? What I mean is, why does your  version of the scorebook allow for people to keep score artistically, while another version makes for a dull coding experience. Is it simply space?

Bethany: I think it has to do with the overall presentation of the page. I was careful to keep generous margins and to have minimal extra content in the grid. When you add that stuff, you’re almost telling someone how to score. “Put this here.” I hope my design encourages more freedom of expression.

Eric: How can scorekeeping be a social act, an act of sharing and community?

Bethany: I think any time you’ve got a group of people together keeping score, you’re going to have an exchange of technique. “How did you score that? Hey, what do the dashes mean?” I also want to add a section to the Eephus League site that chronicles different notation techniques. You might come across something that makes perfect sense to you and decide to use it or adapt it for your own use. I also love seeing completed scorecards that other people have kept, so that is a very social thing for me. Scorekeeping is storytelling, at its heart.

Eric: How has the reception been so far for the scorebook project? As of now, you’re well past your Kickstarter goal.

Bethany: The reception has been far better than I could have hoped for. When I started the project, a friend saw the amount I was aiming for and was extremely doubtful that I’d make it. I sold over 530 scorebooks through pre-orders in a week, and it’s not even baseball season yet. I’m so overwhelmed. People say they are going to use it for their first scorebook, which is so exciting for me.

Eric: What are you doing about production? I imagine you aren’t handcrafting all 530 before Opening Day…or are you?

Bethany: Hah, thankfully I don’t have to. I have a local printer who is going to print all of the books. The only sacrifice I had to make was the stitching down the side. It’s going to be stapled 3 times instead. It won’t hurt the function of the book, thankfully, it will still be plenty sturdy. I do have to make the bands for the outside and the reference cards all myself, so that’s going to be fun.

Eric: Why Kickstarter? In retrospect, it was obviously a great decision, but did you know that this was the kind of project that could kick up grassroots support? Or was it more of a “what the hell, let’s see what happens” kind of thing?

Bethany: Definitely more of the latter. I knew I had a large amount of money that was going to be required to  get the books made, and I really didn’t have a good feel for how many I should be producing. Kickstarter was a chance to solve both problems. When I submitted the project, I didn’t expect them to accept me.

Eric: I didn’t realize it was a competitive thing — I thought anybody could get on there within reason, and then the people spoke for themselves. So you had to sell Kickstarter on this idea?

Bethany: In a way, yes. You tell them about the project, how much you want to raise, etc. They have certain restrictions about what you can and can’t raise money for.

Eric: So what’s next? I imagine you will be taking this project beyond Kickstarter, and maybe even perhaps the initial scorebook offering?

Bethany: Well, the end goal is to get MLB licensing and to offer books with the correct colors for every team, team logos on the book, and seating charts in the pages where you can draw in where you sat. But for now, I’ve got to sell a lot more scorebooks!

As of this writing, Bethany has just about doubled her fundraising goal of $10,000, but if you want, you can still donate — and lay claim to your very own Eephus League merchandise, over at Kickstarter.

More Not Here

I was interviewed about P&P by Phil Bencomo for The Baseball Chronicle podcast. We talk about the origins of this blog, the American Sports Blogging Experience,  the past/future of the whole writing and sports writing thing, and more. As the singer of one of my once-favorite bands said “if you ain’t got roots, you ain’t got shit.”

Phil asked smart questions, and if you’re into that sort of thing it’s worth a listen:

The Baseball Chronicle Podcast

Thanks Phil, for having me on.

The Ten Commandments

In my day job as managing editor of Jew-ish.com, I had the pleasure of speaking with Bethlehem Shoals of the awesome FreeDarko about hoops, Judaism, and Seattle.  Check it out.

Also, I may post some more about FreeDarko soon. They are a big influence on P&P and once upon a time we joked (joked!) about calling this blog FreeGarko. The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History is tremendous.

Pitchers and Poets Interview: Glenn Stout

The conversation I had with sports writer, poet, and Best American Sports Writing Editor Glenn Stout Monday twisted and turned informally. In fact, it was so bouncy that I was only able to transcribe chunks at a time. The conversation ran from Spaceman Lee to Theodore Roethke to David Halberstam. Mostly we talked about writing. Here are some of the most compelling excerpts from the First Ever Pitchers and Poets Interview.

Courtesy of GlennStout.net

Courtesy of GlennStout.net

On how he found Pitchers and Poets:

I don’t remember to tell you the truth. I was cruising on the internet for something and I saw a reference to it pop up. I like pitchers and poets so I thought “I’ve got to check that out.” Then I saw the “Death of a Pitcher” post, read it, and really liked that. I thought “I’m going to write that guy.”

On becoming a writer:

Well, there’s only 26 letters. And nobody’s that much better at putting them together than you are. I’m not in awe of the process that gets it done. When I grew up the notion that I would be a writer and would know people who were writers was like walking on the fucking moon. I thought that was just not accessible. Now that it is, I’m not intimidated by it, at least not many more. I deal with people now that I can’t believe I get to talk to, sometimes. I find out that they’ve read me and I just can’t believe it. But it doesn’t intimidate me. We’re all plowing the same field in some way.

I think a lot of writers put up needless road blocks. Artists in general will find reasons not to do things. A lot of doing it just entails sitting down and putting in the time. And in that way I feel like I share some things with people who are much better than I. IF nothing else, I put in the time.

On becoming a sports writer:

I got out of school in 1981. There were no jobs then. Nobody I knew had a job doing anything remotely close to what they wanted to do for 3 or 4 years. Of course back then there wasn’t the opportunity to do blogs. You couldn’t really do anything. You got a shit job doing something and you bitched and moaned and complained with all your friends.

This time is like that time, as time, where if you’re serious about writing you keep doing it regardless. A lot of times when I talk to younger writers I say that the one difference between being a writer and not being a writer is that the people who are writers are the ones who never quit. In a silly way, it’s almost that simple. Just don’t stop.

I just wanted to write. Sports writing was sort of an accident for me. When I was at the Boston Public Library I stumbled across a story about the Red Sox manager in 1907 who killed himself in Spring Training. The general attitude was that he couldn’t handle the pressure of managing the team, but something didn’t sit right with me about that. I looked it up in old newspapers, found out what happened, and wrote query letters tot the Globe and to Boston Magazine. Boston Magazine ended up buying it for $300 and the editor really liked me. So I became their Sports Columnist without having any previously published clips.

On the current state of sports writing:

I think the big problem with sports writing today, if you want to say that there’s a big problem with it (and you can argue that there is), is that too many people try to write like they talk on the radio. It just leads to columns that have no shape or form but just spew opinions. A really good column should have shape and form. If you’re just arguing about who should start at quarterback, they don’t

The thing about blogs – and I recently started my own and I appreciate them – is that very few people put the time in for either the writing or reporting on a blog that you would for a print publication. Not too many people have the discipline to do that for two, or three, or four days a week. Bu there’s a lot of great info in them, a lot of great data, occasionally some really good writing.

On David Halberstam:

I feel pretty fortunate that I was allowed to work with him. I met him before BASW when he came to the library to research “Summer Of 49.” I was kind of the unofficial curator of sports stuff at the time. He was business-like, but he didn’t try to big-league me or anything like that. He solicited my opinion about things. For a young writer to have somebody of stature pay attention to you at all was sort of significant. That’s the kind of thing that can really give you a confidence boost.

On his favorite baseball poems:

I really like the Tom Clark Poem “To Bill Lee. He’s a west coast San Francisco poet, kind of a neo-beat. I really, really think that Casey at the Bat is terrific, too. In a lot of ways I think baseball writing really begins with it. It’s got an amazing lead and there are moments in it with just great description, like “benches black with people.”

On his favorite ballplayers:

As a kid I was a huge Clemente fan, because I was a Pittsburgh fan growing up outside Columbus where the AAA team was a Pittsburgh farm team. I also like guys like Sparky Lyle. My first bat was a Yaz model. I always liked pitchers because that’s what I did. One of my first baseball memories is having a t shirt with a cartoon drawing of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris on the front.

I got my tonsils out when I was like 5, and I had my mom iron a number 9 on the back for Maris. I grew up in Ohio and the only big league baseball we ever saw at the time was the Yankees on the Game of the Week.

On his favorite poets:

Theodore Roethke. In particular, “Straw for the Fire,” a book of fragments from his notebooks was really influential on me. Also, James Wright. He is much more regional and I was from Ohio, so that has resonance. I also like Rilke in translation, especially the Michael Hamburger translation.

On reading poetry outside of Fenway Park on Opening Day for 9 years:

I was just a couple years out of college and I was into combining the things that I liked. That’s the goal, right? I liked baseball, I liked poetry. I was kind of involved in the local coffeehouse poetry scene in Boston. I got a little pig nose amplifier, started collecting poetry, and we just went out there. I’d send out press releases, TV stations would cover us, and newspaper columnists would cover us. It was kind of a kick in the head.

Believe it or not, one of those days I was up in the bleachers and Bill Lee was sitting right next to me. I showed him the Tom Clarke poem in my notebook, which ends something like “and then you went to China,” and he read it and said [does Bill Lee impression] “that’s a great poem!”

Just recently, I ran into him having breakfast here in Vermont. He didn’t remember the story – I think he’d had a lot to drink that day, I know I’d had a few – but when I mentioned the Tom Clark poem again, he said the exact same thing: “that’s a great poem!”

On his own baseball poetry:

I never tried to write baseball poetry per se. Those baseball poems that are on the website are the only ones that I ever wrote. I wrote thousands of poems and those are the only ones that I wrote about baseball.

I never, when I’m doing poetry, sit around and try to write about baseball. Sometimes it ends up about rocks and trees, or somebody walking down the street, or sometimes about baseball. Sometimes the ones that seem like they’re about baseball are really about something else, and some of the ones that seem like they’re about something else are really about baseball.

On writing poetry:

It’s all magic, it’s not like the other stuff. It’s not like the other writing. I don’t do as much of it now as I used to. It’s hard to do it when I’m doing this other kind of writing all the time, non-fiction. To write poetry you have to be in a different kind of head space. It’s being mindful of that interior voice. Just sitting around is a great thing to do to write poetry. Being a security guard or working at the library was a great place to write poetry. Lots of break time

I went to Bard College and the big guy there was Robert Kelly. He wasn’t really heavy handed. He was kind of those neo-Ezra Pound poets. I wasn’t but he could care less. Some of the best advice he ever gave us in a workshop one day was that “None of you guys should ever worry about being published. If you’re meant to be published, you’ll be published. So don’t sit there and worry about it.” I think that’s true. If the work is good enough, if you share it enough, someone will want to publish it.

Thanks again to Mr. Stout. Be sure to check out his latest, “The Young Woman and the Sea,” which was recently chosen as one of five nonfiction books to read this summer by the Wall Street Journal, and read his blog Verb Plow.