Monthly Archives: December 2007

Behind The Scenes at Fenway

yawkey-way-at-game-time.jpgLast week, the Red Sox invited me to visit the team’s offices on Yawkey Way. “Why don’t you come by around noon on Wednesday and sit in on a bunch of meetings?” And so I did. Between noon and 4pm, I attended four meetings:

1. A bi-weekly meeting of the team’s vice presidents and directors (I counted 28 of them), led by team president, Larry Lucchino. Each VP/director gave a brief update on his/her area of responsibility and fielded a question or two from Lucchino. Even yours truly was asked to say a few words. (“I don’t mean to put you on the spot, Rob,” said Larry, “but what’s the state of the Nation?”)

2. A meeting led by senior vice president sales/marketing, Sam Kennedy, to discuss the status of the Red Sox Fellows Program’s recruiting efforts.

3. A meeting led by Sam Kennedy and director of client services, Troup Parkinson, with executives from a company that currently spends about a half-million dollars per year in advertising with the Red Sox. The purpose of the meeting was to brainstorm ways to reconfigure the deal going forward.

4. A meeting led by manager of community marketing, Mardi Fuller, on “Marketing to Women.”

Rather than give you the blow by blow on these meetings, I thought I’d share with you the most striking take-aways of my afternoon at Fenway:

1. Larry Lucchino has the entire organization under his thumb, and he seems to enjoy being president and getting involved in the details of every aspect of the organization. He ran the VP/directors meeting like an emcee, sprinkling in anecdotes from time to time, quizzing VPs on facts about their area, and handing out praise generously. He is clearly well-liked and highly respected by his charges.

2. Out of the 28 team VP/directors who spoke at that first mfenway-at-sunset.jpgeeting, only two mentioned actual baseball players: Brian O’Halloran, director of baseball operations (he attended in Theo Epstein’s stead), who gave a brief update on minor transactions that had occurred in the last two weeks, and Dick Bresciani, the team’s historian and archivist, who gave a spirited presentation about “this week in Red Sox history.” As a fan, it was striking to see that 95% of the meeting focused on issues that would bore most fans to tears.

3. At lunch, following the VP/directors meeting, I had a chance to talk with Ron Bumgarner, who runs the ticketing operation. “The Yankees and every other pro sports organization laughs at us for the lengths we go to to try to make tickets accessible to regular fans,” he said. And after 20 minutes of hearing about the thought process behind their ticket operations, I believed him.

He confessed that sometimes the lengths to which the Sox go to make things fair have a negative effect on their efforts to make the experience easy. For example, when tickets are available online, some people wait ten minutes to purchase tickets, while others who have waited hours and hours and were “in line” first get nothing. He explained that if the Sox did not pluck folks out of the “virtual waiting room” randomly, the agencies/resellers would chew up all the tickets – because they have the manpower and, more importantly, the programmer power to dominate the “front of the line” and proactively “mole” their computers to butt in the queue. He said that they could sell out Fenway’s 81 games in one day if they wanted to, and that would make their job easy, but they don’t do that because it would not be fair to the “average fans.”

4. I assumed that the Red Sox Fellows Program would cater to the grandchildren of owners and nieces of senior vice presidents, but the meeting on the Fellows Program made it clear to me that the Sox are truly looking for a robust, diverse pool of applicants. Just as the baseball operations people are looking for talented players, the business operations people are looking for talented, capable “fellows” to inject the organization with energy and to develop executives of the future. (For more information on the Red Sox Fellows Program, click here. Applications for the 2008 season are due January 4, 2008.)

5. It was fascinating to me that 80% of the 90 minute-long meeting with the corporate sponsor was spent “developing the relationship” — talking about the 2007 season, catching up on how business is going, talking about mutual friends and acquaintances. Only 20% of the time was spent exploring the future of the company’s business relationship with the Sox, and no actual financial terms of a deal were discussed.

6. The Red Sox have a gigantic “home field advantage” when meeting with potential corporate sponsors at Fenway Park. Sam and Troup probably didn’t notice the awe twinkling in the eyes of the three guest executives (two of whom had flown in from D.C., and one from New York) as they walked down the corridor to the conference room, gazing at the posters and photos of Red Sox greats on the walls. What was perhaps ‘just another meeting’ for Sam and Troup was clearly one of the most exciting business meetings of the year for their guests. When we sat down for the meeting, a snow-covered Fenway Park loomed in the background through the window wall. Even if you’re not a baseball fan, you can’t help sprouting goosebumps in that room.

remy-and-orsillo-bobbleheads.jpg7. One question that was raised at the “Marketing to Women” meeting was, “With every game sold out and TV ratings high, and with a broader female fan base than any other major league baseball team, why should the Red Sox care about appealing to women more than they already do?” The two big answers were: Because an organization that appeals to women as well as men will thrive even when the team isn’t winning, and because women represent half of the potential customer base/audience.

Other interesting points raised included: a) Women (and men) spend more time directly experiencing the Red Sox through NESN (and their team of Jerry Remy, Don Orsillo, and Tina Cervasio) than through personal trips to Fenway Park. Therefore, any marketing efforts targeting women need to examine the effectiveness of this channel. b) Men (whom are the default targets of existing Red Sox marketing efforts) have young daughters they want to bring to Fenway Park; they have girlfriends and wives who sometimes accompany them when they attend a game or watch on TV; and certainly “baseball” can compete with all these women for “quality time” in the life of a male fan. Therefore, the more broadly the team appeals to women, the more broadly it will appeal to its default audience of men, as well.cubicles.jpg

8. In the end, the Red Sox offices are still offices where people go to work every day (most are crammed into small cubicles), and the nature of their work is not unlike the work done in other organizations: finance, marketing, customer relations, sales, advertising, public relations, etc. While all Red Sox employees have highly coveted jobs, they don’t walk around exuding excitement and gratitude for their good luck; in fact, I’d say they all looked pretty worn out after a long, strenuous 2007. (I assume the office atmosphere is slightly different in May, during a Yankees homestand, the day after an Ortiz walk-off home run…)

I want to thank the Red Sox organization for welcoming me into their offices for a few hours. Their hospitality rates a ten out of ten, and I appreciate their high hopes for the new roles of President and Vice President of Red Sox Nation.

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My “Sports Books Hall of Fame”

There are hundreds of sports books in my library. Most were gifts from friends and family, and over the years I’ve probably read less than half of them (lots of good reading to look forward to). Here, I’ll share with you the seven that truly stand out. I’ve listed them in the order that I read them, and I’m restricting myself to three sentences per title:

mental-game-of-baseball.jpgThe Mental Game of Baseball, by H.A. Dorfman and Karl Kuehl
This book was loaned to me by then-9th grader (and later, NHL defenseman) Deron Quint in about 1991 (at age 23) when I was a teacher at the boarding school he attended. I had always believed there was an important psychological side to pitching, hitting, and fielding success, yet this book was the first to verify that and to offer many useful techniques. I know that this book gave me an edge in my Yawkey Amateur League of Boston pitching career, from 1991-1999, and I’ve integrated many of its basic teachings into my everyday life.

friday-night-lights.jpgFriday Night Lights: A Town, A Team, and a Dream, by H.G. Bissinger
It breaks your heart to read about these teenage athletes reaching the pinnacle of their lives in high school, then re-living their adolescent glory days the rest of their lives while pumping fuel at the gas station on the corner (similar to the movie, Hoop Dreams). And it’s stunning to see the religious fervor that’s generated by high school football in Texas. Superior writing makes this an unforgettable reading experience.

legend-of-bagger-vance.jpgThe Legend of Bagger Vance, by Steven Pressfield
Just a marvelous, metaphysical golf story, incredibly well written. When I finished it, I remember thinking, “That’s one of the greatest novels I’ve ever read – if not the greatest.” One of those books that casts a spell on you while you’re reading it, then leaves you enchanted at its conclusion.

golf-is-not-a-game-of-perfect.jpgGolf Is Not A Game Of Perfect, by Dr. Bob Rotella
I read this in 1998 and promptly went out and shot my best round of golf ever – BY FAR (best piece of advice: don’t add up your score – or even think about your score – until the end of your round). I won’t even tell you the score I achieved because you wouldn’t believe me, but I’ve also never come close to playing that well for 18 holes since then. After reading the book, I wrote its most important principles on a sheet of paper, and I review this sheet prior to every round I play (I keep the tattered old piece of paper in my golf bag).

for-love-of-the-game.jpgFor Love Of The Game, by Michael Shaara
I’m not sure when I read this, but I know I read it in one sitting (it’s a compact, 152-page paperback). An aging, former all-star pitcher, in the last year of his career, unexpectedly finds himself pitching the best game of his life, and each out brings him closer and closer to perfection. It’s the kind of novel I would write if I knew how to write a novel (and Shaara, a Pulitzer Prize-winner, knows how to write a novel).

moneyball.jpg Moneyball, by Michael Lewis
A non-sports fan would enjoy this book and call it “an excellent piece of non-fiction,” but to sports fans, it’s just about the best non-fiction book we’ve ever read. Michael Lewis is a masterful storyteller, and what a fascinating story this is about the “small market” Oakland A’s using insights into player statistics to compete against teams with payrolls five times as large. After reading this book, you’ll never look at baseball statistics the same way again.

sabr-record-book.jpgThe SABR Baseball List & Record Book: Baseball’s Most Fascinating Records and Unusual Statistics, by the Society for American Baseball Research
There are a lot of record books out there, but this one is definitely the most entertaining. The title of this book describes its contents perfectly: it’s filled with “fascinating records and unusual statistics” that keep you smiling, page after page. Here are two examples:

i) “Most at-bats in a season without a hit by a non-pitcher”

(answer: 35, by Hal Finney, Pittsburgh, 1936);

ii) “Batting Champion by Widest Margin”

(answer: .086, by Nap Lajoie, Philadelphia, who hit .426 in 1901 – the runner-up, Mike Donlin, Baltimore, hit .340).

What are your favorite sports books of all-time?

Say It Ain’t So

Did you have a weird sick feeling while listening to or reading the Mitchell Report? I did.

I was truly afraid that an important Red Sox player would be on the list.

Besides the impact it would have on the team’s ability to repeat as champs next season, why would having an important Sox player on Mitchell’s list be so terrible?

1) Because these guys are almost like family to us. We sit in our living rooms and watch them play every night. We read about them every morning in the paper and we talk about them every day at work. We cheer hard for them. We admire them. We marvel at what they can do as human beings. We imagine what it would be like to be in their shoes. If an important Sox player were on the list, the process of readjusting my opinion of the person would hurt.

2) My son, along with the millions of kids in Red Sox Nation who wear the player’s t-shirt, would suddenly realize that their idol was a cheater. And that would be simply devastating. And that’s a conversation with my 8-year old son that I would like to avoid forever.

3) The magic and pride of the 2004 and 2007 World Series victories would be significantly diminished. After 86 years of demoralizing baseball inferiority, we’re finally at the top of the heap in Major League Baseball — and it would be a shame to give New Yorkers the ammo they crave to shoot down our accomplishments.

Many others have written about names of players they were surprised were NOT in the Mitchell Report, but here are the non Red Sox players I was most RELIEVED were not in the Mitchell Report:

cal-ripken.jpg1. Cal Ripken (along with Derek Jeter and Curt Schilling, the anchors of integrity in MLB)

2. Derek Jeter (sure, he’s a Yankee, but he’s also The Man)

3. Nomar Garciaparra (my son’s first favorite player, and still a favorite)

4. Pedro Martinez (would hate to see our 2004 season sullied)

5. Ichiro Suzuki (I like to believe that a human can do what he does, drug-free)

And finally, a quotation from Curt Schilling that really resonated with me (perhaps because, like him, I’m a parent of several children who look up to major leaguers):

“I think the bigger picture is the one that’s getting totally buried in this avalanche, is the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of kids that think this is the way to go,” Schilling said. “When you think about the fact that the two greatest players of our generation, arguably of all-time, the greatest hitter and pitcher that ever lived, are potentially the poster boys for cheating, it’s a horrible, horrible testament to today’s athlete.” (see full article here)

And of course Roger Clemens is now concerned about his Hall of Fame chances, but I expect he’s more concerned about how to explain all this to his own kids….

The Physics of the World Series Trophy

ws-trophy-and-kids.jpgI work at a school for kids ages 4 to 14, so when Jerry Remy selected me to be Vice President of Red Sox Nation (after I placed second in the presidential election), I immediately began brainstorming ways to bring “Red Sox love” to the students, teachers, and staff at my school. I like to think big, so I asked the Sox if I could have the World Series trophy for a morning. Miraculously, they responded that the trophy would be between other engagements and in my school’s area on a certain day, making it available to me and my school for perhaps 45 minutes. Unbelievable.

I arranged for the trophy to be a surprise. And what a surprise! I unveiled it at a school assembly at the conclusion of a brief speech to the community on the lesson that there are many ways to “win” in any contest besides getting the most points, getting the highest grade, or winning the gold medal. “For example,” I said, “I didn’t get the most votes in the race for president, but as the runner-up, today I have the chance to present to you THE RED SOX 2007 WORLD SERIES TROPHY!”

Within five seconds of the unveiling, the trophy and I were in a sea of kids (with a sprinkling of adults who had suddenly become kids again). Over the next hour, hundreds of students and teachers posed with the trophy, as did several of the construction workers out back and a few parents who were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

Posing for one particular photo, I put my arm around a member of our school’s maintenance staff who was holding the trophy, and his whole body was shaking and trembling uncontrollably. Other adults at the school were moved to tears when they finally cradled the trophy, and the smiles in their “trophy photos” express a wild combination of bewilderment and joy.

The first, second, and third graders lined up against the wall of a long hallway, and I paraded it down the hall slowly so they all could touch it. I wish you could’ve seen the expressions on their faces. (see above photo) Many of them hugged it, several of them kissed it, and their elation was every bit as real as the adults’.

I know physicists say that an object’s gravitational force is proportional to its mass, but then how do we account for the pronounced gravitational pull of the 33-lb World Series trophy? The way in which people at my school were drawn to it – the euphoric look in their eyes, their animal need to touch it and to hold it and to embrace it – well, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. And I’ve got my own amateur physicist’s theory:

kieltys-pinch-hit-homer-in-game-4.jpgThe World Series trophy’s mass consists of all the emotions of the season, as experienced by every member of Red Sox Nation. It includes the “mass” of the emotional roller coaster every fan experienced during the Mother’s Day Miracle” on May 13, when the Sox scored six in the ninth inning to beat Baltimore, 6-5. It includes the “mass” of the stress every fan experienced as the Yankees inched closer and closer to us in the A.L. East in August and September; it includes the “mass” of the emotions every fan experienced when Manny connected off of K-Rod for his walk-off homer in game 2 of the Division Series. And it includes the “mass” of every fan’s emotions at the moment Bobby Kielty hit his pinch-hit homer in game 4 of the World Series (pictured here). All these emotions from the 2007 season – and every emotion that occurred between these games, from every fan around the world – are contained within that 2007 World Series trophy. That’s a lot of “emotional mass,” and it helps account for the fact that the trophy has the gravitational force of a moon.

And the 2004 World Series trophy? Well it has the “emotional mass” of 86 years of Red Sox fan experiences crammed inside it. Only a Cubs trophy will ever come close to matching the “mass” of that baby…..

Goodbye, Dr. Steinberg

fathers-day-at-fenway-2002.jpgAs I wrote in my blog article, Fenway Holiday, one of the best days I’ve ever had at Fenway Park took place on Father’s Day, 2002. On that day, I brought my then three year-old son to his first Red Sox game. He insisted on wearing his duck boots (it was a wet day) and on wearing his blue Red Sox helmet backwards (funny, now that he’s 8, he still wears his hat backwards). After the game, my son and I joined thousands of others on Fenway’s outfield grass, playing catch in the shadow of the Green Monster. I’ll always remember the emotional rush of the day — an truly remarkable experience for a young dad — and I remember thinking, this is my favorite day as a parent.

That was my introduction to Dr. Charles Steinberg, the Red Sox’ Senior Vice President for Public Affairs who, last week, accepted a front office position with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Steinberg, who invented Fathers Day at Fenway, transformed the fan experience for all of us in Red Sox Nation, and the news of his departure made me truly sad. Am I being overly sentimental? No.

With Steinberg in the front office, we knew there was someone with power who was thinking about the kids of Red Sox Nation, and someone who was tending to the sacredness of the Fenway experience 81 games per year. Steinberg designed the Fenway experience for Fenway first-timers, which injected magic into the game for all fans, every game, regardless of the win-loss outcome.

Certainly, winning changed the tone of the fan experience at Fenway Park. But so much of the joy we’ve grown accustomed to at Fenway was masterminded by Steinberg. He is a treasure. He is L.A.’s treasure now. Seems a fitting destination for the Walt Disney of baseball.

Red Sox Nation will miss him. And we are grateful to him.

Sports Center Missed These…

Some of the greatest sports moments of the day never make it onto ESPN’s Sports Center. Two perfect examples:

amaker-at-harvard.jpg1. On Saturday night, Harvard’s men’s basketball team defeated the Michigan Wolverines before a sell-out crowd at Lavietes Pavillion in Cambridge, 62-51. That’s right, an Ivy League team that has NEVER won the Ivy League Title (a drought that’s comparable to the Red Sox’s 86-year ordeal) beat the one-time Big Ten powerhouse, a team full of Michigan’s best high school players, almost ALL of whom are on scholarship (Ivy League teams cannot give scholarships). I’m not a Harvard graduate, but I was in attendance and I was rooting hard for the underdogs.

At the end of the game, hundreds of Harvard students stormed the court. Has that EVER happened at a Harvard basketball game? And has there EVER been a bigger win in Harvard men’s basketball history? I think the only win that comes close was a victory over Boston College, at the Heights, several years ago.

amaker-at-duke.jpgSports Center loves great stories, and this victory has a doozy…. Harvard’s new coach, former Duke guard Tommy Amaker, was fired as Michigan’s coach last year. He could have taken a major division 1 coaching post this season but opted for Harvard and the challenge of winning their first-ever Ivy title. Amaker is too classy to call this victory “revenge,” but it is what it is — a coach who was fired by a big-time program went to a coaching graveyard against the advice of his old mentor (Coach K) and then defeated the school that fired him. Awesome.

roberts-final-pitch-11-07.jpg 2. Last weekend, I played the 355th game of wiffle ball vs. my 8 year-old son and his best friend in our backyard, and the way the game ended will be talked about for years and years at our family’s kitchen table. In over three years, I have never beaten these two kids. (Yes, to handicap myself I do bat lefty and I let them hum the ball from a pitcher’s mound that’s about 25 feet from home, but these guys don’t win because I’m not trying, they win because they earn it.) Last weekend, for about two and one-half seconds, I thought victory was mine…. and then, it was snatched away.

Bdaddy-hits-it-deep-11-07.jpgases were loaded, two outs, I was down by two runs, bottom of the last inning, 2-2 count. My son hucked a fast curveball over the plate and I pulled it, driving it deep to right field… way back, way back…. could this be Daddy’s first victory ever at Fenway West?… then his friend soared over the plastic green fence, glove arm outstretched, caught the ball, and slammed to the ground. GAME OVER. My son and his friend screamed, ran to each other, and chest-butted. I just stood there, stunned at what I had just seen.

christopher-makes-the-game-saving-catch-11-07.jpgI knew at that moment that I would write about the game on this blog, and I knew exactly what I would say – that sometimes, the most elegant, miraculous, unbelievable sports moments happen right in our own backyards, when no fans are watching and nothing is at stake except individual pride. That catch was, truly, every bit as good as the best Coco Crisp catches, and the fact that it saved the game and a three-year unbeaten streak made it an instant classic. No film crews were there to record the incredible play – it will never make it onto The Best Damn Sports Show’s 50 Greatest Catches of All-Time – but the three of us who were there may never forget it. Indeed, our heroic, 8 year-old right fielder may never make a catch as great as that one the rest of his life. Don’t you just love sports??