The Red Sox return to Fenway Park Monday to start an eight-game homestand with a makeup game against the Miami Marlins.
I’m looking forward to meeting Kiké Hernández in person for the first time.
Marwin Gonzalez, too, along with Garrett Richards, Matt Andriese, and the rest of the players I so far know only through a video screen.
Major League Baseball, the Players Association, and the Baseball Writers’ Association of America have negotiated a plan to let vaccinated reporters on the field for batting practice starting Monday.
While wearing masks, we’ll be allowed to interview players before games.
It’s the first step in what the BBWAA hopes will be a gradual return to reporters being allowed back in the clubhouse for the first time since 2019.
In the big picture of pandemic-related issues, media access to athletes is far down the list. But one thing we learned last year was just how much people missed pro sports when they were shut down.
That’s especially true of baseball because it’s played almost every day for six months. A season unfolds like a book or a television series except the characters are the players, managers, and coaches.
It’s the media’s job to provide context and commentary along the way to enhance the experience of following your team. Or sometimes to dig out news the team would prefer to hide.
That job is done better — and more fairly — when you can actually talk to the people involved face to face. Or mask to mask for now.
Take Hernández as an example. He snapped an 0-for-27 slump Saturday with an RBI double in the eighth inning. Prior to the postgame interview session, Hernández hadn’t been available to interview for 16 days.
As a reporter, it would have been worthwhile to approach Hernández in the clubhouse to ask about his slump. Maybe he was playing injured. Maybe he was getting pitched differently in the American League since coming over from the Dodgers. Maybe it’s just a slump.
In my experience, you learn more about a player during the tough times than you do when he’s going well. Those opportunities are lost when access is determined by the team or it’s through a video screen.
There’s been a lot of talk about the value of press conferences in the wake of Naomi Osaka’s dispute with the French Open.
Within baseball, formal press conferences are rare outside of the postseason. Usually we meet with the manager before and after the game and it’s more of a conversation.
The same is generally true with the players. Pregame interviews are generally one-on-one, with postgame interviews done in a group and usually pretty quickly.
Any particularly informative or entertaining story you’ve read about a player, or a certain aspect of the game, was almost certainly the product of a pregame conversation.
Zooms served their purpose at a time when people couldn’t safely gather. But there was rarely much candor or personality shown with a team official standing close by.
I asked Alex Cora his thoughts about the media again being able to interact with the team given his experience as a player, an analyst for ESPN, and now as a manager.
“I think it’s good,” he said. “Part of the media is relationships, right? You guys work hard. For you to be around the players or around batting practice is a first step.
“It’s very important because the job that you guys do is to inform the fan base. They’re starving for information. I know it’s been tough for a year, but I do believe the access is going to benefit the product.
“The information will keep flowing. Some guys probably don’t feel the same way I do. But at the same time, without you guys people don’t know the real story. They don’t know the players.”
Cora is right; everybody in the game won’t welcome this step. But we’re all in the same boat to some extent.
Baseball has become an increasingly regionalized sport when compared with the NFL and NBA and is working on rules changes to make the game more appealing.
At the same time, many media companies are cutting costs and staff. Half as many reporters cover the Red Sox on the road now as did 10 years ago.
Salaries are falling for players, too.
We don’t work together, but we share a common goal of seeing the game succeed and having people interested in the outcome.
The Red Sox have been a compelling story this season. Now it can be told a little better.