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Posts Tagged ‘Kauffman Stadium’

The door closed behind me as I entered the manager’s office in Kauffman Stadium’s visiting clubhouse. I introduced myself to Terry Francona as we shook hands. It wasn’t uncommon for me to interview accomplished baseball men, so I wasn’t nervous about talking with Francona, the two-time World Series-winning skipper of the Boston Red Sox. However, I was excited; I’d always enjoyed Francona’s interviews over the years and I’d heard he was an outstanding guest. My first question to Francona was a little long-winded. No, it was very long-winded. Something about the Red Sox struggles early in the year, the fact Boston has played a lot better since, but they still have the Yankees to contend with for the division, although they could still win the wild card even if they don’t win the division. It took me about 30 seconds to get all of that out and, while I was talking, my brain was telling my mouth to shut up, but my mouth wasn’t responding.

When I was done with my first question, I pointed my digital recorder toward Francona. He looked at me through his wire-rimmed glasses.

“Well, that was a mouthful!” Francona said.

And my interview was off to a terrible start. I was flustered and neither Francona nor I could get past my opening salvo. The rest of my questions – while shorter – were mediocre, as were Francona’s responses. The Red Sox media relations rep told me I had 3-4 minutes to interview the manager and, when I’d gotten through about 3 ½ minutes of misery, Francona gave me the “wrap it up” sign with his right index finger, which threw me off even further and led to another terrible question and another subpar answer. After we were done, I thanked Francona, who seemed annoyed. I couldn’t blame him; I did a terrible job.

Even though interviewing is an important part of sports broadcasting, very little time is spent on properly teaching and honing necessary interview skills. Very few people in sports broadcasting are hired based on their interview skills; the sound of one’s play-by-play or the strength of one’s sports-talk radio opinions take precedence. I was never asked or quizzed on my interview skills when I got my first broadcasting jobs; those doing the hiring assumed I’d be able to be an effective interviewer. Although you may not get a job because of your ability to interview and ask good questions, not doing both well could make it difficult to keep or establish credibility with the coaches and athletes you cover.

The most important thing I try to remember when conducting interviews for broadcast is people want to hear from my interviewee and not from me. As a result, my questions should be succinct and to the point. One of my pet peeves is media members who ask long questions, like I did in my first question with Francona. Long-winded questions are the result of a questioner trying to show how smart he or she is and/or not having a fully-formed question or idea when he or she starts talking (in the above example with Francona, I was guilty of both).

An interviewer should try not to ask yes-or-no questions, but sometimes that will happen even if you’re trying to prevent it. However, that’s where asking good follow-up questions comes into play. I’ve seen too many media members get a “yes” or a “no” to their question and not follow up; just because you got a “yes” or a “no” doesn’t mean the interviewee has no desire to elaborate. Sometimes, succinct questions lead to succinct answers, but that’s where follow-up questions come into play. It doesn’t mean you have to turn into Jack Bauer interrogating a terrorist, but good follow-up questions are essential for a good interview. And, if you pay attention, the interviewee will let you know how much he or she is willing to say.

That’s another key to a good interview – paying attention. Most media members go into an interview with an idea of questions to ask. Some write those questions down, others don’t – I jot down notes for a few questions for a little more than half of the interviews I conduct. However, the interviewee may bring up something in one of his or her answers that is worthy of exploration and further elaboration. I go into every interview with a plan, but I’m not afraid to deviate from that plan if circumstances indicate I should. Part of my problem in my interview with Francona was I tried too hard to ask him most of what I wanted to ask in the first question, rather than opening with simple, concise questions and letting Francona’s responses guide subsequent questions.

You may be wondering, if I’m aware of these interview rules, how did I mess up my interview with Francona? Even the best interviewers (and I’m far from one of the best) screw up the basics sometimes, which is why it’s important to remind ourselves of those tenets. My debacle with Francona also underscores the need to listen to ourselves, the need to be self-critical and self-correcting. The best broadcasters I’ve dealt with know they’re good, but also know they’re fallible, and they look to correct mistakes or tighten up their performance at every opportunity. One of the reasons I love working with and listening to younger and less experienced broadcasters is it forces me to go back to basics; critiquing their work and reinforcing or introducing elementary concepts to them reminds me of those concepts as well.

More than anything, keep interviewing simple. Or else, Terry Francona will think you’re an idiot.

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I heard the gripes not long after Major League Baseball announced that Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium would host the 2012 All-Star Game and all of its related festivities. No one’s going to want to come to Kansas City. Like so many other ballparks, Kauffman Stadium isn’t located downtown and getting from Point A to Point B is going to be a logistical nightmare. The influx of tourists is going to make it impossible to get around. Kansas City is going to get embarrassed and the obnoxious folks from the Eastern and Pacific time zones are going to make fun of our town.

New York Yankees star second baseman Robinson Cano added insult to injury when he didn’t pick Billy Butler – the only Kansas City Royals player selected for the All-Star Game – for the Home Run Derby after indicating that he would. All week, Cano was booed mercilessly by the Kansas City faithful, especially during the Home Run Derby, when he failed to get even one ball over the fence. The outcry over Kansas City’s treatment of Cano came from both local and national media. How dare our fans behave so poorly on a national stage, some of the locals said. How dare Kansas Citians act so disrespectfully toward Cano, some of the out-of-towners said. Kansas Citians took both responses to their actions personally. The worst fears of many Kansas Citians were confirmed.

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I’d never thought about Kansas City as a potential landing spot, nor did I know what to expect or have any preconceived notions of the region before I moved here. But, after 3 ½ years, Kansas City has grown on me; I love it in the Heartland and wouldn’t mind calling Kansas City my home for the foreseeable future. It’s a great place to raise a family. There’s lots to do here and activities are plentiful regardless of your interests, relationship status or age group. Jobs here may not be as abundant as they once were, but they aren’t ridiculously scarce either. There’s excellent cuisine, including out-of-this-world barbecue. The summers can be oppressive, but the winters aren’t horrendous. The cost of living is manageable. Most locals I talk to agree with me that Kansas City is a fantastic place that has a lot going for it. But, they still aren’t satisfied.

The term “flyover state bias” was foreign to me until I moved here; Kansas City gets overlooked because it isn’t on a coast, locals say. People from St. Louis look down on Kansas City because St. Louis is bigger and has a better baseball team, I’m told. Our sports teams will never get the attention they deserve because they can’t spend money like the teams in bigger markets and because everyone thinks Kansas City is some backwater, I’ve heard. The only sports fans in the region who don’t seem to have a negative outlook are University of Kansas basketball fans; but the Jayhawks always win and their program was started by Dr. James Naismith, the guy who invented basketball for crying out loud, and you really can’t beat that.

Before moving to Kansas City, I’d never lived anywhere where a sense of inferiority was both prevalent and justified. The folks of Yakima, Washington thought their part of the country was inferior, but they were right; Yakima’s in the middle of nowhere with high unemployment and crippling poverty. Kalamazoo, Michigan was a smaller city that had plenty going on and people there seemed to have a good understanding of what they were and what they weren’t; they knew where they fit in the pecking order. Binghamton, New York had several shuttered factories and quite a few broken dreams, but it was also home to a large public university and near several bigger cities, so most people there didn’t seem to feel trapped or doomed.

My sensibilities about where I live developed from growing up in New York City. New York has a lot to talk about: there’s plenty to do, its attractions are world class and it’s extraordinarily diverse. New York also has its downsides: plenty of crime, a high cost of living, filth and overcrowding. I, like most New York natives, think New York is the greatest city in the world. Of course, there are plenty of people who think New York is overrated and/or a pit of despair. However, New Yorkers don’t really care what others think of their city. If you like New York, great. If you don’t, that’s your problem. When someone argues with a New Yorker that another city is better, the New Yorker is convinced he or she will win the argument. That swagger is a big part of what makes New Yorkers who they are and it’s also why many others find New Yorkers to be insufferable. But, again, New Yorkers don’t care what you think of them or their city.

I wish Kansas Citians had some swagger; not to the level of New Yorkers mind you, but some swagger is a lot better than no swagger. I wish they talked down to those St. Louisans who boast about their great baseball team, their steel arch and their Gateway to the West moniker and tell them their barbecue sucks, White Castle is overrated and the fountains in Kansas City make it look prettier. I wish they thumbed their noses at the East and West Coasters who deride Kansas City as a cowtown that mirrors the backwoods locales in Deliverance, but on a larger scale, and asked them if they’ve even visited; I’ve yet to learn of someone from the coasts who’s visited who hasn’t been amazed by Kansas City’s beauty, modernity, entertainment options and hospitality. I wish Kansas Citians didn’t have that sky-is-falling mentality and assume Kansas City was always going to get the short end of the stick simply because it’s Kansas City; that tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy and there are plenty of examples of Kansas City not getting the short shrift that tend to get ignored by the natives.

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The week of the All-Star Game festivities was a glorious one. The Weather Gods cooperated, and we got a one-week break from 90- and 100-degree weather, with temperatures falling into the 70s and 80s, which is uncommon in July. I heard nary a complaint from visitors about how spread out Kansas City is and, by all reports, the city did a great job of compensating, with plenty of shuttle buses to transport folks between Kauffman Stadium and downtown. Everyone I talked to raved about the food, particularly the barbecue, and the plethora of quality restaurants and bars. The two All-Star Game managers, Ron Washington and Tony LaRussa, went out of their way to praise Kansas City for the job they did. A few people who’ve covered multiple All-Star Games told me their All-Star experience in Kansas City rated in their top five. Many folks stood up for Kansas City fans, saying their booing of Cano showed how much they support their own and that their standing ovation for retiring Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones – who was playing in Kansas City for the first time in his long and illustrious career – a classy and savvy gesture. Over and over, I heard from out-of-towners that they were wowed by Kansas City.

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More than anything, I wish Kansas City acted like the woman who knows she’s not the most attractive chickadee out there, but knows she’s pretty darn good looking in her own right. The woman who intelligently plays up her assets without coming off as desperate and ignores the naysayers; I don’t care that some guys are turned off by my flat backside because many more will love my shapely legs. Her confidence and lack of insecurities make her seem prettier than she actually is. If Kansas Citians are confident about Kansas City’s perception and place in the world, others will be too.

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