The day Pudge saved my career
By Shannon Drayer
We will get back to the Mariners on Tuesday but today I wanted to share one of my favorite stories from nearly 15 years of covering baseball. It is a story that I have told a few times but I don’t believe I have ever put in print. It is the story of the man who I credit with saving my career almost before it ever got started. That man announced his retirement in Texas on Tuesday after 21 years in the big leagues.
I think many of you are familiar with how I got my start in this business. I won a contest. I was a huge sports fan, someone thought I should enter the contest at the local sports station, I was pulled in for an on-air audition and I came away with a four-hour-a-week update job. I didn’t quit my day job for four years, learned everything I could on the job, was stubborn in my insistence that I wanted to report and nothing else, climbed the ladder, and here I am. Of course along the way I got a lot of help from a lot of people, with perhaps the biggest boost coming early on from Ivan Rodriguez.
Ivan Rodriguez waves to fans at Rangers Ballpark on Monday during a ceremony honoring his career. (AP)
My dream had always been to cover baseball. I wasn’t allowed near the Mariners in my first year. In the second year I was finally allowed to tag along to learn the ropes. I will never forget the day in 1998 when I was finally given a pass and allowed to walk onto the turf at the Kingdome. I followed my sports director, listened to his questions, watched how he worked the clubhouse and waited for the opportunity to fill in as reporter when needed. When that day finally came I was given the assignment of covering the postgame clubhouse of the visiting Texas Rangers.
I prepared as best I could for that assignment but I was still scared out of my wits when it came time to go down to the clubhouse by myself for the first time. A major league clubhouse, especially back, then can be an intimidating place. And just my luck, the Rangers lost that night. It was far from a happy place.
The visitors’ clubhouse at the Kingdome was tiny. I had never been on that side before and I was shocked to see how small and exposed it was. If you were to be in that clubhouse you would have to be in the very middle of it. There were no other options. Nowhere to hide, not even for a very small reporter, which is what I was and what I felt at that moment. It didn’t help that I was the only woman, either. I was very intimidated in what was an angry clubhouse.
There was also another challenge that I hadn’t anticipated. After the game the jerseys came off. Without the names on their backs I wasn’t sure who most of these guys were. I knew numbers but I didn’t know faces. This could be trouble.
I looked around the clubhouse and saw one face I recognized: Pudge. He was sitting at his locker with a group of reporters around him. I walked over to the group, hit record on my Marantz tape recorder and shyly stuck my microphone in with the others. After a few minutes I decided to ask a question. I waited until Pudge had finished his answer and then started to ask it. I was immediately interrupted by a reporter to my left.
OK, I thought to myself, when he finishes I will try again.
I did. Again I was interrupted by the same reporter. Talked right over me. This time I was rattled. I got ready to ask another question but what little confidence I had was waning. Maybe I wasn’t aggressive enough for this job. I was getting walked right over. It was almost as if I wasn’t there. I shot a look to the clubhouse door and thought about bolting.
Pudge finished answering the question and I gave it one last shot. Again, the same reporter interrupted me. That was it. I couldn’t do this job. I was devastated. I had done everything I could to prepare and when it came to go time I was pushed aside. I started to take a step back, wanting to get out of there before the tears of frustration came, when all of a sudden Rodriguez looked up with a laser-like stare at the reporter who had cut me off for a third time.
“The lady is speaking,” he said.
The reporter bristled a little but Pudge turned his focus to me and nodded. Shakily, I got my far-from-brilliant question out and he patiently answered it, keeping eye contact the entire time. I asked a follow-up question, got my answer, thanked him and walked out of the clubhouse.
What he did was hardly heroic (though I guess to me it was) but incredibly decent. It is moments like those that stand out to me when I am asked who I have most enjoyed meeting in this job. People often appreciate how I show the human side of the players. Well, the reporters have human sides too and it is much appreciated when this is noticed by the players we cover.
Years later, when the Tigers were in town, I was sitting in the visitors’ dugout before batting practice at Safeco Field one afternoon when Rodriguez came out of the clubhouse and sat down on the bench. He was alone, gazing out at the field, killing a few minutes before he had to go to work. I approached him and asked if he had a minute. He invited me to sit down.
“Interview?” he asked.
No, I told him. I wanted to tell him a quick story if he had a minute. I didn’t expect that he would remember the night 10 years ago and I hardly thought it would mean anything to him, but I wanted him to know that he had made a difference in my life.
As I told the story he started to smile. When I finished he asked, “So what are you doing now?”
I told him that I was now working on the broadcast and traveling with the team. He asked how that was going and if I enjoyed what I was doing and I said I did. I asked how things were going for him and if he was still enjoying what he was doing and he said he was. He thanked me for the story and wished me luck with everything and walked back into the clubhouse to get ready for the game.
These were the only two times I spoke with Ivan Rodriguez, but those brief moments told me a lot. I am sorry to see him leave the game but grateful he was a part of it.