First Pitch: Clarity

“And I will wait to find

If this will last forever”

There’s a thought I used to have.

How long can I do this?

That’s a question with potential answers that aren’t always up to you to determine. I learned that around 2018.

The Pirates were bleeding fans, and thus, we were bleeding subscribers. I didn’t know when, or if the bleeding would stop. There was nothing I could do to make an angered Pirates fan decide to continue following the team, and honestly, there was nothing I wanted to do in that regard. That’s just not my job.

My job is a mixture of about eight different jobs. You see the writing part, but there are so many other factors involved in running this site.

In the past, I’d spend at least 80 hours a week on this job. I’d wake up at a normal time in the morning and write a few articles. I’d hang out most of the day, working on site stuff. Around 5 PM, when there was a game to cover, I’d get ready to head over to the park. Game over around 9:30-10 PM, hopefully finished with interviews by 11 PM, go back and write my prospect reports, then First Pitch, and hopefully be done by 2 AM, in bed no later than 3.

Wake up around 9:30-10 AM the next morning and do it all again.

My entire life was baseball.

My entire life is baseball.

Life is baseball.

How long could I do this life?

*****

No one else in the house is awake.

I’m wide awake and ready by the radio.

There’s a contest that is giving away free Pirates tickets in the Altoona area.

All you need to do is call in and tell them what happens at the end of the Play of the Day.

They play a few seconds of a clip, and the first person to call in telling what happens next wins the tickets.

I first heard about it the day before.

It’s 1995.

It’s late summertime.

I’m about to turn 12 years old.

My family is about to move from Hollidaysburg to a small town in Virginia that is an hour away from Charlottesville and several hours away from anything fun.

I want to go to one final Pirates game before we move.

I didn’t grow up a Pirates fan, but I loved baseball. A normal summer afternoon day as a kid had me flipping back and forth between channels, keeping score of the Cubs, Braves, and Pirates games. I wouldn’t simply sit and watch one game. I’d rapidly switch back and forth, trying to catch every play of every game, in a time before DVRs or streaming games with rewind capabilities.

For some reason, it became easier for my low-income family to get Pirates tickets after the 1992 season. I can’t imagine why.

We’d buy the cheap tickets in the upper deck, move down to the lower sections for a better seat after an inning or two, and maybe move down close to the dugout by the end of the game.

I wanted one more game before we left, but we couldn’t go. My parents were moving everything they owned, along with their two kids and their dog. They didn’t have money for a baseball game.

So, I heard about this contest. Found out that my score keeping skills could win me some free tickets. Problem solved.

I heard the clip start to play that morning. Immediately recognizing it from listening and keeping score the night before, I dialed in and screamed about Jeff King hitting a three run homer.

I won the tickets.

My mom woke up very confused about who her almost 12-year-old son was on the phone with in the early morning. She would later drive me to the radio station, and let me walk to the front desk by myself, because she still had no clue if this was real.

My dad sighed about having to squeeze in a four hour round-trip drive to see a three hour baseball game involving the 1995 Pirates, all coming days before the big move.

I listened to the radio contest rules, and learned that I could only win once every 90 days, thus saving my dad from multiple games and multiple trips.

Upon picking up my tickets from the radio station, almost 12-year-old me informed the adults at the front desk that I would be back in 90 days when I win again.

I didn’t consider that I’d be in Virginia.

I kind of wonder what those adults thought, seeing a cocky-ass child calling his shot in front of his still clueless mom.

I sometimes wonder if I’ve ever grown up, or if I’m still the cocky child who knows his database brain can’t be stopped.

*****

“And I will wait to find

If this will last forever”

I was on top of the world when the world came crashing down.

I was very open and honest about the woes with Pirates Prospects around 2018. The site literally reached a point where it ran out of money, and massively underperformed expectations for renewals. We scaled back from having contributing writers and game reports in 2019, in order to help recover.

Throughout this process, I questioned myself constantly behind the scenes.

There was nothing I could do to stop the Pirates from bleeding fans. However, was there anything I could do to minimize the damage? What moves could I have made to prevent my site’s fate from being directly tied to the team I cover?

A few of you reached out with encouragement. There were two comments that stand out to me, even to this day.

The first was along the lines of knowing when to quit, and the instant relief that comes from walking away from something you no longer want to do. There were times when I considered this, dreaming about the day when I could watch baseball and feel like it was an escape.

That was a massive problem: Baseball was no longer an escape. It was strictly work.

I loved, and still love my job. The moment we switched to the subscription model, things exploded in terms of the work I had to do, and it was geared less toward baseball. I added a ton of site work to the list, and boosted my game coverage to justify the new business model. The combination burnt me out.

I needed an escape from baseball. Something where my life wasn’t just entirely baseball.

The second thing I heard was the importance of diversifying your small business over the long-term. There are always going to be ups and downs, and some of the downs could close you down if you aren’t prepared.

By the end of 2019, I had a plan.

I would treat this job like a normal job, giving it 40 hours a week.

The remaining 40 hours that I previously spent on work would go to new projects.

Those projects are being designed to fund PBN for the long-term, so that we can weather any storm.

By the start of the pandemic, I had a good idea of what those projects would become.

I was on top of the world, ready to start my work.

Then, the world shut down.

*****

In the middle of the summer during a once in a century pandemic, I found myself in the middle of a massive Flea Market in Georgia.

It was heavily packed, so it was far from ideal for the circumstances.

At that point, I didn’t care about a pandemic. It could kill me if it wanted to try. I was more concerned with finding a way to stay alive if the pandemic didn’t show up.

Fortunately, I spent most of the last year in my house, so COVID never came for me.

On this day in Georgia, I was searching for records. I had started buying vinyl records in bulk, and by the winter time, those summer time purchases led to sales that were keeping the lights on over here at PBN.

I walked a massive flea market for an hour and a half, listening to RTJ4 for the first time on my headphones.

Crowds of people surrounding me. Any one of them could be carrying a disease to end me. I’m here looking for something that might not even help me.

I didn’t find any records that day.

I did find the skulls that are on the No Quarter logo.

I also found a calm in that crowded flea market. A calm in the way where I knew my next moves.

It was the calm before the storm.

That weekend I had worked on a lot of PBN ideas that you see now. The No Quarter logo and site design. Finalizing the history site. Thinking up the future of the Prospect Guide. A lot of those ideas have already been implemented on the site, with some still to come.

Not long after this, I had a breakdown. I went into overdrive, working constantly to get PBN launched. I knew I was on my own as a small business owner in this pandemic, and needed to get the site up for the start of the season.

I spent almost a week in a mental health hospital after having a breakdown from thinking PBN in every waking moment. The doctor told me I was under a lot of stress, and dealing with a major bout of depression.

I knew exactly what had happened: I had lost my confidence.

It got shook in 2017 when the Pirates started losing fans. It got hammered in 2018, when the site almost bled out. I built it back up by the end of 2019. But my plan involved covering baseball, and when there was no baseball to cover, I was knocked back to the ground.

The biggest source of alarm was that I lost the confidence to write.

As in, who would want to read my work?

I did a great job of ignoring the facts in front of me: I still had enough readers to have a career as an independent sports writer, and was Baseball America’s contributor for the Pirates.

I wanted to do more than just baseball writing, which was difficult, since I didn’t even have the confidence that people would want to read my baseball writing.

In that hospital, I was Tony Stark in Iron Man 3. My suit was gone, back at the house charging. I was having panic attacks about a portal in the sky unloading alien ships worth of stress onto my shoulders. And like Tony Stark in that situation, I went back to the basics.

I grabbed my assigned pen and green notebook. I spent the first page drawing the design for the PBN shop page. The next page was spent writing down ideas for PBN. I went into the hospital because I was on overdrive, thinking about the site non-stop, to the point where it led to a breakdown. Immediately upon entering the hospital, I picked up the process in analog mode.

On my third day there, I decided to focus on something other than PBN. I decided to try writing a poem, a form of writing I had barely explored.

I wrote a few poems. Loved them. One of them made me think I could be as good of a horror/suspense writer as Stephen King, one of my favorite authors.

I called my wife, an AP English and Creative Writing Teacher, and read it to her. Her response: “You’re like Stephen King!”

My writing confidence was back.

Now, it was just a matter of finding what to write about.

Aside from baseball.

*****

“And I will pay no mind
When it won’t and it won’t
Because it can’t
It just can’t
It’s not supposed to”

The reality is that Pirates Prospects wasn’t going to last forever. Pittsburgh Baseball Network won’t last forever.

If that’s true, then I’m aiming for at least another decade in the game.

I don’t know at what point it happened in 2020, but everything came together for that future plan.

My plans for Pittsburgh Baseball Network were outlined, starting with the release of the next version of the Prospect Guide. The 10th Anniversary Prospect Guide starts shipping out this week, and is currently available in digital form. I’ll have more of the next steps coming soon.

My plans for diversifying away from PBN also included writing.

I plan to start a vinyl record site, selling records, but providing a writing outlet for my musical analysis. This will be more poetry and art based, with my wife eventually joining me with some writing.

I also started mapping out a seven novel series about time travel, based on Kang the Conqueror, and the musical lyrics of Alice in Chains, MF DOOM, John Mayer, Run the Jewels, and many others. I can confidently say that this project will end up being my best work.

Long before all of that, the first step would be getting PBN running, and getting the Prospect Guide released.

The next step, which we’re about to enter, would be building up PBN, while starting up the other projects on the side.

That step includes a lot of writing, and less planning and site work.

Thus, today begins a period where I aim to get back to writing every single day on this site.

And I honestly can’t wait to dive back into coverage of this organization, once there are actual minor league games to cover again. My focus is going to be primarily on the minors, leaving the big leagues to other writers.

For the first month of the season, I’ll be writing First Pitch articles every day. The goal here will be to create some new features for the new site. I’m going to play around with some different formats in April, aiming to have a more set feature schedule in May.

The catch here is that I’m not going to be writing about baseball every day.

I’ll be working on those side projects at the same time. If I don’t make time for them now, I’ll never find a time to do it, and those are key parts of the plan to keep PBN running for the long-term.

You’ll see some of the progress in the First Pitch articles.

Every Saturday, First Pitch will be comic book based, typically with me giving some thoughts on the latest Marvel series, or whatever comic book I read that week. It also might have some fun theoretical discussions. Sunday will look at new music, along with a poem each week. We’ll have actual baseball articles on those days, so the off-topic weekend First Pitch articles come as a bonus. I have a few other off-topic plans that might combine to create a whole OT sub-site in the future on PBN.

What I’m most excited for is the return of minor league baseball, which hopefully comes back in May. Tomorrow’s First Pitch will be a PBN Update, looking at the future growth for the network, and how I plan to develop the coverage this year.

Song of the Day

Daily Links

**Spring Recap: Bucs Hold Orioles to Two Hits

**This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: March 28th, Mark Melancon and Chief Yellow Horse

**Card of the Day: 1922 Exhibit Moses Chief Yellow Horse

**1925 Pirate Replay, August 16: Pirates Again Struggle Against Reds’ Pitching in Loss

**SPORCLE QUIZ

First Pitch

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