First Pitch: Just Like That, Baby

I have a theory.

We are all the same.

Every human is built a blank slate, with two meters to determine how they will navigate life: Logic and Emotion.

It seems that the most successful people in life are balanced well between Logic and Emotion. The majority of us have favored one of those meters more than the other, creating people who are either more Logic focused, while others are more Emotional geared.

I have another theory that the Logic-Heavy and the Emotion-Heavy people end up getting married, but that’s for a different article on a different site.

We’re all born a blank slate. We all acquire skills and abilities. Those skills and abilities don’t come natural. They are learned, just as we learn how to navigate life with our Logic and Emotions. The skills and abilities that we acquire end up determining our professions.

Regardless of professions, ultimately, we are all the same.

We’re all looking for the same thing.

A sense of Self.

*****

I turned 38 years old a few weeks ago.

When I started this job, I was 25-years-old.

I had been a sports writer for a small company, writing about fantasy sports and sports gambling, way back in a time when those were still niche subjects, and not the new focus of every single outlet. My articles were on ESPN, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and newspapers around the country.

I wanted to continue sports writing. I wanted to see if I could make this a career. So, I started a Pirates site.

I think you guys know the rest.

The sports writer train fully departed the station in 2009, when I was 25-years-old, and I was on board with my own ticket.

I grew up on this train.

I became an adult on this train.

It was a few years ago, around the age of 34, that the train stopped momentarily.

I was already sitting on the train, deciding how long I wanted to continue to ride.

Would it be the rest of my life? This sports writing train can be uncomfortable, it’s hard to find sleep, and it causes you to gain weight in ways you don’t understand — because the meal options you have available when you’re constantly on the road don’t make you want to eat.

More importantly, I was wondering if there was ever a point I would get kicked off the train, and told I no longer belong — perhaps I never did.

The train stopped in 2017.

I had built a following on this site that allowed me to be a sports writer for as long as I wanted, without having to work for any other outlet. I still wondered if those followers would one day collectively determine that I didn’t belong on the train.

There were some points in the last two years where I almost conceded to that thought. I let my coverage on the site go to such a point of shit that it would warrant my readers stopping the train with a truck loaded with TNT on the tracks, followed by taking me off of said train and taking my ticket.

I was just searching for a sense of Self.

*****

We’re all the same.

Whether you’re a professional sports writer, a professional athlete, or just a doctor/lawyer/business executive — your journey is the same.

You set out to see if you can do something.

You go through some form of development system, which tends to be designed to filter out the masses.

The very best become the profession they originally targeted.

At that point, we almost look at life as if there’s some sort of inevitability involved.

Of course I became a professional sports writer. I didn’t go to school for it, but had the drive to make it happen, and learned as much as I could during my development years to stick around.

Of course the doctors/lawyers/business executives became their respective professions. They went to school for that, and followed up adding skills and abilities for the job with the same drive that I used for sports writing.

Of course Andrew McCutchen became a professional baseball player. He worked on developing his necessary skills and abilities to the point where he was a first round draft pick out of high school. He was in the majors by age 22. He was an MVP by age 26.

And still, with all of that, he needs to do this…

McCutchen’s career took a dip from his peak, when he was an MVP candidate from age 25-28. He put up a .766 OPS in 2016 with the Pirates in his age 29 season, and was traded prior to the 2018 season, or age 31. The Pirates received Bryan Reynolds in that deal, and it’s worked out very well for the team.

McCutchen has only put up an OPS over .800 in one season since the trade. That’s not to say that he’s not productive. In most of those years, he has put up numbers you’d hope for from an average starter.

Winning MVP awards is a young man’s game.

Still playing the game in your mid-30s? That’s something only the best professional athletes can do.

Andrew McCutchen is objectively one of the best.

Since 2009, there have only been eight players in baseball with a higher fWAR. On the pitching side: Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and Zack Greinke. On the position player side: Mike Trout, Buster Posey, Joey Votto, and Robinson Cano.

Andrew McCutchen is one of the best in the game over the last decade-plus, and still provides enough positive value to be a starter at age 34.

And still, he needs to remind himself that he’s the best.

What chance do any of us have, if Andrew McCutchen needs self-reminders of how good he is?

What chance does any MLB prospect have, for that matter?

*****

I’m the best.

I’m not the best at something exceedingly rare to accomplish, like being one of the best MLB players in the game, or being the best at eating dozens and dozens of hot dogs in ten minutes.

I’m no hero.

But, you don’t have to do something exceedingly rare to be the best at what you do. You just have to work to be the best at what you do, while realizing what it is that makes you the best.

I’m the best at covering baseball player development in Pittsburgh.

That doesn’t fit all too well on a business card, but it is enough to grind out a sports writing career in this city, with opportunities to write for other outlets when I wish — and I’ve turned down every opportunity except for my current contributor role with Baseball America.

I didn’t feel like I was the best in 2017.

This is an overcrowded industry, and it’s often very difficult to find things to write about when covering a single team. That is especially true when you cover the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Every few years, the Post-Gazette, the Trib, and MLB.com have a brand new Pirates beat writer with the energy and drive that I once had in my mid-to-late-20s. The Athletic was formed to provide a 21st century version of the sports section. Dejan Kovacevic has already started the local 21st century sports section in Pittsburgh. I think that Pittsburgh Sports Now will join him long-term, replacing the Trib and Post-Gazette.

At any time in this industry, there are at least half a dozen people who are always trying to write something unique for their audience. Something that no one else has. Something that will bring readers to their outlet, rather than going to one of the half-dozen other outlets covering the same team with the same stories.

During Spring Training 2017, I wrote a story about Tyler Glasnow’s new changeup.

Every outlet had writers in the same place I was. We were all watching the same thing when we watched Tyler Glasnow throw what seemed like a normal bullpen session. I was the only one who spotted that he had a new changeup grip. I was the only one who knew to ask him about that. I was the only one who had the story.

For a day.

The next day, reporters desperate for anything to write about with the Pirates were swarming Glasnow’s locker. Some of them were trying to blatantly re-create the article I already published for their own outlets.

The thing about my industry is that we’re all trying to tell unique stories, but the moment you shine the light on one, everyone else will swarm to it like mosquitos at night.

I’ve been the mosquito. I don’t focus on breaking news. I let other reporters dedicate their time to that. And then, I become one of the mosquitos who, ten seconds after the first blood is drawn, swarms to the new story.

I used to struggle with having to compete against all of these outlets.

I’m just one guy.

Going up against two billionaire-owned newspapers, MLB’s own news outlet, a hedge-funded internet outlet, and an outlet run by one of the most followed reporters in this city.

What chance do I have of long-term survival?

After I wrote that Glasnow article, I wrote another changeup article about Jameson Taillon.

A few weeks later, no one in the locker room would even answer changeup-related questions, because it became the default topic. Reporters were asking pitchers if they had a new changeup. Clint Hurdle was getting mad at the idea that the organization was putting a huge emphasis on the changeup.

The only thing I did was spot a new grip while watching Glasnow’s bullpen. Then, I wrote about Taillon to explain how a pitcher’s changeup correlates with the fastball. I would have had a massive feature on the changeup — similar to my sinkerball story — but the clubhouse grew tired of everyone’s changeup questions.

I arrived at each changeup story through questions that spawned from a deep knowledge of the game, which I’ve been building upon for over a decade in this job.

I still had self-doubt. For well over a year after that article, I wondered how I could compete long-term. The site almost shut down in mid-2018 because of that doubt. Even in the years to follow, I wondered how I could remain in this industry — ideally as an independent journalist, free to tell the stories I want to tell.

It never occurred to me that, even with a room full of reporters trying to uncover unique stories, I was able to uncover a story and topic so unique that it dictated every other outlet’s reporting for at least two weeks of Spring Training that year.

I didn’t realize at the time, but that is why I will always be around.

I spent the last few years working on becoming a better writer, further strengthening my understanding of the game of baseball, and trying to find that sense of Self. The first two are just developing skills, while the third is focusing on the bigger picture.

All of that skill development will help me in the long-run.

It’s my ability to find and tell unique stories about baseball development that will always keep me around in this industry.

That is my sense of Self.

*****

I think we are all the same.

I think that everyone hits a point where they don’t know what they are; where they don’t have a sense of Self to know what makes them good at what they do.

That exists even with baseball players.

Player Development is about adding skills and abilities to a player, but it’s more about getting players to a point where they have a sense of Self, and they know how good they can be with the skills and abilities they have.

Even if they have to remind themselves of their sense of Self while rounding the bases after each MLB home run.

I spent the last two weeks on the road, covering various levels of this organization. It was the first live coverage for me since early 2019, with a lot of Self discovery and Self improvement taking place since then.

I still wondered if I could do this job, the way I used to do it, in a way where I know that my stories are going to be unique. Even if they’re only unique for a day.

I got back home from two weeks on the road on Sunday night. I took a day to recover yesterday, because I’m 38 now, which means bad hotel beds can easily put me on the IL.

Today, I’ll be getting to work transcribing the hours of interviews from this trip, and maybe even processing a few more videos and photos.

I go into that process already knowing that I am loaded up with unique stories that no other writer or outlet can possibly produce.

Including one that is going to be the best story I’ve ever written.

Every story is going to be intended to give you new articles to read, with new perspectives on this organization that you can’t find elsewhere.

That is my strength.

That is how Pirates Prospects has always operated, and will always operate.

Just like that.

Just like that, baby.

Like I said: I’m the best.

Come on! Let’s go! Let’s go!

Daily Links

**Prospect Watch: Nolasco and Malone Star for FCL Pirates

**Pittsburgh Pirates Three Stars of the Week Sep. 6-12

**Pirates Claim Enyel De Los Santos; Steven Brault Done For Season

**Pirates Claim Pitcher Enyel De Los Santos from Phillies

**Game Recap: Pirates Still Getting Swept in Sweep Opportunities

**This Date in Pirates History: September 13th, Denny Neagle and Andy LaRoche

**Game Rewind: Pirates at Reds, September 13, 1967

Song of the Day

Big beast in a cage with a heart full of rage
It seems I can’t behave
You could try till you die, oh well
You failed, it seems the world can’t be saved
These streets is full with the wolves
That starve for the week so they after the weak
In a land full of lambs, I am
And I’ll be damned if I don’t show my teeth

Run the jewels, jewels, jewels, jewels, jewels, jewels

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