His fastball wasn’t fast and his curve didn’t curve, but Kase Johnstun remembers the day he got called up to AAA… as a sportswriter.
There really is nothing like arriving at the ball park a couple of hours before the game, climbing the stairs to the press box, chit-chatting with the local sports writers, and opening the press-box windows to let in the late-afternoon breeze and the sound of batting practice. Balls crack off bats, players laugh and spit, coaches yell and pat backs. Sitting in the press box of a AAA ball club and looking out onto the field while the ground crew mows and sweeps and kicks up the smell of summer into the air, I have to admit is awesome.
Every sports fan I know wants to work in baseball, in professional sports. And I wanted it more than anything.
Last night, over dinner, a fellow faculty member and I hosted a visiting writer who came to town to read from his most recent book. In the academic and writing worlds he is considered very successful. He’s had five books published by the big New York publishers; no indy books on his shelf. He holds tenure at a well-respected university on the west coast, where he teaches creative writing. Other universities fly him in to read what he’s written.
At the table, I was by far the least accomplished writer. If measured in feet, the distance between my credentials and those of the writers who sat next to me would be near two to three miles. I sat there and did my best to listen to their stories, to take in their knowledge, to glean some brilliance from just being in their presence, but after my second glass of wine, as the least-significant writer in these situations tends to do, I started running down my resume in the dumb hope of establishing some kind of rapport with the brighter luminaries at the table. Before they got the chance to move the conversation toward something more interesting than my work history, I mentioned that I had worked for a AAA ball club for a season as a publications coordinator.
“That would be my dream job. I’m a sports fanatic,” the visiting writer said. This statement confirmed the truth. The man who sat next to me, a very accomplished man, during that moment, in his mind, took all of his accomplishments in life and smashed them with an imaginary baseball bat. The idea of working in sports lit fires in his eyes and he began to dream – for a moment.
Call me, and everyone else who is completely enamored by professional athletics, naïve, but I envisioned dinners with players, long locker-room conversations, and batting practice on the field before the game. This naïvete, this calling that I could not squelch, did not only affect me but it affected my wife and our relationship, poorly.
I had to work in sports. It was where I belonged. And if I didn’t get there, I would never be happy with my job, with my life, with myself. Having to be married to this guy could not have been easy, so when I told my wife I wanted to go back to school to get an MBA in Sports Management, she suggested I work for a team before I make such a huge commitment.
I could not move laterally across the industries, however. I had a master’s degree in English. In six year’s time since graduation, I had climbed from a lowly staff writer position at a tiny newspaper that only my mother read to a managing editor position for the Department of Defense, from a minimal salary to what people, today, would call a lot of money for editing a journal.
A lateral move into the sports world would have meant a job as a communications or PR director for a team. In my mind, like the players on the field, the money would be excellent, the benefits would be, to quote MasterCard, priceless, and the job would be worth any learning-curve or hours worked.
After applying to every communications or PR director position I could find, I proved myself correct – there was no way I could make a lateral move without a degree in Sports Management. I believed that I absolutely needed to spend tens of thousands of dollars before I could get my foot in the door of a professional sports franchise’s office.
Then, on a whim, while waiting to see if I got accepted into a program, I applied for a lower position on the front-office totem pole of a AAA baseball club. Expecting rejection, I forgot about the application the moment I sent it off.
On Christmas Eve, three months before the opening pitch of the 2008 baseball season, I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize, so, as most people do, I let it go to voicemail. If it were a legitimate phone call, the caller would leave a message. If it wasn’t, I could delete the sound of the telemarketer’s voice later.
We were in rural Kansas visiting my wife’s family, so the reception teetered between bad and none. When I finally listened to the message, a mumbled, broken, female voice asked me to call her back about the job with, from what I could pick up, the Erners. The woman who left the message had actually said Tacoma Rainiers, the AAA affiliate of the Seattle Mariners, but I heard “the 49ers” and nearly shit my pants two hours before Christmas dinner. After Googling the area code of the caller, however, I was able to put it together: the Tacoma Rainiers were calling, not the San Francisco 49ers.
Did this revelation lessen my excitement? Of course. But was I still excited? Absolutely. It was like I had been scouted for my pitching. I had gotten the call up to AAA ball.
This is the first in a series Kase will be writing about his experiences working for the Tacoma Rainiers.