"Dark Side of the Locker Room" is a compendium of journalists' bizarre, amusing and previously undocumented encounters with athletes (and often athletes' genitalia). Got a story? Send it to email@example.com.
Today's story is from Alan Siegel, who was a sportswriter at The Eagle-Tribune in Lawrence, Mass., from 2005 to 2009.
In my four years at a suburban Boston paper, nothing made me feel smaller than covering the Red Sox. For 20 or so games a year, I parachuted in and tried to collect enough material for a column and a notebook. To the players, I was a gnat: barely noticeable and easily swatted away.
But being insignificant had its advantages.
While the big boys from the Globe and Herald rushed upstairs to the press box to file pregame updates, I usually was able to hang around the clubhouse until the access period ended. Sometimes, I caught somebody for a quick interview. On this afternoon in early April 2008, I was shit out of luck.
The Yankees were in town and players were scarce, save for a few pitchers sitting on the black leather couches assembled in the middle of the room. Manny Delcarmen was one, Clay Buchholz was another. Jonathan Papelbon, in practice gear, was around too, fiddling with the DVD player hooked up to a nearby flat-screen television. He was up to something, I could tell. When he popped in a disc he made a Bill Murray face. (If you've seen Papelbon's mound stare downs, you know it probably isn't easy for him to be deadpan.)
Curt Schilling once said of Papelbon in Sports Illustrated, "He's not exactly a charter member of Mensa," and many baseball fans would probably agree with the assessment. I prefer the characterization provided by Esquire's Chris Jones, who recently wrote, "Papelbon's not stupid. He just hasn't acquired professional mechanisms, an understanding of consequence: He says all the dumb things most of us probably think but keep back."
In other words, he's 16. So it shouldn't have surprised me when I noticed the Hustler Video logo pop up on the TV. It did, though. I figured I was seeing things. The title screen appeared. It looked like an SI swimsuit edition video, with lettering similar to the magazine's masthead. Oh, I though. Bikinis. This won't be too weird. Then the actresses came on screen.
What I saw that day defied physics. It was fantastically filthy. From where I was standing, about 10 feet away, it looked like an open fire hydrant. In retrospect, I should've known. There's a reason they named the movie Squirts Illustrated.
(Can you imagine Papelbon asking a clubbie to make a porno run? Yeah, I need three tins of Skoal mint and the widescreen edition of Squirts Illustrated. Here's 100 bucks.)
It hadn't been on for more than a minute or two when, in a serendipitous moment, Theo Epstein and Terry Francona stepped out of the manager's office — just in time to catch their teenage reliever pulling a stunt Steve Stifler would've enjoyed. Francona managed a half smile. Epstein glowered. Sadly, I don't remember exactly what happened next. I don't know if someone pressed the stop button, or if Papelbon was scolded. I do remember that none of his teammates was laughing, which suggested to me that maybe this had happened before. And I remember, too, that the 10 or so reporters left in the clubhouse –- all male, at that point -– remained silent, as if watching video of a bursting human water main was the most normal thing in the world.
Finally, a writer, one of the nicest guys on the beat, smiled and shook his head. He'd clearly seen this act before, or at least some variation on it. He turned to the other scribes. "I'm out of here," he said, and we followed his lead.
Again, any sports journalist out there with a story to tell — print, online, broadcast — should send it along to firstname.lastname@example.org. You know you've got a million of them.