Sports News Without Access, Favor, Or Discretion

The Time I Got Fired By The Philadelphia Phillies

I grew up just outside of Philadelphia, the kind of rabid Phillies fan who had a life-size Pat Burrell poster on wall of the bedroom that my sister and I shared for so many years that we ended up telling two-dimensional Pat all our deepest secrets. I have also spent a not especially impressive but personally enjoyable amount of time in baseball clubhouses. But since May 2012, I have not been allowed to go into the Phillies clubhouse for reporting. Or, probably, for any other reason, either.

I was a second semester senior at the University of Pennsylvania and I had one of those too-good-to-be-true seminars where we were encouraged to spend several months reporting anything of interest to us in an effort to churn out a feature-style story. My professor and I didn’t exactly get along (I smugly tattled on him to Tom Junod once when the former insulted the latter and set off months of strained emails, but that’s another story) and he thought little of my sports aspirations. I responded by committing myself with particular doggedness to gaining as much access to poke around Citizens Bank Park as I could.


It went pretty well. I had the middling idea to track the final three months of prepping the stadium for Opening Day, with hopes that something exciting might happen. The front office was delightful and accommodating at first. I met with the head groundskeeper to talk grass, sat in on promotional meetings, and went with Rubén Amaro Jr. and the Phanatic to “surprise” a couple of geriatric fans celebrating their anniversary on Valentine’s Day.

By this point I was bored of scholastic obedience, so I started spending tons of time at the stadium. My initial point person, a woman working in public relations, found something for me to do several times a week, and then I would just sort of linger, eating lunch with her in the cafeteria and soliciting introductions to various departments.

At some point—the timeline is foggy and unimportant—the then-editor of the Philadelphia Daily News, whom I worked for as an assistant on several books, said I should use my access and time to write a piece that would run as the cover story for his ill-fated pet project. SportsWeek was a short-lived weekly inset to the beleaguered newspaper, and for their Opening Day issue he wanted a “profile” of the Phanatic for the cover.

(This is a good time to point out that the more time I spent with the Phillie Phanatic, the more I liked him. Tom Burgoyne, who has embodied the Phillie Phanatic since 1988, is a truly wonderful and upstanding person.)


With this renewed excuse, I start hanging around even more and PR Lady, with whom I’d grown close enough to meet her family, and I begin discussing my future. Namely: potential employment with the Philadelphia Phillies. It wouldn’t exactly be journalism, and the ethics were definitely a little shaky given the concurrent circumstances of our relationship, but graduation and its accompanying unemployment were swiftly approaching. Plus, I love baseball! A team job right out of college sounded cushy and enviable. Fuck ethics!

Eventually, I found myself on a trolley bus about a week before Opening Day with the Phanatic, Mayor Nutter, a few front-office folks and a gaggle of interns driving around the city tossing rally towels to confused fans and causing at least one traffic accident. I was taking half-hearted notes on my phone when PR Lady asked me to tweet from the Phillies’ account. She said it would be a good test run, and a good way for me to help out. I misspelled “trolley” on my first tweet and started to panic. I promise it’s not revisionist history when I say that this misplaced responsibility made me instantly anxious. It went beyond dubious for a reporter (even one producing a school paper and a puff piece on a giant puppet), I worried about ruining my job chances before they fully materialized, and, frankly, I was already plenty busy.


Later that week, PR Lady reprimanded me for the “trolly” tweet, but mentioned an opportunity to do peripheral social media stuff for the team. I ended up briefly working this job and, honestly, I still don’t fully understand what it entailed. It was a gig run through Major League Baseball, not the Philadelphia Phillies, but I was stationed at Citizens Bank Park. As far as I could tell, it was like Cut4 for individual teams, compiling photo, video, and funny blips from around the stadium on game days. It wasn’t the sort of full-time, front-office job I’d hoped for but I expressed vague interest, eager for a foot in the door.

A few days later, without my ever seeing a formal description of what I was supposed to be doing, someone from MLB HQ called to offer me the job; it paid, if I remember correctly, $100 per game. I accepted out of some mixture of curiosity, desperation, and resignation that attending 81 baseball games might be a perfectly fine way to spend the summer after graduation. I got a Go Pro and a packet of paperwork in the mail, and with that I was off.


At the risk of sounding ungrateful, the runup to Opening Day was untenable. I was just overextended, missing all my classes, working (and crying) in the stadium stairwell, and still completely unsure of the requirements of my employment. It was, often, very cool and very fun. After an exhibition game, I went out to karaoke with the Phanatic (not in costume; we sang showtunes from Grease) and started to feel at home in the stadium. I was hopeful that once school ended and the pieces were done, the job would magically make more sense. I didn’t know who to ask for clarification, anyway, but I also didn’t bother to find out.

The Phillies went 1-2 to start the season on the road. By the home opener, the enthusiasm for a team that defined mediocrity already felt subdued. I received a list of “must haves” from the higher ups at MLB, whom I still hadn’t met or spoken to beyond receiving the job. The only task I remember was that I was to get a shot of the lineup card. So after taking some pictures of the fresh cut grass and the American flag, I started casting about for how to do just that. Someone—security, maybe?—pointed out where the lineup card was posted on the wall in the dugout. Until then, despite all my time at the ballpark, I had yet to be in the players’ space while they were around, but feeling halfway invincible and the rest of the way like it behooved me to fake it, I darted down into the dugout and took a quick picture. A different security person said I couldn’t be down there, I made a meager attempt to explain my position and quickly gave up when I realized I didn’t even know my job title, and then I retreated to the makeshift office setup I’d assembled near the Phanatic’s dressing room in the basement.


There was an email waiting from me from PR Lady expressing some severe displeasure. I’ll admit: I called my parents in a panic. They assured me it was an honest mistake and that, besides, there was nothing to do now but finish out the game. I found the Phanatic, who was preparing to shoot hot dogs into the stands, and regrouped. He explained that I should wait by the ball girl down the first base line to get the best footage. This, too, was apparently mistaken advice.

I went home sure that I had fucked up and unsure that I would last the summer in such ambiguous employment. The next day, after class, I was getting dressed for the job when the MLB Man who had offered me the position called to fire me. The Phillies didn’t want me back was the only explanation I got. I’ve since come to learn the strict rule that non-baseball personnel must avoid dugouts within a certain timeframe before a game—whenever the clubhouse closes. So, yeah, I fucked up. Perhaps to a fireable degree. But I didn’t really appreciate how they went about it. Naively, I felt betrayed by the PR Lady for never speaking to me again—not even to deliver the bad news.


That night, when I wasn’t at the game, Tom Burgoyne called. I was too busy being despondent to answer so he left me a voicemail, concerned that his bad advice about being on the field had cost me my job. (In the years since this incident, my life has worked out pretty well, so the only real lingering regret I have is that I never returned his call. The Phanatic is a good dude.)

The Phanatic piece turned out fine: SportsWeek folded, but my parents gave me a framed copy of my cover as a graduation gift. The school assignment, not so much. I put enough words together to turn something in that inspired my professor to send me a handwritten letter after I graduated explaining how terrible it was and that I’d never make it as a writer.


As for the Phillies? Well, I guess they hold a grudge. A few months later, I was working at the commissioner’s office when I got an assignment to interview David Freese while the St. Louis Cardinals were passing through Philly. After my boss put in for credentials we got word: Hannah Keyser is not allowed in any of the Citizen’s Bank Park clubhouses.

So, anyway, now I’m a Giants fan.

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