Like it or not, deal­ing with me­dia is part of pro ath­lete’s job

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - by Pa­trick Saun­ders, The Den­ver Post Pa­trick Saun­ders is the pres­i­dent of the Base­ball Writ­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica: psaun­ders@den­ver­ or @psaun­der­sdp

Afew quick anec­dotes to start this dis­cus­sion:

• Thurs­day af­ter­noon, right fielder Car­los Gon­za­lez was one of the few play­ers avail­able to the me­dia in the Rock­ies’ club­house fol­low­ing a dis­heart­en­ing 6-3 home loss to Cincin­nati. He was en­gulfed by me­dia mem­bers and the ques­tions that hung heavy in the air con­cern­ing the Rock­ies’ re­cent woes and, more specif­i­cally, Cargo’s sea­son long slump.

Cargo po­litely an­swered ev­ery ques­tion with grace and hu­mor, and even some gen­uine hon­esty.

“I know what it feels to be the best player in the game and the worst player in the game,” Gon­za­lez said. “Right now, I feel like I’m the worst player in the game.”

• Last Sun­day in Ari­zona, Thomas Hard­ing of and I ap­proached Ian Des­mond after the game to ask about the calf in­jury that knocked him out of a game and put him on the dis­abled list. Des­mond cut us off with a curt re­tort: “I’m not talk­ing to the me­dia.”

I was sur­prised. Des­mond came to Colorado with a rep­u­ta­tion as an ac­ces­si­ble and ar­tic­u­late ath­lete. For the most part, he had been, up un­til that un­com­fort­able mo­ment.

• April 19 of last sea­son, for­mer Rock­ies left-han­der Jorge De La Rosa had one of the worst games of his ca­reer. Pitch­ing at Cincin­nati, he was pum­meled. And the Reds stole five bases off him in the sec­ond in­ning. Mo­ments after re­porters were al­lowed into the club­house, but be­fore we could talk to De La Rosa, he left.

Tra­di­tion­ally, it’s con­sid­ered part of the start­ing pitcher’s job to talk to the me­dia, win or lose, good per­for­mance or bad. When De La Rosa took off, I tweeted that he had “bolted the club­house,” adding that it was “un­pro­fes­sional.”

A few min­utes later De La Rosa re­turned for an in­ter­view, glar­ing at me the en­tire time. It was clear that he was aware of what I’d tweeted. We barely spoke to each other the rest of the sea­son.

De La Rosa is shy by na­ture and I al­ways sensed he was un­com­fort­able dur­ing group in­ter­views. While I sym­pa­thized with him, the bot­tom line was that De La Rosa was the Rock­ies’ high­est-paid pitcher last year ($12.5 million) and it was part of his job to talk to the me­dia.

Fans, who pay for tick­ets, de­vote big chunks of their lives to watch­ing games on TV. They spend their hard-earned money to buy jer­seys and over-priced beer and hot dogs at the sta­dium and they want to know about their team. It’s my job to try and pro­vide them with a fair, ac­cu­rate and hope­fully in­ter­est­ing view­point.

There is a nat­u­ral wall be­tween pro­fes­sional ath­letes and the me­dia, and it’s a wall that’s got­ten thicker and higher since I joined The Den­ver Post in 1998. I’ve cov­ered both the Bron­cos and the Rock­ies and I know first­hand that the ac­cess in base­ball is light years bet­ter than the reg­i­mented world of the NFL. I’m grate­ful for that, and for the pro­fes­sion­al­ism of nearly all the Rock­ies play­ers I’ve cov­ered.

I un­der­stand that some play­ers don’t like re­porters in gen­eral, and that many con­sider us in­ter­lop­ers. It’s some­thing the me­dia has to deal with and re­spect. As I watched re­porters cir­cle Cargo, I kid­ded sec­ond base­man DJ Lemahieu: “You guys hate us, don’t you?”

Lemahieu gave me a wry smile and said, “Well, it’s kind of tough when we’re los­ing.”

I don’t ex­pect ev­ery player to be as per­son­able, forth­com­ing or avail­able as Cargo, but I con­sider it part of the modern pro ath­lete’s job to in­ter­act with the me­dia.

It’s not al­ways pretty. A lot of dumb ques­tions are asked and lots of cal­cu­lated clichés are tossed back. But the bot­tom line is that pro­fes­sional sports are big­money en­ter­tain­ment, and the re­porter and ath­lete are locked in their awk­ward dance to­gether.

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