Summer in the City: MLB All-Star Game and Culture for Free

Just two months ago, my humidity-hating, sweater-loving self was dreading another sticky summer in New York City. Thanks to a number of recent events, however, I’m changing my tune.

Saturday night, I went with a group of friends to the Mariah Carey/New York Philharmonic concert on the Great Lawn in Central Park. I hadn’t worked myself up with excitement over this show; while I don’t dislike Mariah Carey, I don’t know much of her music beyond “All I Want for Christmas is You,” which she is unlikely to sing in July. But, it was free, the weather cooperated, and I tagged along with some Mariah-loving friends.

It turned out to be more of a New York Philharmonic concert (Mariah only sang three or four songs), but it was wonderful. Some of the Phil’s set included classic New York songs such as “New York, New York” and the song from On the Town (which I guess is also titled “New York, New York”? Never pondered that before.), and some of the score from the recently released 42.

My favorite part, though, was former Yankees manager Joe Torre reading “Casey at the Bat,” the famous baseball poem, with the New York Philharmonic providing musical accompaniment. I had no idea this would be part of the program, and when the number was announced, I winced and thought it might be a little cheesy. On the contrary. Torre delivered the poem perfectly, and the Phil’s background music – mimicking players’ movements and crowd excitement with its sound – added an element of emotion to the story I’d never felt before with just a straight reading. (My iPhone video of the last part of the performance is too big to deal with here, and I’ve had trouble uploading it to YouTube. I’m a little surprised MLB hasn’t put the entire thing online, but this clip will have to suffice for a link. Just trust me; it was great, and indelible New York memory for me.)

Hope and me at FanFest

Hope and me at FanFest

Thanks to a friend who works for a PR firm handling lots of ASG-related events, I scored two tickets to the All-Star FanFest at the Javits Center. I forced my sister, only marginally interested in baseball, to come with me (though we did clear up the difference between a no-hitter and perfect game for her, so it was a success) and we enjoyed the experience. I would have found FanFest to be the absolute coolest thing in the world if I was a wide-eyed 12-year-old, for whom baseball was a relatively new obsession, traveling to the game with my dad who’d be willing to fork over $$ for a cool new t-shirt and autographed baseball. I may be a little too old to be blown away by the spectacle, but it really was a cool set-up, and they had some especially great displays on the history of the Mets and the Negro Leagues.

Plus, since I wasn’t going to the Home Run Derby or the game itself, I loved getting to be immersed in some part of the All-Star experience while it was in New York. I live right off the 7 line, the train that’s carried thousands of fans to and from Citi Field the past few days, so it was cool to see all this – baseball-crazed kids toting loot bags through FanFest, tourists sporting their team jersey, thousands of passengers trickling onto the 7 train for the ride out to Flushing – happening in my backyard.

Aside from ASG events, I’ve also been able to enjoy a couple of NYC music events in Central Park lately. Yesterday, the New York Philharmonic played its annual show in the park, so I made another trip up to the Great Lawn to hear the performance. Then, tonight, the Metropolitan Opera performed various selections at the park’s SummerStage, and it was lovely. Just enough of the day’s heat had subsided that it wasn’t totally miserable outside, and I loved how the show featured only three singers, each performing a number of songs, like the Met was giving a few of its young stars a chance to really show their chops. My favorite part was their final number before the encore: a three-song West Side Story medley.

Both events were absolutely free, too (as was the Mariah concert)! Amazing free music, enjoyed in the company of friends on a warm summer evening, under the shadow of skyscrapers. This summer in New York is turning out to be about as perfect as it gets.

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From Birthday Cakes to Press Box Views: A Lot to Love

Exactly two weeks ago, I was sitting at a PDX gate, waiting to board a JFK-bound red-eye.

Now, I am sitting in my Queens apartment, wondering why we didn’t position our futon closer to the air conditioner.

In the span of two weeks, I’ve basically changed everything about my life (at least the kind of stuff you change on your Facebook “About Me” section and Twitter profile; new city, new workplace, etc.). And while I still want to write about that change (but not in a sappy, emotional play-by-play style), what currently strikes me is how much there is to love about where I am right this second. Here’s my list of the moment:

I love…

…that it’s after midnight and I’m watching a Mariners game, live on MLB.com. (I love this for two reasons: 1) Late night baseball rocks and 2) I’m not geographically blacked out from watching the M’s via MLB.com At Bat apps.)

…that for my birthday on Sunday, my friend bought one of the most delicious cakes I’ve ever tasted:

…that I get to write a short piece for the next installment of Mets Magazine.

…that Newsweek published a special edition about the Beatles (and it only caused my love for Paul to grow).

…that I can sit on our fire escape and look out into a courtyard at the center of a few apartment buildings (inevitably leading me to dream up a Rear Window-type scenario in which I innocently spy on interesting neighbors, then realize that’s only endearing when Jimmy Stewart does it).

…that this is my standard view for New York Mets games:

…that sometimes it gets so hot, I find myself sprawled on the futon, moaning like George Bluth, Sr. when he installed a hot tub in his attic. (Okay, I don’t actually love the heat. But I do a pretty good “Mikey, my eyes!” impression. And this was mostly an excuse to insert an Arrested Development clip.)

…that my roommate and I share an “organized chaos” mindset when it comes to apartment cleanliness: Livable, but with a few dirty dishes in the sink.

…that my sister came to visit on Saturday before heading up to West Point for summer training.

…that earlier tonight, I became the Foursquare mayor of my favorite neighborhood Chinese takeout spot (after only two check-ins!).

…that I live so close to Starbucks, my computer thinks Starbucks’ Wi-Fi network is the default.

…that I get to live, work and play with awesome people who have helped ease my transition from one coast to another.

In New York, this list could be endless. Whether you’re in NYC or not, I’d love to know what’s making your day.

P.S. – You may notice my blog URL is now paigelandsem.com. That’s right: I graduated to the big kids’ world of legitimate domain names. You can still access the site via theopinionpaige.wordpress.com, but it’ll automatically redirect to https://paigelandsem.com/.

First Step into the Future

File under “sentences I never thought I’d actually write”: In a few days, I will be a college graduate living in New York City and interning for a Major League Baseball team.

For weeks, I’ve been afraid to talk about my post-college plans, in part because a) I still feel like I’m only old enough to be a high school freshman; b) there were so many pieces of the puzzle to fill at school (writing my thesis, preparing to graduate, etc.) before I could concentrate on the summer; and c) a handful of people needed to hear from me in person before I blabbed about it online.

All those issues are now taken care of, so I can officially say I’m heading to New York City immediately after graduation to intern in the New York Mets’ media relations department. (And I do mean immediately – my flight leaves mere hours after I graduate on Monday).

My diplomatic, restrained Internet voice tells me to discuss this in diplomatic, restrained terms such as “I’m extremely excited” and “I’m grateful for the opportunity.” Both statements are true, but to be honest, I’m WAAAAY more than excited and grateful. Really, I’m beside myself at the thought of spending my summer at a baseball stadium in New York City, and have to thank a million people who helped open this door for me.

This will only last through the regular season, so a whole new set of “what are you doing with your life?” questions will emerge in a few months. For now, I’m eager to graduate, get to the city, work hard, learn a ton and hopefully launch a career in sports PR. The future feels bright.

The Sports Nerd’s Dream Weekend

This is my attempt at synthesizing all the stats and mind-blowing words of wisdom that came my way during the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston. Word has gotten out among the sports nerd community that this is the place to be for conversation about analytics and how they affect the game, the fans, the media and the entire culture of sports. The conference began in 2006, when it was held on the MIT campus, with some sessions literally held in MIT classrooms. Now, it’s held in the Hynes Convention Center and boasts an attendance of 2,200 (up 700 from last year).

I can’t remember exactly when I first heard about the conference, but I remember watching Michael Wilbon broadcast PTI from Boston about a year ago because of the conference. I remember thinking, “wow, that sounds awesome.” Anyway, it stuck in my mind and when I was blessed with some professional development funding from the UO journalism school, I knew how I would use it.

This year’s agenda was filled to the brim with terrific panel options and intriguing research paper presentations (not to mention, some of my favorite sportswriters and personalities like Michael Wilbon, Rob Neyer and Jackie MacMullan). Right away, I knew I wanted to be at the Baseball Analytics and Media Rights: Pricing, Power and Competition panels. As the conference wore on, I could sense a shift in my views and interests towards different areas of analytics; that shift guided my selection of other panels. Yes, some were better than others, but they all offered a fresh perspective on analytics and shifted my thinking in some small (or large) way.

I learned more than can fit here, but my big takeaways:

1) Only the paranoid survive.

From media execs to MLB general managers, this was an oft-echoed sentiment. Brian Rolapp, COO of NFL Media, said complacency was the only threat to the stable relationship between sports media entities (such as NFL Media and MLB Advanced Media) and broadcast networks (such as ESPN, Fox and NBC Sports). In order to stay on top of trends – in this case, understanding how sports fans consume media – you must actively seek new, innovative opportunities. The opportunities won’t come to you, and the media landscape – especially in sports, the only area of television that must still be watched in real-time – changes rapidly.

Mark Shapiro, president of the Cleveland Indians, discussed the paranoia that comes with using statistics to analyze baseball. Like with media deals, that paranoia is required if you’re going to stay on top of the latest and greatest advancements. You could be sleeping when the next analytics breakthrough is made, but you’d better know about it first thing in the morning. Shapiro said he wakes up every day, reads about a new trend and thinks, “are we on this, or are we behind?” – and that’s coming from someone who’s bought into analytics for a long time.

2) Analytics don’t tell you everything. You have to account for the psychological element of sports.

In every analytics-focused panel I attended, the discussion invariably turned from a breakdown of analytic advancements in the sport to a reminder of psychology’s place in the analysis. Numbers tell you a lot about a player on the field, but they tell you nothing about a player’s past, his family life or how he fits in a city or with his teammates.

I found it interesting that the person who seemed to champion this the most was Scott Boras – who I always pictured as the icy, conniving agent who sat behind a desk all day, working to secure gigantic deals for clients (okay, I didn’t see it quite that dramatically). However, he displayed empathy for the players’ plight, and seemed to be the biggest champion of sports psychology on the baseball analytics panel. He even said baseball should train and hire sports psychologists to help bridge the gap between statistics and humans.

Psychology factors not only into player evaluation, but scout evaluation. Eric Mangini talked about “evaluating the evaluator” on the football analytics panel. You have to adjust your perception of a scout’s advice when a guy who’s good with defensive backs tells you about a wide receiver.

To be honest, I hadn’t thought much about psychology’s place in sports. Before the conference, “psychology” to me was a major someone chose when they didn’t know exactly what they wanted to be; now, I have great respect for those professionals because without their input, all the numbers in the world (and not just those related to sports) are meaningless if the human element is not considered.

3) There’s so much happening out there that you don’t even know about. And stuff you think is cool now will be obsolete in a year (or less).

It probably sounds over-generalized, but my ultimate takeaway from the weekend is that you can never be satisfied with accepting things as they are. That’s the complacency Brian Rolapp and Mark Shapiro warned about: Be alright with the status quo, and the most striking innovation may pass, leaving your way of operating in its wake. Endless curiosity is essential if you want to do something great.

Think about it this way: Except for maybe baseball analytics, every panel I attended made some reference to Jeremy Lin; a guy who few had heard of at last year’s conference. Of course, Lin’s story was hard to miss, but he’s emblematic of the fast-paced world of media and sports. The hot topic a year from now is likely something we’re not considering, and our acknowledgement of the “next big thing” will hinge upon our understanding of current trends and industry changes.

A handful of other random observations for the poor souls still reading, 900 words in:

  • Being in New England, I was reminded that “Portland” isn’t always associated with Oregon.
  • I’m a Starbucks devotee, but it’s never bad to mix up the routine. Dunkin’ Donuts needs to come back to Oregon.
  • Every time I said “University of Oregon,” I was met with, “Oh, Nike U” or “Don’t you guys have a lot of football uniforms?” Thanks, Uncle Phil.
  • Having access to an historic baseball park, navigable public transportation and important national landmarks makes Boston one of my Top 5 cities (full list coming at an undetermined point in the future).

Since there was so much to process from the conference, there might be another post or two on Sloan-related topics; I’d like to flesh out my thoughts from a few sessions, especially the media rights panel and its intersection with Mark Cuban‘s discussion of the connection between social media and television.

If you’re interested in analytics, or attended the conference and had a favorite speaker/panel/moment, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Weekly Recap: Kirk & the Quake, Social Media in Pro Sports & Baseball Withdrawals

Happy Sunday night from the library!

Between bouts of studiousness, I decided to recap my favorite readings from the week – lots of good stuff in the baseball, social media and college football worlds.

As great as this weekend was in college football (or not great, depending on how you look at it – the guys at The Solid Verbal aptly termed the ‘Bama-LSU showdown the “Lame of the Century”), I have to admit that I miss baseball. Desperately. There is something about it that’s more constant than football.

Sure, no one’s going to sit on the couch and watch baseball games for a whole Saturday, and unfortunately the season isn’t filled with World Series Game 6-style contests. Football provides an exciting burst every weekend for a few months, but it’s nothing like the steadiness of baseball that can occupy your thoughts from March to October.

My grandpa frequently tips me off to interesting articles, including this NPR story by Glenn Stout that touches on those baseball-withdrawal emotions. It will resonate with baseball fans. Take heart, he reminds us: it’ll be back soon enough.

Speaking of baseball, I was lucky to stumble upon a blog series hosted by the Social Media Club. During the first week of every month, they feature posts on a specialized topic, and November was focused on social media use in professional sports.

Wednesday’s post looked into the Cleveland Indians’ social media efforts, specifically their hugely successful Tribe Social Deck promotion, which launched in 2010 (now named the Indians Social Suite). Rob Campbell, former digital media coordinator for the team (talk about a dream job title), detailed how social media impacted the team. Some eye-popping stats:

  • In a sentiment analysis conducted prior to the implementation of their social strategy, they found that online sentiment about the team was 50% positive, 10% negative and 40% neutral. Two years later, an analysis measured a near 80% positive rating.
  • By using a unique approach to social media-based promotions, the team increased its social media revenue by over 125% this year. They offered their Twitter followers and Facebook fans a ticket discount, but offered them a greater discount if they shared it with friends.

I also learned a lot from Kevin Saghy, a public relations and marketing specialist for the Chicago Cubs. His post looked at how the Cubs enhance the fan experience by expanding online relationships; for example, if someone tweeted that they were at their first Cubs game, someone from their PR team would ask for their seat location and bring them a small gift. How cool is that?! It’s awesome, but he stressed the importance of meeting fan expectations before trying to exceed them – something that can be easily forgotten when you’re rushing to make a big impression.

And now for one frivolous item:

I hate to make fun of this face, because I'd freak out if an earthquake happened while I was on live TV. But Herbstreit's earthquake eyes make me laugh.

A few weeks back, after attending College GameDay in Eugene, my roommate Miranda developed a crush on Kirk Herbstreit. She didn’t express interest during the actual taping, but we had ESPN on the tube later that night and she revealed her affections. Our conversation:

Miranda: Who’s that guy on the far right?
Me: Kirk Herbstreit.
Miranda: Kirk Herbstreit?
Me: (jokingly, but knowing she wouldn’t ask for no reason) Yeah. Why, Miranda? Do you have a crush on him?
Miranda: A little bit! (A minute later, after Googling) Oh my gosh, he’s 42!

You can only imagine how adorable she found his reaction to last night’s earthquake in Stillwater, Oklahoma. “His eyes got so big!” she exclaimed. I know this video has made its way around the Twitters today, but I found it hilarious and had to include it anyway. (I’m so glad Yahoo!’s Graham Watson pointed out how long Fowler’s question was to begin with; the first time I watched it, I couldn’t believe how much he rambled. I wouldn’t have blamed Herbstreit for asking him to repeat it, even without the quake.)

If you’d like to divulge your television broadcaster crush (mine is Brian Williams) or share any interesting tidbits or articles you read this week, I’d love to hear!

Words That Let Game Six Live On

For the past five minutes, I’ve tried to write an introductory paragraph that would do some justice to Joe Posnanski’s perfect post-Game 6 piece. He’s hands-down my favorite sportswriter, who was blessed with some insane ability to write eight thousand times more profoundly than anyone else.

But I can’t even begin to do it justice. So I’ll let his own words do the talking:

Freese hit the home run that won the game, hit it to straight away center field, a blast that will make every drink free in St. Louis for the rest of his life. And the 10-year-old in me was still shaking with joy. That 10-year-old always believed in comebacks, always, even after I had seen a thousand of them thwarted and smothered. “Next time,” I have always thought because that’s the wonder of sports. And then came this imperfect game, bloated with mistakes and brain-lock and baffling choices, and then, absurdly, miraculously, it became the most wonderful game I can remember.

He describes Game 6 of the World Series in depth, recounting every lead change, the comical fielding errors, the David Freese walk-off heroics.

His piece was equal parts game recap and reflection on the larger-than-life nature of baseball. It was a confirmation that all the heroics of last night really were significant. What we watched was real.

I took the newspaper out of its plastic wrap this morning and found that last night’s epic game had been relegated to a small headline on the top of the front page. Something like “Freese, Cardinals Force Game 7. Sports, C1.” That’s it? All those high-on-baseball tweets last night (many of which were coming from people who normally tweeted about football or the NBA lockout – that’s how you know it’s big) had been boiled down into a sterile headline.

But then we’re reminded of how awesome it was, thanks to pieces like Posnanski’s.

And thanks to pictures like this, of Freese’s teammates preparing to mob him as he reached home in the bottom of the 11th:

This image was the main picture on SI.com directly after the game last night.

And thanks to baseball fans everywhere – some who just became baseball fans last night – who know tonight’s game can’t come soon enough.

(Bonus: It’s a month old by now, but Posnanski’s piece on Day 162 of the 2011 baseball season was maybe the best thing I’ve read all year. Give it a whirl if you have a few minutes.)

Getting Way Too Excited About Michael Pineda as an All-Star

It happened. Michael Pineda pitched in the All-Star Game, to rave reviews from the only critics that really matter – the people of Twitter. Tweets from casual fans and respected writers came flooding in, praising Pineda’s performance.

But don’t take my word for it.

ESPN’s Buster Olney:

Olney later tweeted that Pineda made the “biggest first impression” of any player at the game.

Fox’s national baseball writer, Jon Morosi:

The Mariners’ official account:

The three hitters Pineda faced in the second inning went 1-2-3: Troy Tulowitzki flew out to center (side note: I secretly wish Curtis Granderson was a Mariner), then Pineda struck out Scott Rolen and Rickie Weeks.

And no, I’m not ashamed to admit that I took a picture of my TV to commemorate this momentous occasion.

That’s my boy. Here’s to many more All-Star Games for #36.