|Major league teams working with players to improve interactions with media|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 08 March 2008 10:08|
He took public speaking in high school and college, but that training has hardly eased his fear of going on television or appearing before a big group.
``I panic. I freeze up. I get the shakes,'' Lincecum said after a recent spring training start for San Francisco. ``It's one place I just feel out of my element.''
Enter Joan Ryan, the longtime and award-winning Bay Area journalist and author now working as a consultant in conjunction with the Giants' communications department to help with cases just like Lincecum's. What better place than the relaxed atmosphere of spring training to improve players' interview skills right along with their on-field skills?
A sampling of other major league clubs shows a number of teams are making similar efforts to give athletes a better understanding of the media's role and the differing needs of the many faces covering them on a regular basis.
For the Giants, the relationship with the media has been tense at times in recent seasons in large part because of the sheer volume of national reporters in town to cover Barry Bonds' home run chase. That made for a crowded clubhouse where players had little privacy and often faced constant questions about the slugger's pursuit of Hank Aaron's record and little else about the team.
The indicted 43-year-old home run king is now gone and San Francisco is committed to a fresh start in all aspects of its operation. The clubhouse is clearly a more comfortable and friendly place for everybody.
``Buenos dias,'' said left-hander Jonathan Sanchez, greeting a reporter by name last month when camp began. Later, new infielder Justin Leone went out of his way to introduce himself with a handshake.
One point many teams make with their players is the importance of learning names.
In spring training venues from Arizona to Florida, franchises hope to boost relations between the media and their managers, coaches and players.
The Colorado Rockies meet with players for about two hours at the start of spring training. The Florida Marlins bring in someone from outside the organization to address the players every second year or so and also give the veterans tips at times.
The Seattle Mariners, meanwhile, believe they are in a unique situation with one of the largest contingents of Japanese media covering superstar Ichiro Suzuki, not to mention a female radio reporter who travels on road trips as well as a hefty load of television programming that requires players to do extra media work.
``I'd like to think it helps,'' Mariners spokesman Tim Hevly said. ``The biggest thing we've discovered is guys are understanding what people are doing.''
Ryan is working with a select group of Giants to help them feel more comfortable. As Lincecum enters his second season in the big leagues, she is trying to give him the tools that will make him feel more comfortable.
``It should be good,'' Lincecum said.
Randy Winn, the Giants' player representative, is in favor of such measures - especially for youngsters like Lincecum, the club's 10th overall selection in the 2006 draft out of the University of Washington. The hard-throwing right-hander made his big league debut last May just more than a month before his 23rd birthday, having only 63 minor league innings and 13 starts behind him.
It probably didn't help that some stadium employees mistook Lincecum for a bat boy at first. He stands 5-foot-11 and is generously listed at 160 pounds.
``With technology and the amount of cameras that have been around here the past year, it seems like there are more people reporting,'' Winn said. ``For a guy who has moved up very quickly from the minors, it's a big difference from a college locker room where maybe you talk to somebody every now and then - maybe. In the minors, not much. He's come here with a lot of fanfare and people want to talk to him. He's probably got all sorts of requests, so it's good.
``If you haven't had that and haven't had the time, you can learn by example, but you learn slowly. He's been thrown right into the fire. It's tough.''
Tim Hevly and other members of his Seattle media relations staff - including a Spanish-speaking employee - traveled to their complex in Peoria in October to meet with players in the instructional league and the Arizona Fall League, breaking into small groups with the team's top prospects, as well as minor league coaches.
The Mariners identified the media covering the team and explained the difference between a columnist, beat writer, TV reporter and their varying needs. For example, Hevly said, he would describe how a beat writer might inquire about a specific pitch thrown in the second inning, while another journalist might ask a big-picture question that would still be timely three days down the road.
The Mariners, who also discuss situations with veterans when needed and already are having issues with new starting pitcher Erik Bedard dealing with the media, encourage players to learn names of the regulars around the team, too.
Florida spokesman P.J. Loyello hopes to have another session with the Marlins soon.
``They tell the players how they can cooperate, what the media are looking for, what's good and what's bad. They do some role playing,'' Loyello said. ``(The players) do more listening than talking. But even for the veteran players, it's good to be reminded about this stuff.''
Loyello said he and the media relations director hold a meeting with players at the start of spring training each year to ``tell them how they can help and what to expect.''
Pitcher Casey Weathers, Colorado's top draft pick in 2007 who's in his first big league spring training camp, is all for any assistance as he learns the ropes of professional baseball. He also makes sure to observe the veterans to see how they handle situations.
In time, he knows all of this stuff will become second nature.
``They just try to point out a few things that you should work on, be aware of,'' he said. ``Mostly, it's like speech pattern type things. You don't want to repeat yourself over and over and over again, saying 'you know,' things like that. ...
``It's all functional, things that you maybe wouldn't think about. They fill you in and you say, 'Oh, yeah, that makes sense,' and you just try to apply it and take it to heart and try not to be too stiff or boring. Pretty standard stuff.''
In Lincecum's case, he's open to trying anything - and already appreciates Ryan's efforts and the Giants' commitment. In the past, he has worried regularly about saying the wrong thing. And in 2007, he dressed not far from Bonds, and the media frenzy had to be a lot to deal with for a rookie.
``Anything can help,'' he said. ``As far as the baseball side of things, that's just what we do. People are always asking and I tell them I can't talk in front of the camera, that it's hard to do, and they say, 'How can you pitch in front of 40,000 people?' It's completely different. I'm not talking to the people out there. I'm playing my game.''
AP Sports Writers Arnie Stapleton in Tucson, Ariz., and Steven Wine in Jupiter, Fla., contributed to this story.