The wives and girlfriends waited.
They were young and beautiful and they stood each night, outside the clubhouse, waiting for their men to exit in a cloud of sweet-smelling aftershave.
First, though, they got to see me come through the door.
This was 1993. Minor league ball in a minor league town in upstate New York. And those women? They were happy to see me. They smiled and came up to me in a little group and conspiratorially asked what certain players were like.
Truth is, I couldn't tell them. Because back then, when I first covered professional baseball full-time, I didn't know a lot, but I knew this: I didn't want to know what they looked like naked. Frankly, I was mortified by the whole thing. Yet it was the only way I could do my job.
So I learned how to Not Look.
Ironic, considering journalism is all about taking in all the details of a scene. But when it came to the clubhouse, it was my m.o.
I spent an entire career Not Looking. Once I started covering Major League Baseball I got to Not Look at players from the team I covered, their opponents if I had to venture into the visiting clubhouse, and, on really bad days, a very hairy coach (I'm talking shoulders, back and I don't want to even imagine where else).
There was the player in Florida who always wore a towel - over his shoulder - when strolling across the clubhouse. We referred to him as "Naked Boy."
There was the old guy outside a clubhouse in spring training who told me I couldn't go in because there were NAKED MEN inside there. Don't worry, I told him. I'm Not Looking.
There was the player on an opposing team who gyrated behind me as I interviewed one of his teammates. I'm pretty sure he had a teeny, tiny little penis. Not that I was looking. But some of those things you don't have to see to know.
The worst part was the waiting. Standing in the clubhouse and waiting. Because those players? They don't necessarily appear when you need them to. Maybe you need one pre-game quote from one guy. You've got about an hour before they go on the field for batting practice. You get there the second the clubhouse opens (which is 3 1/2 hours before game-time). The player is nowhere in sight. Or possibly you see your guy right away and he says, "I'll be back in a few. I just have to get taped/eat/work with an instructor/watch film/take a shit. I'll be back in a few."
Only, he doesn't come back. But you don't know that at the time. So you stand there. And you're not allowed to sit on the couches. You just stand. It's not as bad in the clubhouse of the team you cover. Because you can always find either another player or writer to talk to. But when you're in the visiting clubhouse? And you know nobody?
Yeah. A lot of Not Looking going on. But YOU are being looked at. Women are still somewhat of a novelty. And players? Dogs. Not all, but enough. So they will stare. They will elbow the guys sitting next to them so that they, too, will stare. They will make comments - out loud - about your personal appearance. They will speculate as to what you are doing in there (obviously, you are Not Looking but they think you are TOTALLY checking them out). They might even try to start a conversation with you. You smile, a little. But not too much. Because you are too busy Not Looking while at the same time, constantly scanning the room looking for the player you need.
Are you following all this?
Another problem, since I was one of two women in the country doing this job, was all my colleagues - and competition - were men. So if a player came out of the shower and went to his locker to dress, the male writer could just walk up and start interviewing him.
While I waited, fuming, for the player to put on his drawers.
The nice thing was, for the most part, the guys on the beat with me respected that. So no one would approach the player til it was "safe." Some players didn't mind wearing a towel while talking to reporters. Others preferred to be dressed.
The other reporters said they didn't really like talking to naked men, either. I mean, it's kind of weird. Imagine if you worked at, say, a bank, and all the customers were naked? AWKWARD! I mean, talk about giving a new meaning to withdrawal and deposits (hardee har har).
Even now, long after my Not Looking days ended as I left the clubhouse for the final time, people still ask me about it. They don't want to know about covering Mark McGwire's home run chase. Or about the 2002 Angels, who won the World Series. No. They want to know about what it was like - in the clubhouse. Was it embarrassing? Who had the biggest schlong? Did I secretly check out the players? Is that why I became a sportswriter in the first place?
The last one's easy. I love baseball. I love watching it, I love learning about it and I loved being around the best players in the world. I also loved the players' individual stories, where they grew up, what they overcame. I watched them do things at the plate or in the field that no one ever had before. I listened to them cry after the death of a father, a teammate, a child. I saw them come together as a family, at times dysfunctional, but other times, amazingly close. And then? I got to write about it.
It wasn't always great. Covering baseball is a grind. There's a lot of boring stuff. A lot of very unglamorous travel and bad press box food. There's pressure and deadlines and lying awake at night wondering what the competition has that you don't (at least, that's how it was, before reporters had to blog). There's putting up with assholes, asking tough questions, getting screamed at and, yes, harassed.
I learned a lot. About baseball. About myself.
One thing I never found out? Who, in fact, has the biggest schlong.
Because although my eyes were wide open, I was Not Looking.
This post is part of Mama Kat's writers workshop. The prompts I chose were "It happened at work" and "Who first told you that it’s not nice to stare? Write about a time you stared when you maybe shouldn’t have, or a time when sometime stared at you.”
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