Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Not Looking

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.

NAKED.

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.

Mama's Losin' It

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.”

31 comments:

Single and Sane said...

I remember what a big deal that was but I never expected to read one of the reporter's blogs all these years later. Good job of Not Looking!

Pumpkin Delight said...

you lucky girl you, i would have taken the "i'm looking" stance and then probably gotten fired
but seriously, as someone who worked in hockey for a few years, it is difficult for women on all fronts (no pun intended)

stopped by from mama kat's

FeliciaB said...

Cheryl, are you familiar with Ursula Reel Hennessey? She used to be a sports writer for The New York Post. I'm getting to know her on another website and was wondering if you might know of each other.

Erin said...

Just another day at the "office" huh? Good job and learning not to look!

Karen Mortensen said...

What a job you had. This reminds me of a time when somehow I ended up at a nude beach. I took my glasses off so I could see that well.

Maureen said...

Oh wow, I would feel so uncomfortable seeing that much testosterone LOL. Make for a great story tho! :D

Eve said...

You had me from the first word. Great, humorous post! Thanxl!

(Popping in from Mama Kat's)

Cheryl said...

What fun to look into the locker room through your eyes. I'd have been mortified. Not that I'm uptight or anything!

parentingBYdummies said...

Nope. I totally woulda looked. I mean, that's like the main perk of a job like that isn't it? Being able to look? And tell all your friends about it? And the people who read your blog years later? Please tell me you looked at least once?

Jen said...

You have a lot more self control than I would. I would need to look. But I would do it on the down low, it would be a sneak look. :)

(from Mama Kat's)

Hagler Happenings said...

I have always been such a big baseball fan, and I have to admit I'm a little jealous you were able to talk with these players. You point out many things that most of us never think aobut...

the mombshell said...

dude you know me and I would so be looking! If I live to be 100 I will never get enough toned hairless man butts!

Shell said...

Too funny! No way could I have looked, either.

Life with Kaishon said...

Wow. What a job! : )

Jen C said...

Cheryl, you are absolutely one of the coolest women I know.

I don't know if I could have put up with being only one of two women in a field.

KLZ said...

How in the world did you keep your figure while traveling that much?

I feel like a lot of time I'm maybe missing the point of people's posts. But I cannot figure out how you stayed slim doing this job.

Kisha said...

You are my HERO! I did sports journalism in high school and college but didn't have the oomph to pursue it. And the not looking-definitely a good career decision, but you're a better woman than I am, ha!:)

Stef said...

I loved this post. How cool that you got to be a reporter for a sport you loved and one of very few women who get to do it.
Men and their obsessions. It's starts young, let me tell you. I have 4 boys and they are already checking each other out. Lamo!!

Aging Mommy said...

I confess I would have looked - but given my total lack of knowledge about and interest in all major sports I would never have landed such a job anyway :-) What a very different job you had.

ericka @ alabaster cow said...

i love this piece! and this is coming from someone who isn't that learned in the world of sports but i think we can all relate to the feeling of peeing our pants if anyone came up gyrating naked behind us.

gah it gives me the stomach willies just thinking about it..

Andrea (PARENTise) said...

Hysterical!

becca said...

Wow... what an amazing job. I'm not sure I have it in me to be a journalist. I don't think I'm brave enough to put myself out there. To be aggressive. To Not Look.

But although you say you didn't Look... what you did was a deeper kind of looking. Looking inside their heads, their hearts, their worlds. Which in the end, is so much cooler than looking at their shlong. No?

This was a great post.

julie said...

I recall seeing Christine Brennan talk about locker room stories at an alum event. I was in awe of how you all do it.

Michelle (hometc) said...

The difference between a woman journalist and a man: if a man were allowed in the ladies' locker room, he would not have been able to stop looking! Stopping by from SITS :)

Lisa said...

Definitely laughed out loud at the "take a shit" part. Only one of two women in the country? You rock.

Rudri said...

I am a sports fan and your take on this subject was interesting to me. What a position you were in to try to tell a story in a professional manner, despite the environment. Not looking... I don't know if I could have done that. I really enjoyed this post. Thanks.

Cheryl said...

Trust me, ladies. You wouldn't look. It's intimidating to go in a clubhouse. Even when you know everyone in it. I mean, it didn't really impact my ability to do my job on a daily basis, but it wasn't always fun. It wasn't like walking into a strip club or something. It could be hostile. Especially after a tough loss. Or some guys wee just difficult.

cheri said...

wow, i admire your...well, not looking. i think a lot of women would LOVE your job...

stopped by from mama kat's :)

TKW said...

This made me chuckle. I definitely would have perfected the art of Not Looking if I'd been in your shoes. What a cool job to say you've had though, isn't it?

MOMSICLE VIBE said...

Withdrawals and deposits - WAAAAAAAAHAAAAAAAAAAAAHAAAAAAAAAAAA!! I know, I'm easy to amuse. But seriously, that was fascinating to read. I know not of the world of baseball and I'm sure a date with you would be highly amusing and very informative!
I am truly fascinated by your experience as a woman in a man's world. I want to know more!!

The Empress said...

I love baseball, too. I can see why you covered it.

Passion for that game is not something you can fake.

Related Posts with Thumbnails