From Minor League Baseball to Major Congratulations

I won’t pretend to know Theo Epstein, Ben Cherington, Jed Hoyer, Josh Byrnes, or any of the other men– and hopefully women (if Kim Ng lands a position)– who land new executive-level jobs this baseball off-season. It would be great to be pals with any one or all of them, but that’s not what this post is about.

Five and a half years ago, I was a freshman at BU. I attended an event right on Commonwealth Ave that had nothing to do with the Terriers and everything to do with me networking up a storm (or so I thought). The Hot Stove, Cool Music Fundraiser is an annual concert in Boston with performances from various musicians, many of them better-known for their baseball-related accomplishments. Bronson Arroyo, Peter Gammons, Epstein and others have chipped in, with the proceeds of the event going to more than a handful of Boston-based charities. The concert is frequently complemented with a round table discussion, which is also a fundraiser. When I went, one Benjamin Franklin got you a ticket to the party on a frigid January afternoon during semester break.

I headed to the Paradise Rock Club half a block from where my dorm was that year after being dropped off in town by my parents, waited in line outside, and finally meandered through the doors into a largely middle-aged audience. As far as I can remember, I was the only attendee under 21, so a bright orange bracelet accompanied my left hand’s every move. I found about as comfortable a spot as you can find to stand for an hour or so and flipped the switch to go into sponge mode. I didn’t want to miss a moment of what was about to happen.

The 2006 round table featured a baseball reporting icon, a two-headed general manager, a former general manager and a Bostonian general manager (but not who you think). For a guy that used to create teams out of baseball cards and play games with them, then “matured”– if you can call it that– to playing a real baseball card game, this was the place to be.

I can’t recall too much of what was said that day, but I can promise you I thought my future hung on every word Gammons, Cherington, Hoyer, Epstein and J.P. Ricciardi uttered. Most of the discussion was based on what the Red Sox might do that off-season and what Theo was doing since he left Fenway in a gorilla suit the Halloween prior. (Ben and Jed, who are now both solo general managers, worked together for the few months Theo was gone.)

J.P. had to leave early to attend his son’s hockey game, which really impressed me. The fact that one of the 30 busiest men in Major League Baseball somehow carved out time for his kids gave my future family hope. His exit brought a lull in the discussion, which I filled with a shout of, “Blue Jays for 2006 AL Wild Card!” If I hadn’t stuck out like a sore thumb by that point, you can bet I did with that kind of comment.

After the conversation was over, the speakers stayed a short while to entertain more private conversations. This was my shot. I had to squeeze every last drop of entry-level suggestions I could out of the men I someday wanted to be colleagues of. It didn’t exactly work that way, but you don’t hear me complaining.

The story of Theo Epstein’s rise to the top as a wunderkind, baby genius, whatever-you-want-to-call-him was the easiest position outside of Gammons’ to envy. (At that point, reporting every summer day about baseball sounded pretty riveting too.) I saw a running lane and hit it like Mike Alstott was my fullback. The chance to talk to Theo Epstein? I got it, believe it or not. He wasn’t walking on water, didn’t turn said water into wine and didn’t wax philosophical, but he did lend me 30 seconds of his time and a smile too. After verbally admiring what he had done like any fan (but not journalist or executive) would do, I wished him luck in whatever he took on next, and he left the room.

Like he has been for the entirety of his career, Mr. Gammons was busy speaking with each and every person who wanted to talk baseball. I didn’t get a chance to talk to him that day, although I did entertain him for a few minutes when I was an intern at WZLX in the summer of 2007.

I looked over and saw another opening, this time at the feet of Ben Cherington (since he was still on the stage). He stepped down at about the same time I  got in front of him and greeted me happily. Even though he was one of the Sox’ co-GM’s at the time, I didn’t know what to say to him. I wasn’t as much star-struck as I was worried I might sound ignorant (which I now realize can be one in the same thing). In our brief conversation, I got the impression that Ben was a work-hardened but still soft-on-the-inside kind of guy. He offered the most advice of anyone I spoke to, and I could tell he was sincere in confirming he used those same tactics to get to that point in his career.

It’s weird to think how long ago that day was. I hadn’t started my broadcasting career yet, I was living in a jail-style dormitory and the Red Sox only had one championship in my lifetime. (Poor Celtics and Bruins, at that point.) I’ve grown up a lot since then, met my  wonderful girlfriend, and gotten my minor league sports career going. I might have a steeper learning curve being ten-plus years younger than them, but I’d imagine Ben, Jed and Theo have done an awful lot of growing up too (in a much more harsh environment). Here’s to them using all the lessons they’ve learned in their new endeavors: Theo and Jed in the Windy City, Ben not too far literally from where he was back then.

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