Sunday, May 31, 2009

David Squires

Larry Young Jr.

I never knew David Squires would be so insightful during his short stay at the Sports Journalism Institute.

As an urban affairs reporter for the Daily Press in Hampton, Va., and a former deputy sports editor, there isn't much Squires hasn't seen or heard. In his last session before heading back to Hampton, Squires stressed what he calledthe nine most important facts of journalism: Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Edit, edit, edit From his editing test formulated to get students thinking (which no one passed), to his advice on reporting and building sources, it's clear he's a seasoned journalist.

Outside the newsroom the Hortonville, N.C., native is just as insightful. Just before dinner on Sunday evening, Squires told me the story of his journalism career and the stops before Hampton. He also joked about the Newport News area being known as "Bad News," which was interesting since I interned close to the area last summer. But, said Squires with a laugh, "it's not all bad," even with all the Michael and Marcus Vick news of late.

As we shook hands in the hotel elevator, I was sad to see him go. He's the kind of person I could take advice from, but also laugh with. That's what I call insightful information.

A helping hand

By Juan López

Luis Sojo knows the trials and tribulations young baseball players face when moving to a different country to play baseball — after all, the 43-year old, Venezuelan-born former major leaguer underwent the same transition as a youngster.

It wasn’t easy.

“It was extremely difficult for me because I only had one Latin teammate when I came here,” Sojo, now the manager of the Tampa Yankees in the Advanced A league, said. “So I had no other choice but to speak English. When I got to the instructional league, (the Dominican teammate) and I would practice our English on each other. We would go to restaurants and he would say, ‘Let me order this time.’

“Of course they wouldn’t understand us and we left frustrated.”

Now, with many Hispanic players on his roster, Sojo is going out of his way to help them make the transition to the United States.

Jesus Montero, a 19-year old catcher from Venezuela and the second-best prospect in the New York Yankees farm system, said Sojo made his move to the U.S. much smoother.

“I felt comfortable when I got here,” Montero said. “I can play at ease for him, but when I have to play hard, he lets me know. He’s going to tell me, ‘Don’t do this, do this.’ But he’s not going to yell at me or something like that. I’m just really comfortable with him.”

While Montero pointed to Sojo’s personality as a manager as his strong point, his teammate, Walter Ibarra, said his connection with Sojo came from the pair’s native tongue — Spanish.

“I’ve had American managers before and while they’re good managers, when one doesn’t fully understand what they’re saying it causes a lot of problems,” the 21-year old shortstop from México said. “But being able to speak with Luis makes things so much easier. He gets along with everybody and that gives us confidence to play better.”
Adjusting to a whole new culture may be terrifying for some ballplayers. The foods are different, the language is different, even the mannerisms are different. But Sojo doesn’t feel sorry for them.

“Because these guys come over here so young, it’s very difficult,” he said. “But one has to understand that you are now a man and as a man, you must make your own decisions and work hard to make your dreams come true because you chose this. You didn’t choose to be a doctor, you chose to be a ballplayer. So if you maintain yourself properly mentally, everything will be OK.”

A smiling smackdown

By Ronnie Turner

When Tampa Yankees manager Luis Sojo speaks, his players listen.

Nearly the whole gang of the minor league team was gathered around to listen to Sojo in the Yankees clubhouse before Sunday’s game against the Charlotte Stone Crabs. But the players weren’t tuned in to hear Sojo talk about pitching matchups, batting stances or the Florida State League standings.

The Yankees were there to hear Sojo talk smack for a ping pong match.
Sojo did just that in ping pong matches against third baseman Brandon Laird and right fielder Jack Rye, and he more than backed up his words. He defeated Laird and Rye by margins of 21-13 and 21-19, respectively, not allowing the smile to leave his face or his laidback demeanor to hinder an efficient style of play.
Smiling. Laidback. Efficient.

Those words sum up the managerial style of Sojo, a 13-year major league player who won a World Series title with the Toronto Blue Jays and four more with his beloved New York Yankees.

Sojo, in his fourth season as manager of the Class A-Advanced Tampa Yankees, was groomed to be a manager long before he hung his spikes up for good in 2002. From the day he was signed as an amateur free agent by the Blue Jays in 1986, Sojo practiced for his future by managing his own playing career.

“To play, you have to manage your own game, and that’s what I try to teach these guys,” said Sojo, a native of Caracas, Venezuela. “When you go out there, don’t be like nobody. Try to do the best that you can and focus on what you do. Ask questions about what you are supposed to do at particular times. The coach is the one who’s going to manage you, but when you do that, it’s going to be a lot easier for you.”

Of course, it helps to receive guidance from some of the brightest managers in the business, including Toronto’s Cito Gaston, Lou Piniella and Joe Torre, who managed the Yankees from 1996-2007. “When I played, I always said that I wanted to manage someday and I had good mentors in Lou Piniella, Joe Torre and Don Zimmerman,” Sojo said.

The Tampa Yankees like having him around. “He gets his point across,” center fielder Austin Krum said.

Sojo sets table

By Jordan Mason

Tampa Yankees manager Luis Sojo stared across the table at third baseman Brandon Laird.
It was two hours before the Yankees’ hosted the Charlotte Stone Crabs in the second of a four-game series and the manager and his player exchanged words. Sojo was heard outside the locker room.

The moment served as another example of Sojo bonding with his players, which helps him teach the prospects in the New York Yankees’ farm system.

“1-0,” the manager screamed as he grabbed the early lead in yet another locker room game of ping-pong.

Outfielder Austin Krum said the relationship that Sojo has with the team is exactly what it needs. “It’s respect, but it’s also a friendship too,” Krum said. “It’s joking around, it’s having fun, it’s just keeping it lively.

“He’s definitely the kind of guy that you’d want to be leading your team.”

But that is not just because of the close relationship that he has with his players. The manager is a five-time world champion and spent five seasons with the New York Yankees.

He was a member of the Tampa Yankees as well just like his players. And that is not lost on his players.

“He has a special way with his words because you know he’s done it and been there before,” pitcher Lance Pendleton said. “It really helps because we know he’s been there and done that and he can help us get to the same spot.”

Sojo, who wanted to be a manager as a player with the New York Yankees, does that by preaching competition and teaching players to manage their own game.

And Sojo has experienced great success in his time as a manager. His team, the Norwich Navigators, won the Eastern League Championship in his first season as manager.

But the wins and the close relationships do not stop Sojo from dreaming of one day managing in the major leagues where he once played. “I want to manage one day,” he said. “But in the meantime I love what I’m doing.”

And that means there will be many spirited ping-pong games to come in Tampa.

A girl in a man’s world

By Anica Wong

“You see a lot of penises in my line of work…professionally speaking, they have a lot in common, which is to say they are attached to guys, most of whom are naked while I am not, thus forming the odd dynamic of our relationship.”

This is how Jane Leavy’s fictional book, “Squeeze Play” starts. The book chronicles a female sports reporter’s time covering a baseball team. Leavy, herself a former sports writer for the Washington Post, may have created the main character, A.B. Berkowitz, but the book itself is loosely inspired by her own time covering the Orioles between 1979 and 1983.

Joe Smith, one of the Tampa Rays beat reporters for the St. Petersburg Times, came to talk to our SJI class today. Smith has been at the Times for 3 years and covered the Rays’ run to the World Series last year. We were talking about what it is like in the clubhouse of a professional baseball team and Smith equated being in the clubhouse to being in someone’s living room—comfortable and casual, most of the time.

But as Sandy Rosenbush pointed out for the two of us girls in the program, it can be a little intimidating to walk into a room where you don’t see many people that look like you.

In an interview with a blog, the Bronx Banter, Leavy said, “You know, this might sound really strange, but there were equally measures of chivalry and Animal House in each sport.”

While at Stanford, where I am finishing up my work in the masters program in journalism, I was a student in a sports writing class taught by Gary Pomerantz, who covered the Redskins for the Washington Post in the ‘80s. Pomerantz told me that he thinks women reporters have an effect on athletes that their male counterparts just don’t have. There is something about talking to a female reporter that makes a ball player open up a little more.

But how does that balance out with the times that female reporters have to deal with rude, intimidating and vulgar athletes? I know it’s a job and that stuff shouldn’t bother you, but when does it get to be too much to be a female in a male-dominated room? And profession?

A new type of ball

By David Ubben

Most of my experience has come covering college football. Joe Smith’s has been in professional baseball. My sense was that the two couldn’t be more different. I wanted to learn the cultural variances among writers in our respective sports, and I figured he could provide some insight. I’ll be covering minor league baseball this summer in Oklahoma City, so I knew I had a chance to learn a lot from him.
He didn’t disappoint.

My only baseball experience has been covering schools back in Arkansas. I never knew starting pitchers don’t talk on the day of their start. By learning that now, I’ve avoided running into future problems while trying to produce advance stories.

When I covered Missouri football, we had four writers, and we all worked on a rotation—one with a game story, another with a notebook and two sidebars per game. I figured there would be a pecking order when more than their two usual writers were involved, but I figured the guys who covered the team daily for six months would either get first dibs, or write different stories than the columnists. Thanks to Joe, I know that’s not the case.

Joe regretted not being able to produce more enterprise stories on his beat, especially after he told us about his career aspirations. While Joe’s an established beat writer, writers who feed the daily beast but also churn out well-reported, insightful, in-depth stories separate themselves from their peers. In today’s environment, differentiating yourself is more important than ever. When I cover a beat in the future, I want to be the guy working on a takeout piece after deadline. The challenge will be maintaining the zeal and resolve to be that guy, but the only person who controls that is me.

Baseball beat tips

By Anna Kim

Baseball has always had a rich history of journalists and stories, from Peter Gammons to Red Smith. I have always been fascinated by their schedules, stories and place in chronicling the sport. Today provided a great opportunity to talk to one baseball beat writer who lives that life today, Joe Smith of the St. Petersburg Times.

He offered interesting perspective on the day-to-day life as a beat writer of the Tampa Bay Rays. The clubhouse of a major league baseball team is a place that many people would love to be, and Smith shared what it was like to be there almost on a daily basis.

He also shared all the ins and outs of the job, the “organized chaos” and the hardships and rewards. It is worth noting that when he began his presentation, he started with the benefits. He develops relationships with players, receives access that many others cannot and all the while continues to develop a growing respect for the game.

And though he was candid about the difficulties inherent in the job, he never failed to reiterate the fact that he is always able to put those into perspective. At the end of the day, he appreciates the fact that he gets to do what he has a passion for: storytelling.

And for all the days and nights that he puts into his work, for the foul balls that hit his computer, he has covered a World Series and Super Bowl.

It was helpful to see his game scoring methods and hear the logistics of being a sports writer. But it was even more encouraging to see someone who says he simply enjoys what he is doing right now; especially since it is something we would all like to be doing in some fashion one day.