August 27, 2011

The Summer of a Lifetime by Darren Hartwell '13

More news about: Williams

ESPNBoston Red Sox Staff (l. to r.): Joe McDonald, Darren Hartwell & Gordon Edes in Fenway Park

ESPNBoston Red Sox Staff (l. to r.): Joe McDonald, Darren Hartwell & Gordon Edes in Fenway Park

When I told my friends from my tiny hometown of North Reading, Mass., what I was doing this summer, they all told me I had the best summer job anyone from North Reading could ever dream of.

Just 15 miles away from Boston, I would get the chance to drive in to the city for every Boston Red Sox home game as an intern for ESPNBoston.com. Ironically, though, it was the connections I made about 140 miles west of Boston that would land me the gig.

The opportunity arose last spring, when Williams Sports Information Director Dick Quinn approached me on Spring Street with the idea of working for ESPNBoston.com at Fenway Park for the summer.

I had gotten to know "DQ" in the winter covering the men's ice hockey team for the Sports Information Department, and Dan Pesquera '10 -- who showed me the ropes for my ice hockey job -- had worked for Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston in the summer of 2010. Dan impressed Gordon so much that he was interested in hiring another Williams student intern for the summer of 2011, and by some small miracle, DQ turned to me with the offer.

An avid Boston sports fan since my early childhood, I eagerly jumped at the chance to work at Red Sox games. After some extremely helpful guidance and connecting from DQ, I soon found myself standing on Yawkey Way and staring in awe at the friendly confines of Fenway Park. I met Gordon at the gate and we were on our way.

Darren Hartwell standing outside his office

"Do you have a tape recorder?"

That was one of the first questions Gordon asked me as we made our way through the bowels of Fenway, up the elevator and into the air-conditioned press box lined with framed newspaper articles and photographs from the Red Sox' storied past.

The date was June 3, and that night's contest between the Boston Red Sox and the Oakland A's marked the first day of the best summer internship I could've ever dreamed of: covering Red Sox games at Fenway Park for ESPNBoston.com.

My answer, of course, was no. I didn't have a tape recorder, a notebook, a pen, or anything else one would rationally assume they needed for their first day of a journalism internship.

Luckily for me, Gordon lived up to his reputation of being one of the nicest people in the journalism business. He let me borrow his recorder, and off I went to the clubhouse of my childhood heroes, armed only with a flimsy piece of plastic that I barely knew how to use and trying to mask my jumbled nerves with a faint smile as I began my duties.

Born and raised in the small Boston suburb of North Reading, I had always been a huge baseball fan, and naturally the Red Sox were my favorite team. These were the players I grew up watching, so it was unnerving to say the least when I walked into the Boston clubhouse on the first day and almost walked headlong into newly acquired Sox leftfielder Carl Crawford.

"Excuse me," said Carl.

I mumbled incoherently and quickly shuffled aside. As I gathered myself and looked around me, I couldn't help but smile. All my favorite players were there: from David "Big Papi" Ortiz, who towered over me from his perch in the corner of the clubhouse, to Dustin "Muddy Chicken" Pedroia, who barely came up to my chest.

It was hard to believe I was in a room filled with my boyhood idols, and even harder to believe that I'd be sticking my (borrowed) tape recorder in their faces for the next three months as they dutifully fielded question after question from the throngs of reporters surrounding them. After all, just two days before I had been sitting on my couch at home watching Boston take on the Chicago White Sox. This was a lot better.

I was truly being thrown into the fire, and the one thing I learned right away is that being a journalist is harder than it looks. Especially shocking were the hours these writers put in. For that first game, I arrived at the ballpark at around 3:30 PM and left some time after midnight. I was one of the last to arrive and one of the first to leave.

After getting a few games under my belt, however, I got used to the routine. For a typical 7 PM night game, I would arrive at Fenway at around 3:30 PM and make my way to the Red Sox clubhouse, where I would mingle with the other reporters and collect quotes from players who talked about pressing issues.

At 4:00 PM, I'd head upstairs one level to Red Sox manager Terry Francona's press conference and record any relevant news from the Sox skipper. After that, it was back down to the clubhouse until 4:30 PM, when the Sox took the field for batting practice. During BP, I'd sometimes sneak onto the field next to the Boston dugout to take it all in, or head right up to the press box to transcribe the quotes I had gathered.

Read
Darren Hartwell's

2011 ESPNBoston.com
24 postings
here.

* * * * * * *

Darren makes an
appearance in the
7th inning stretch
on State of the Nation
with Gordon Edes
at 2:19

At the conclusion of batting practice at 5:30 PM, I would venture down to the clubhouse one more time until it closed at 6 PM. Then it was back upstairs for dinner in the cafeteria before game time. 

Dinner in the cafeteria was an experience all unto itself. The $11 entry fee seemed a little steep at first, but I got the chance to meet a lot of really cool reporters as I chowed down on my Hawaiian pizza. The soft serve machine was another great perk, and I would often load myself up with a nice sundae as I settled into my press box seat for the first pitch.

During the game I would keep score, track relevant statistics, and developing stories, or do anything else my bosses wanted me to do. It was after the game, however, that the real work began. As soon as the last out was recorded, I would rush down to the Red Sox clubhouse to grab quotes from players while my bosses -- ESPNBoston.com reporters Gordon Edes and Joe McDonald -- listened in on Francona's post-game press conference.

Finally, I'd hustle back upstairs to the press box at the very top of Fenway Park and transcribe the quotes for Gordon and Joe. If I had time, they would even let me write mini-articles to be posted on the Red Sox Blog on the ESPNBoston website. With my duties finally completed, I'd walk up the street to the garage where my car was parked and head home in the wee hours of the morning to get some sleep before doing it all again the next day.

I soon developed a routine, but baseball is known for its unexpected twists and turns, and this summer was no exception. There was the marathon 14-inning game against the Kansas City Royals that started at 9:30 after a two-and-a-half-hour rain delay and kept me at Fenway until about 3:00 AM.

There was the wild contest against the Baltimore Orioles, highlighted by a massive, bench-clearing brawl and a 10-minute post-game rant by David Ortiz that featured a laundry list of words that can't be repeated here.

Then, of course, there was the Red Sox vs. the Yankees. 

The three-game series between the two bitter rivals during the first week of August was by far the most exciting of the summer. Just when I thought nothing at the ballpark could overwhelm me; I turned the corner into the press box for the first game of the series and found it overflowing with beat writers, video crews, and a slew of famous columnists, from Dan Shaughnessy to Mike Lupica to Bob Ryan.

It was certainly a sight to behold, even if I would be viewing it from the only open seat left -- a stiff, creaky desk chair that was crammed in to the box's deepest row. Not that it mattered much to me; I could have been sitting on a bed of nails the whole game and wouldn't have cared. The scene was just as hectic in the Boston clubhouse, as a frenzy of reporters and camera crews jostled for position around any player brave enough to show his face. 

One of the reporters on duty that night was Joe McDonald, and after the fracas had somewhat subsided he pulled me aside and suggested that I check out the visiting clubhouse. I had not been over to the "dark side" all summer because Gordon and Joe had always needed me to stick around the Red Sox clubhouse, but on one of the busiest days of the season, Joe assured me that he had everything under control and urged me to explore the clubhouse of my childhood nemesis, the big bad Yankees. 

Entering the visiting locker room, it was all I could do to keep from hurling insults at the players I had rooted so passionately against since the day I could walk. I swallowed my pride, however, and soon found myself amid a small crowd of reporters and staring straight up -- not at the ceiling, but at one of the largest human beings I have ever seen in person: Yankee pitcher C.C. Sabathia.

I timidly held my recorder out as the reporters peppered him with questions about his scheduled start the next day, and before I knew it I had about five minutes' worth of quality quotes. Later on, Joe gave me the go-ahead and I put together a game preview comparing Sabathia to often-criticized Sox pitcher John Lackey that by some miraculous mishap made it to the front page of ESPN.com's MLB page.

Looking back, I realized I would have never gotten the opportunity to write that article if it wasn't for Joe's assurance. Just being at Fenway Park and working with ESPNBoston was memorable enough, but what made it truly special was the people I worked with. Gordon and Joe were two of the most kind and helpful bosses I have ever worked for, and they were concerned not just with pointing me in the right direction but making sure I truly got the most out of my three months at Fenway Park.

From the very first day they made me feel like I belonged, and would always make sure they introduced me to other reporters they knew. I got to meet a ton of new people, and in one instance the connections I made opened the door for yet another opportunity.

1941 baseball socks are not as fast
as Darren Hartwell in 2011

One night when Gordon and I were eating dinner in the cafeteria, Boston Herald writer Steve Buckley approached. Gordon introduced me and mentioned that I played baseball, at which point Steve began telling me about his annual Old Time Baseball Game on Aug. 11.

The Old Time Baseball Game website describes the game as a "celebration of our national pastime" in which a collection of college athletes and members of the media don throwback uniforms for a 9-inning contest of baseball Americana at St. Peter's Field in Cambridge, Mass.

Steve asked if I was available to play in the game, and a week later I was standing in right field at St. Peter's Field wearing an authentic 1941 Chicago Cubs uniform formerly worn by local legend Lennie Merullo. In the opposing dugout were my boss Joe McDonald, who made some nice defensive plays from second base, and former Red Sox player Lou Merloni, who put on an impressive show in batting practice with some hard-hit balls to the outfield.

It was a special night, although I struggled at times to keep my baggy uniform in check (how anyone could play a game in high socks and stirrups is beyond me). Our team emerged with a 9-6 victory, and although I didn't exactly light it up from the plate (0-for-5) it was the perfect way for me to spend one of my last nights of the summer.

Once again, my boss's help had allowed me to explore another exciting opportunity. Over the course of the summer, I was able to meet a variety of interesting people and make several friendships that I hope will extend well beyond the Red Sox press box.

In a way, working at Red Sox games this summer reminded me of Williams -- sure, the scenery is nice and the attractions are cool, but what really sets the experience apart is the surrounding community, which makes you feel like you belong and gives you the opportunity to try things you never thought were possible.

At this time last summer, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine myself perched in a press box taking in a Red Sox-Yankees game at Fenway Park.

With all the great people surrounding me at Williams, I should have known better. 

Knowing my interests in journalism and sports, DQ presented me on that spring day with the opportunity of a lifetime. In the months leading up to the summer, he was essential in establishing contacts with ESPNBoston and assuring that I got the job. 

Also essential in helping me land my dream job was Dan Pesquera. Dan was one of the first people I met in Sports Info when he trained me at Williams hockey games, and also helped pave the way for me with his quality work for Gordon last summer. Dan is currently working at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn., so clearly he was doing something right. 

Thanks to the efforts of DQ and Dan, everything fell into place this spring. Before I knew it I was at Jerry Remy's Bar and Grill having lunch with ESPNBoston senior editor David Lefort, preparing for my first day as a reporter with Fenway Park looming in the background.

If I have learned anything from my two years at Williams, it's that the possibilities are endless. My passion has always been with sports, and the friendships and connections I've made here in the Purple Valley allowed me, at least for the summer, to do something truly special.

While I still don't know if I want to make a career out of sports journalism, I do know that my internship with ESPNBoston this summer gave me an unprecedented look into the world of sports journalism and was an experience I will never forget.

Editor's Note: Darren Hartwell impressed Williams fans last fall catching a school record 10 TD passes in earning First Team All-NESCAC honors and hitting .329 in 24 starts for the Eph baseball team and this summer he impressed Gordon Edes and Joe McDonald of ESPNBoston. Edes told DQ: "We threw him right in the fire and he never blinked. We told him his last night that we want him back again next summer."

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