tampabay.com

This job is a trip

While Tom Jones is on vacation, we've asked our beat writers to help fill the void. They will offer a taste of a reporter's life on the road. Today it's Rays/MLB writer Marc Topkin.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published August 5, 2007


I figured the first World Series game I covered was crazy enough, the 1988 opener that ended shockingly when this Kirk Gibson guy came limping off the bench and hit a home run that turned out to be one of the five or so most memorable in history.

So what could be wilder?

Well, the next year I found myself in the middle of an earthquake.

It was about 25 minutes before the start of Game 3, I was in an auxiliary press area, the football press box, high atop the stands down the leftfield line at old Candlestick (3Com, Monster) Park.

When it first started shaking I didn't know what to make of it. It felt like being in the bleachers at a high school football game when everyone is stomping their feet. But when it didn't subside, some writers more familiar with the earthquake experience realized what it was, and panic quickly ensued.

This was before cell phones and Internet news, so it took a while to grasp the severity. Reports of the Bay Bridge collapse and quick TV news shots of the destruction made it clear how horrible it was.

I'm 27, at my second big national event, and didn't really know what to do. Instinct was to gather as much info as I could, and I commandeered one of the few phone lines still working and called the Times office, telling folks there I was okay and that I'd provide some copy, and asked someone there to call my house with an update.

My mom, being a typical Jewish mother, had already called from Fort Lauderdale in a panic to see if I was okay. My wife, being a good first-time mother of an 8-month-old, was too busy attending to Carlyn to have even turned on the TV to know what happened.

There was no sense in trying to hook up a computer, so I dictated to the office as much info as I could, mostly off the top of my head since there was little official info, and unsure if I'd be able to get another phone line out to update.

I was there with our sports columnist at the time, Hubert Mizell, and realized eventually I had to find a way back to my hotel that - hopefully still - was in downtown San Francisco.

Hubert had a car!! But he also had a different plan. He quickly wrote his column, dubbing it the "World Serious," got a buddy to let him into the ABC-TV truck to use a phone, and left. He'd explain later he had no idea where I was, we were staying in different parts of town, and he wanted to head out before dark, but still ... he left!!

So now I had to find a way out. No one knew if the media shuttle buses would ever show up. A writer friend, Marc Hansen of the Des Moines Register, was equally stranded.

So, without a better plan, we started walking through the rough neighborhood. Maybe 30 minutes later, we saw a cab, the "Miracle Cab" as we later called it.

Desperate, we blocked its path and pleaded for help. The passenger was looking for her lost dog, so I made a quick deal - we'd pay her fare, and ours, and pretty much whatever else the driver wanted, if he took us to the hotel next. He agreed, and we made it - though walking up 30 floors was no fun.

The World Serious, indeed.

Best best road cities

Seattle

Everything is so different from Florida - from atmosphere to attitudes - and the food is tremendous.

New York

Hassles aside, it's always cool to be at the center of the universe. Just ask a native.

Boston

It's refreshing, and somewhat entertaining, to be somewhere where the fans care that much.

Worst road cities

Arlington, Texas

There just isn't anything there. And it's always hot.

Cincinnati

Also without anything there. Plus, what's with the chili on the spaghetti?

Phoenix

I'm sure it's great in the winter, but in the middle of the summer it's so miserable it makes Florida seem downright comfortable.

Favorite stadiums

Safeco Field, Seattle

Looks cool from the outside and retro on the inside, tons of neat touches (like a standing-room-only gathering spot for fans), and a pretty good salmon sandwich at the Ivar's concession stand.

Fenway Park, Boston

Lacking almost all modern conveniences but, even more so than Yankee Stadium, it's a cathedral of baseball history.

Angels Stadium, Anaheim

Energy level is always high, working conditions excellent and the, um, scenery is always good.

Least-favorite stadiums

Shea Stadium, New York

Growing up on Long Island, I considered the home of the Mets a mecca. Once I went there to cover games, I realized it was a mess. And it still is.

McAfee Coliseum, Oakland

Whether for A's World Series games, Raiders playoff games or midweek regular season A's-Rays games, it's still a dump.

Dolphin Stadium, Miami

As a baseball facility, it looks like a football stadium that was reconfigured by a couple of guys in a hurry. As a football stadium, it's still generic and lacking character. And it's teal.

Favorite people I've covered

Lou Piniella, former Rays manager

Sure, he got loud at times and could wear you out by dwelling on the same themes, but he was candid, thoughtful and willing to answer just about any question. Or to put it another way, you rarely left an interview without something to write.

John Flaherty, former Rays catcher

He was always willing to talk, never acted like he was any better than you, and, when you asked, would teach you something about the game.

Mia Hamm, Olympic soccer star

Only saw her a few times during the 2004 Olympics in Greece, but having spent so many years around girls' soccer with my daughter, and knowing what Hamm meant, it was truly a thrill.

Favorite restaurants on the road

Metropolitan Grill, Seattle

Best steak you'll find anywhere, only a little pricey (sorry boss) and in a classy but not stuffy atmosphere.

Legal Sea Foods, Boston

New Englanders scoff because it's a chain, but I've been there probably 50 times and never had anything that wasn't wicked good.

Richtree Market, Toronto

The marche experience is one you have to try - stroll through a market-style space, order at any (or several) of the fresh food stations and it's all made to order. And delicious.

Best airport

Detroit

Seriously. Decent food, open space and a Northwest terminal so big there's a train that runs from one end to the other. (No, I didn't forget Tampa. Lengthy delays to get bags have dropped it on my list and others.)

Worst airport

Oakland

No matter what day of the week, no matter what time of day, no matter what airline, it's going to be crowded, dirty and uncomfortable. And you'll be standing in line.

Favorite sport to cover

Baseball

After 20 years (including 10 with the Rays that seems like 30) it's still fun, interesting and at times exhilarating because there's always something happening - just like a daily soap opera.

Favorite sport to watch

Football

Sitting back watching the world's greatest athletes do amazing things all over the field is always exciting. American football can be pretty entertaining, too.

One athlete I've never interviewed but want to

Babe Ruth

I'm guessing he'd have a lot to say. Especially nowadays

Favorite event I've ever covered

Devil Rays first-ever game

I've been so lucky to see so much during baseball postseasons, Super Bowls and an Olympics. But being there for the Devil Rays' first-ever game, as much for all the work by so many people that preceded it as for the place it will always have in the history of the franchise and the Tampa Bay area, was the best. I still have the page hanging on a wall at home with the cool headline: HELLO, BIG LEAGUES.