While I am clearly obsessed with hockey, I am also someone that absolutely loves baseball.
I’ve been to a ton of games, was a partial New York Yankees’ season ticket holder in 2004, and I try to watch as many games as time will allow. Again, I may not love it anywhere close to the way I love hockey, but baseball is something I certainly enjoy.
This is why I am proud to share an email interview I conducted with The New York Times’ national baseball writer Tyler Kepner. Kepner is someone who clearly loves the game of baseball and enjoys what he does for a living.
I hope you folks enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed conducting it with one of the best baseball writers out there.
PH: How did you get into baseball?
TK: I just loved everything about it. I was lucky to grow up outside Philadelphia at a time when the Phillies were really good, so the games were exciting to watch, and really fun to attend.
I played Little League, collected cards, watched on TV, listened on radio, devoured newspapers, books and magazines. My dad made up a dice baseball game for me and I’d play full seasons of the Phillies schedule.
When I was done with that, I’d re-create old World Series using rosters from the Baseball Encyclopedia. I couldn’t get enough baseball in my life.
PH: Growing up, who was your favorite team/player?
TK: The Phillies. They won the World Series when I was 5, which I don’t remember. But I went to my first game in 1981, and then started going to 15-20 games a year in 1982.
I was there for their postseason games in 1983, the wins against the Dodgers and the losses against the Orioles, and those remain some of my happiest and most vivid childhood memories.
My favorite player was Steve Carlton. I’m right-handed, but I would mimic his delivery and mannerisms and I always tried to wear No. 32. I was also a big fan of Tug McGraw, Mike Schmidt and my mom’s favorite player, Luis Aguayo.
PH: At what point did you know that you wanted to become a baseball writer?
TK: Eighth grade, summer of 1989. I had started my own baseball magazine the year before, but that summer I really dove headfirst into it.
I wrote a letter to Jayson Stark, then with the Philadelphia Inquirer, and he gave me a lot of positive reinforcement and useful advice. How lucky was I that my favorite writer turned out to be an absolutely wonderful person and a lifelong friend!
PH: Tell us about how you started your own baseball magazine when you were a youngster. What were you trying to accomplish with it?
TK: At first, it was just a way for me and my friend John Pasquarella to pass the time during 7th grade classes at Germantown Academy. John and I were both avid card collectors, and I think at the start we were really just doing our own little version of Beckett Baseball Card Monthly.
Within a year or so, I realized it could be a vehicle for me to express my thoughts about the game at large and blend two things I really loved – baseball and writing – into one singular passion that could someday become my career.
I just wrote all the time, and people like Jayson, Paul Hagen, Bill Lyon and many others inspired me, both by what they wrote and what they told me about how to get better.
PH: How did publishing the magazine open other baseball-related doors for you?
TK: Well, I learned pretty quickly that writers are always looking for story ideas, and some of the places I sent the magazine – strictly looking for advice – wound up featuring me in their pages.
So there ended up being a lot of press about the magazine in 1989-90, and that gave me a certain legitimacy with team PR directors. But the thing that helped most was that my father was friends from way back with David Montgomery, then the Phillies’ executive VP. Dave and Larry Shenk, the head PR man, made it possible for me to get a press pass at age 15, and from there I proved that I could handle myself in a professional environment.
I was coming to the Vet so often that by my junior year in high school the Phillies just gave me a season pass and I could come and go whenever I wanted. It was a lot of fun, as you could imagine, and I learned so much about the craft, the sport and how to deal with people.
PH: What is it like being the national baseball writer for The New York Times? How do you manage to stay on top of everything that is going on in the league?
TK: I try to find the best stories in baseball and tell them in a way that people will enjoy. It’s really that simple. I’ve learned to trust my instincts and to understand that – like every writer – I bring my own perspective to each story. I have a genuine curiosity about the game and the people in it, and I always want to learn more and communicate that to my readers.
As far as staying on top of things, I keep a daily, hand-written notebook every day tracking every single starting pitcher in MLB. This forces me to consume every box score and gives me a first read on what happened the night before. And of course I check in with people I know around the game, both at the ballpark and over the phone, etc., to stay up on what’s happening. Also, reading my colleagues’ work, watching TV coverage and – especially — listening to MLB Network Radio helps a lot.
PH: Any bold predictions going into this season? How do you see the Yankees and Mets doing this season?
TK: I think they’ll both be competitive. The Mets have improved, for sure, but the Yankees have a chance to be really, really good. They’ll score a ton of runs and I’ve never seen a bullpen that overwhelming on opening day.
Some teams acquire relievers as the season goes on, or use starters in relief in the postseason. But the Yankees should win just about all the games they should win from March 28 on.
PH: Any other words you’d like to share with my readers?
TK: Yes, buy my book! It’s called “K: A History of Baseball In 10 Pitches,” due April 2, from Doubleday. I spoke with more than 300 pitchers and did a lot of research tracing the origins of each pitch from the old days to the present day. It was a true labor of love and I think fans will really enjoy it.