How Did I Get Here?

Well, whaddya know, I’m back.

To those who read my sports writing for any portion of the eight years it appeared on, it’s good to be here, and I hope you’ll bear with this introduction.

My first running column for YES, Deep in the Red, kicked off in the winter of 2004 coming off the Yankees’ ALCS playoff loss to the Boston Red Sox, and Boston’s subsequent World Series victory. It was a fan’s column. Back then I was spending half my time in Maine surrounded by gleefully ecstatic members of so-called Rex Sox Nation, and it seemed as if the whole town was waiting to jump me when I drove back up from New York after the Yanks’ ALCS defeat. It was aggravating, funny and, I thought, good fodder for an interesting series of columns. A Yankees fan stuck in Red Sox country suffering the consequences of the team’s historic collapse. Nice angle, I thought, always ready to turn my pain into a buck.

So I pitched the column to It was a fun catharsis to take vengeful jabs at the neighbors – and eventually broadcasters and other personalities associated with baseball. But after four years the thing got stale. I was also increasingly uncomfortable writing about myself. Most importantly stuff had happened in my life. Serious stuff. It changed me.

What I mean is this: In 2005, I was at the Maine place when the Yanks were eliminated from the playoffs in their ugly ALDS Game 5 loss to the Angels marked by the infamous collision between Bubba Crosby and Gary Sheffield. After the game, I recall breaking a few Yankees figurines in my office and then sitting out in a New England downpour awhile with a headless McFarlane Derek Jeter in my fist.

I would not react that way to the team’s subsequent postseason eliminations. Sometime after ’05, I had my own brush with a kind of elimination, and the Yanks hadn’t cared about me. It’s like that bit of dialogue from the movie A Bronx Tale. In a scene set after the Yanks fell to the Pirates in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, Sonny (a gangster played by Chazz Palminteri) tells “C” (the young son of a hardworking bus driver played by Francis Capra) the gritty realities of life as he sees it.

Sonny: “So you must be pretty upset after the Yankees lost.”

“C”: “Bill Mazeroski … I hate him. He made Mickey Mantle cry. The paper said that The Mick was crying.”

Sonny: “Mickey Mantle, is that what you’re upset about? Mickey Mantle makes a hundred thousand dollars a year. How much does your father make?”

“C”: “I don’t know.”

Sonny: “You don’t know? We’ll see if your father can’t pay the rent, go ask Mickey Mantle and see what he tells you. Mickey Mantle don’t care about you, so why should you care about him?”

I didn’t have anything close to Sonny’s sneering, dead-eyed cynicism toward the game (or life in general) Hopefully, I never will. But my attitude wasn’t much like the kid’s anymore, either. There was a streetwise wisdom in Sonny’s words. I still loved baseball, loved everything about it with a passion – the records, the skill and guts it demanded of players, its open, unclocked pacing, and the odd, contradictory perfection to be found in its essential imperfectness, which for me starts with the varying dimensions and quirky configurations of its parks. I still liked when the Yanks won much better than when they lost, but you wouldn’t catch me getting soaked in the rain over a game or series loss anymore.

The key word for me became game, however. What happened on the field could parallel and illuminate our lives in certain respects, but that didn’t make it the same thing. If a team goes down at the end of a season, it’s pretty much guaranteed another shot come the next one. Not so for people in the real world. We’re playing for mortal stakes.

Thus by the end of 2009 Deep in the Red had run its course. It would have been fraudulent to continue writing a column with a personal and often hyperemotional Yankees fan’s-eye view, given how that view had gone through a major ground-shift. Moreover, I’d been writing in a more objective journalistic fashion throughout that season. The column as originally conceived no longer existed. All that remained was to make it official with a name change.

With YES’s support, Yankees Ink debuted in 2010. It primarily featured opinion, analysis, and human-interest stories about players and people around the ballpark. The stories were my strong suit, the thing that kept me from being a redundancy with a laptop. Most of the people in stadium press boxes, including the beat crews, aren’t narrative writers. They’re news reporters. Being a writer of narrative nonfiction – or what the great Gay Talese has coined “literary journalism” – requires a different mindset and skill set.

While narrative nonfiction must be as well-researched and factually accurate as any news article, it uses many of the same techniques as fiction. It’s about finding and illuminating truth through storytelling, and as a novelist, that’s one of my strong suits.

Yankees Ink allowed me to do what I do best for multiple reasons. First, it was a freelance gig. I filed whenever I wanted and wrote about whatever struck my interest. Unless it was something I’d promised my editorial producer by a particular time, I didn’t have to submit my pieces on the night of a game or even after the conclusion of a series. If I felt I had nothing unique to say about a series, I’d often take a pass on writing about it, or possibly write about something off-topic. One of my favorite columns, for example, was a profile of the 35-year veteran beer vender Rick Goldfarb, known to Yankee fans as Cousin Brewski. How, I wondered, are historic moments at the ballpark viewed by a guy who sells beer there? Has he gotten to know the fans he’s served, watch their kids grow up, get married, maybe have kids of their own? Goldfarb answered that question in poignant, colorful fashion.

In 2010, I became the first person in the Yankee Stadium press box to live-tweet Joe Girardi’s postgame Q&A sessions and clubhouse player quotes. I didn’t consider the idea a mental lightning bolt. News editors demand quotes, but the stories I wrote didn’t always require them, and when they did, I knew I could always crib off a friend or two. Consequently, I didn’t have to record or jot them down. I had been looking for ways to make my use of social media from the Stadium more responsive to fans’ needs, and it seemed that I could best utilize Twitter by sharing the postgame comments in real time. The service would fill an obvious void, since many of my Twitter followers lived out of market and didn’t receive Yankees postgame shows. For me the only question was whether the mobile Twitter app on my cell would hang on me from the clubhouse in the Stadium’s basement. When it worked, I knew I was in business. Live-tweeting from the clubhouse has since become a staple of media coverage. I’ve mostly stopped doing it. As I said, I don’t want to be redundant.

My 2011 work was probably my best. I’d gotten a firm handle on how I wanted to write about sports. I’d taken a lead role in YES’ written coverage of HOPE Week – something that became a real passion, and would lead to my current book project about Daniel Trush, one of the 2011 honorees. My live tweeting of the Jorge Posada-removing-himself-from-the-lineup incident provided an exciting day that even prompted an interview request from one Neil Keefe for his Keefe To The City Podcast on WFAN’s site. By the season’s end, I felt I’d really hit my stride and was planning ways to break new ground with the column in 2012.

When dropped Yankees Ink as an ongoing feature after almost a decade, it admittedly caught me by surprise. The site had gone to a new operating model that left me only an occasional contributor, leaving me to figure out what to do next as far as writing about baseball. I felt my voice and perspective worthy of sharing with readers, and, although my professional relationship with YES remained solid, I still wanted to do a regular column that was synched to the rhythms of a baseball season. At the same time, my particular brand of writing was not an easy fit for most outlets. It took a while to find a landing spot, or figure out if one even existed. But since you’re reading these words it tells you I have. Thanks for the vote of confidence, Mr. Keefe.

What you’ll get here at Preisler Ink is essentially what you got from me before. My focus will still be Yankees-centric, but, as the tweaked column title indicates, I expect to digress into other teams, and maybe on occasion other sports. In all the years my columns appeared in their blog roll, YES never put constraints on my work and that remains the case to the present. But in concept, I feel I can be a little freer and broader of scope here outside a corporate umbrella. What that means in execution, admittedly, is something I can’t wait to find out – and I hope you’ll stop by and visit often and find out along with me. We’re in this together.

As Cardinal Timothy Dolan once told an overzealous Yankees security guard who tried to stop me from accompanying some team members into St. Patrick’s Cathedral: “All are welcome.”