Today’s post will be the start of a new segment of the Timeout at the Plate series. It will branch off into the pro-edition and what better way to start it off then with a professional writer. In a Timeout exclusive, Rockies MLB beat writer Thomas Harding lent his time and energy into helping the readers and myself find out more about this man. I’m sure Rockies fans alike can appreciate the dedication and time one man puts into his craft and the finished product that is Harding’s Rockies coverage.
Coming from Bluefield, West Virginia, Harding has a love for the game and the
job. Celebrating his 46th birthday recently, covering the Rockies in Tucson, Arizona, he is a man who knows this team and the dedication it takes. Almost 10 years covering them, countless miles travelling and hours in the press box, you can be sure if you ask him a Rockies question you are going to get a solid answer.
I wanted to look beyond the box score and into the experience of MLB’s man with the plan for the Rockies. Living in suburban Denver, does writing in a press box in the Arizona desert or countless other stadiums, seem like a job? Harding has made it known he likes to field questions about the team and did so through the (now defunct) Mailbag (soon to be) “Inbox” on ColoradoRockies.com. What makes the man want to take questions on his blog Hardball In the Rockies? Or coming from a guy like me who hates predictions in sports, I had to ask if he had one for the Rockies in ’09. Would he answer?
Mr. Harding, let me take a moment to thank you for taking time from your busy schedule to be part of the Timeout at the Plate series. Let’s talk a little about you first.
How did you get your start in writing for the Rockies?
I was working in Memphis, Tenn., covering various sports, but wanted to cover a major league team. I thought it would be football, but an opportunity came up at The Gazette in Colorado Springs. MLB.com came along at the right time, when The Gazette was pulling back on its coverage of pro teams in Denver.
You’ve covered every stage of baseball from Single-A to the Majors. What has been the biggest difference?
The biggest difference is the confidence the players have in their ability. Any minor leaguer believes he can play, but he truly doesn’t know until he reaches the highest level.
Heading into 10 years covering the Rockies, does it ever feel like a “job”?
It certainly can, especially when it involves time away from the family or when plans during offseason days are trumped by news. But the truth is I don’t have to work in an office, I am involved in sports and I write. I knew all along I wanted to write at some point, so I have a good situation.
As a reporter you have seen the progression of media shift from print to internet to phone, PDA, blogging etc. Do you see a time when a blogger such as myself with a journalism background (or without) is granted some form of access to the team or will it be organization based access for a long time to come?
The business is changing so rapidly that it’s hard to predict anything. I am confident that in order for blogs to continue to grow, there has to be some way for original information to emerge. Usually, the accredited media have the access and the bloggers can illuminate. But with fewer newspapers covering clubs, fewer reporters cover and, therefore, there are fewer chances for information that can come directly from players, the coaches and the manager. I don’t see the players and coaching staff talking directly with fans via daily or regular chats, or personal Web sites. They would see that as a distraction to Job 1.
So will bloggers be given credentials? That would be tough, since teams and leagues need clear rules so everyone can’t claim the right for access. That would create crowding issues within the clubhouse and press box. Also, when a traditional media outlet is issued a credential, there is a reasonable expectation of the purpose of that credential. The beauty of blogs is they can go in any direction, but some of those directions do not fit with traditional coverage. I could see that being a problem to those in uniform.
Sitting as a fan in the seats I love taking my pop to the game or a friend or loved one and enjoying the experience with them. Is it ever hard sitting in the press box and taking care of business but maybe missing out on that interaction as a fan?
I’ve been involved in covering sports in some way, shape or form my entire adult life, so I don’t necessarily miss it. You kind of learn. My one concession is I follow the Pittsburgh Penguins, especially during the playoffs. So I get my fan fix that way.
Okay, let’s move to the Rockies guru side of Thomas Harding.
In my interaction with you and the writings from your own blog, Hardball in the Rockies, I have gotten the sense you are very much open to taking questions on the Rockies from the fan base on your blog and formerly the Mailbag on Rockies.com. I’m guessing some reporters might have neither the time nor the desire to do that. What makes you different or happy about doing so?
I think you’ll be seeing more and more reporters realizing such interaction is important. I don’t feel like I have so much expertise that I can write from an ivory tower or talk down to people. Many of the questions I get from fans turn into stories.
And I’m happy to say, the old Mailbag is returning under a new, state-of-the-art name, the Inbox.
As I am writing this, you are in Tucson and the news from spring training has been a mixed bag at best for the Rockies. Injuries to Jeff Francis and Taylor Buchholz are setbacks but bright spots like Ubaldo Jimenez and Todd Helton feeling better give the fans hope. What do you feel will be the greatest obstacle the Rockies face this season?
The biggest concern I would have is the early schedule. April is heavy with road games. There are two series with the D-backs at Chase Field and one with the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium.
Injuries happen. But, remember, in 2007, the Rockies lost three-fifths of their starting pitching staff in July and August.
I personally hate predictions because they are rarely right. Without predicting a number, does your gut tell you the Rockies will finish better than .500 this year? If you want go out on a limb here and give me your gut feeling on the reaching the playoffs too.
I hate predictions as much as you, so I’ll just deal in expectations. If .500 is a goal, it’s a low one. I remember going into the 2007 season, I said many times that if the Rockies weren’t competing for a playoff spot in September, fans had a right to be bitterly disappointed. This year, I’d take that to a new level: if the Rockies don’t make the playoffs, I believe the season is a substandard one.
Finally, I have written much on the idea that Todd Helton will be the first Rockies player to reach the Hall of Fame. Would you, with your vast knowledge of the club, agree with this idea or do you see another player doing it first?
At this point, I doubt Helton makes the Hall of Fame, mainly because of the injuries he’s faced over the last several years. There would have to be a return to past numbers and past power, and he’ll have to stay healthy. That means a career as a star into his 40s. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’s a tall order.
Thanks for everyone stopping in to check out the “Pro-edition” of Timeout at the Plate. There will still be interviews with other great MLBloggers to come in the regular edition, so keep checking back. For fans who do not have a blog, or would just like to ask Thomas Harding Rockies questions at his blog or the upcoming “Inbox”, it requires a simple registration at MLB.com. After the registration, users can comment on a variety of great blogs or other baseball forums at the website. If anything, stop by Hardball In the Rockies and give him some love.