A toilet flushes, another deal goes down, and I'm hunched in a bathroom stall, scribbling furiously into my notebook. This is what it's come to. It's MLB's Winter Meetings and scoop-work was tough. I was serious. It was time to take one last approach I'd always pondered.
The bathroom stall GM and agent stakeout.
The plan was to hunker down for an hour or so inside one of the bathrooms in the main hallway at the Bellagio. There, I would wait with fisherman-like patience until the executives and agents swung through and wait for the explosive quote to blow the lid off this entire Winter Meetings business. No one ever said obtaining success was easy. Or dignified. I scouted out the area before the 11 AM press conference about the upcoming World Baseball Classic; Tommy Lasorda was on it and I was hoping he'd take a break beforehand to get the Slim Fast out of his system. But the only sound inside was an operatic score being piped in through overhead speakers, allowing the Bellagio to keep its elegant atmosphere even in the midst of unrelenting flatulence. I checked out a stall for future use.
A couple footsteps. Zipping sounds. Fellow reporters? Agents? … A GM?
"Is the C.C. deal official yet?"
"Everything except the years, I think."
I headed back into the conference to calculate the best time for the Official Stall Stakeout. There was a Manager's Luncheon until 2pm and Omar Minaya wasn't scheduled to discuss the recent K-Rod signing until three. That left a window to hunker down in my porcelain bunker and scribble. Foolproof.
Footsteps. Two men. Jackpot.
"The jerk said, 'I'll tell you, but it has to be off the record.' And I said, 'Hell no!' Who does he think he is?"
They can't all be winners. But sure enough, as soon as I got my pants around my ankles, the plot was paying dividends. Two gentlemen walked in and began talking about super-agent Scott Boras. "Boras does his job, you know. But he has no personality at all. Dude's a robot." Jackpot. Unfortunately, they exited quickly (without washing their hands!) and left the room mostly-silent for a bit. I say "mostly" because of a newly-discovered problem with my plan: the distance from the stalls to the urinals, where most of the conversation was taking place. As you'd imagine, most occupying stalls are focusing their energy on pursuits other than baseball rumors. Most, but not all.
"Makes no sense for the Mets to sign K-Rod for that money. He's throwing 93-94. Kerry Wood is a better bet. He's throwing 96-97."
If only I could see his shoe size, and he identified himself as a GM or agent before doing his work…
During my stay, one person was brazen enough to talk business on his cell phone while in the stall. But since he was speaking Spanish, it was no help. In fact, if his booming voice wasn't enough to drown out the urinal conversations, he obstructed my eavesdropping even worse by conducting a courtesy flush every thirty seconds. Speaking of which, now is probably a good time to bring up the diet of a sportswriter.
"Hear about that Antonio Daniels trade? Have fun with him—dude's a bum."
In any job where you spend a majority of your 18-hour days trying to break news, you're not going to spend much time thinking about what goes in your body. As such, it's important to have the organizations running the pressers to consider the health of those being served. At the Winter Meetings, MLB made the wise move of keeping high-calorie items as far away from the menu as possible. Unfortunately, this was due to them keeping all items as far away as possible.
"Burnett, too? They're going after every damn pitcher in baseball!"
The food available consists entirely of Pepsi, Diet Pepsi and Sierra Mist. Every now and then, some popcorn will magically appear in a large bowl and fellow reporters will have at it. On Tuesday afternoon, there was a rumor some tacquitos were made available, but by the time I got there, only a cheesy plastic-like substance was left to scrape off the bottom, if one wished to do so. I did not.
"They don't feed you here, but at least you could run down the hall and get a sandwich." "Yeah, for 25 bucks."
(It wasn't all bad, though. On Tuesday night, a group of fine gentlemen came in with a giant crate of In-N-Out burgers for everyone in the room. But since this wasn't officially sanctioned by express written condition of the MLB, we'll leave that out.)
"What's the good word, sir?"
"Same as always: Play ball, baby!"
All this is just a long way of saying that a reporter must scramble for his or her food, usually settling for some cheap greasy concoction. Add to that the fact that coffee is a basic staple of reporting—needing the caffeine to meet deadline and all—and you might just get a sense of what kinds of noises and smells I had to hear and breath over to get the quotes. As you'd expect, I can't attribute these to anyone since: (a) I couldn't peek through the stall door in most cases; and (b) I didn't feel like running out, pants around my ankles, to ask if I could quote them.
It seemed creepy at the time.
"Alright, fellas. No questions about these umpires. Let's leave 'em alone and just get out of here as quick as we can."
That's what I was thinking. About 40 minutes into my stay, when "A Long December" by the Counting Crows came on, I decided I'd gotten enough "material" and it was time go. But when I went to stand up, I had to brace myself on the toilet paper dispenser. My thighs were burning with the heat of a thousand acupuncture needles, the result of circulation loss from spending too much time in the sitting position. I waited another 5 minutes for the blood to refill, which was good, because it gave me enough time to consider just where exactly my life had gone so wrong to lead me to this point.
Before I left, a couple more strangers strode in.
"Hey man, how's the blog world treatin' ya?"
I concluded it was birth.