Marc Lancaster arrived in town last month with some fanfare, since he's proven his value through adaptation to a new team, a new league, and has really meshed well with the excellence we are accustomed to from the Tampa Tribune beat writers who cover the team we care so much about.
So I thank Mr. Lancaster for giving me the chance to provide our readers with an inside look at what we hope will be a long standing addition to the Rays' media family through our (hopeful) playoff pushes.
1.Welcome to the Bay Area Marc, how's St. Petersburg / Tampa been to you?
Marc Lancaster: Everything's been great so far. It's tough to complain about anything when you move someplace like this from Cincinnati in the middle of January - your old friends back home grow to dislike you pretty quickly if you complain that it's a little chilly when it gets down to 55 degrees or so. I really like this part of the country and I have for a long time; it's nice to finally be a resident rather than a visitor.
2.Anything that surprised you about Florida life?
ML: Not really. I've spent a good bit of time here over the years, between spring training with the Reds, vacations to watch spring training games before I started covering baseball and a couple of Outback Bowls back in the day. Aside from my car insurance premium literally doubling simply by moving to St. Pete, I haven't been bowled over by anything.
3. Carter Gaddis amongst other former Tribune writers did some double duty
for the Rays and Lightning, do you share any love for the game on ice?
ML: Hey, I'm from Michigan so it's in my genes. That said, I'm not all that knowledgeable about the game or its players at the moment. Cincinnati's kind of a hockey wasteland, with all apologies to the minor league teams that have called the Queen City home. The Blue Jackets are a couple hours up the road, and I went to a couple of games there in five years, but the NHL's ridiculous TV deal has kept me from following the game more closely. We couldn't get the network formerly known as OLN (Versus?) in Cincinnati, even with digital cable and the sports tier, so I've watched more hockey in three weeks of living here than I did in five years up there. I'm enjoying that, though. Went to the Forum and saw Martin Brodeur the other night - very impressive.
4. How many years have you been writing? Any writing in college? Have you
always aspired to be a baseball writer?
ML: I started my first "real" job in the business in August 1996, so I'm over a decade now. Getting old, eh? That was at the Athens (Ga.) Banner-Herald and I started working there full-time just before beginning my senior year at the University of Georgia. I spent about a year at the student newspaper there, The Red & Black, before moving to the Banner-Herald. I spent four years at the Athens paper, covering mostly UGA football, women's basketball and tennis, before moving to SI.com. I was mostly an editor there, handling college football, college hoops and tennis, before moving to the Cincinnati Post in 2002. I spent my first two years with the Post covering a variety of stories, but one of my duties was backing up Tony Jackson on the Reds beat. I'd never really thought about covering baseball until then (though I've been a fan all my life), but I really grew to enjoy the ins and outs of writing and reporting about the game. When Tony got a job covering the Dodgers for the L.A. Daily News less than a week before spring training opened in 2004, I took over the Reds beat full-time and covered them for three seasons.
5.Your first interview here was with Carl Crawford, how nerve racking (if
at all) was that encounter? Or are you past the `star shocked' phase in your
ML: Not nerve-wracking at all - I just hope I didn't sound too stupid to Carl considering my relative lack of knowledge about his team. I'm pretty well past the star-shocked thing by now, though. The only one that's kind of taken it to the next level was opening day last year, when President Bush came to Cincinnati. Myself and John Fay, the beat guy from the Cincinnati Enquirer, were chosen to be the local pool reporters and got to go in the Reds' clubhouse with the White House press corps when Bush was in there greeting the team and then go on the field for the first pitch. We were herded in and out like cattle and there was zero substance to it, but it was pretty cool nonetheless.
6. Speaking of star shocked, I imagine you've spoken with a large amount of
superstars, whom did you find the most intimidating or at least the one you
found yourself saying "Wow it's really him."?
ML: Probably Barry Bonds as far as the "intimidation." This was '02 or '03 when the Giants were in Cincinnati and I definitely did a few laps in the clubhouse before approaching him, just watching his mannerisms as he was sitting at his locker. He definitely cultivates an aura intended to intimidate, and of course he's quite the physical specimen. We ended up talking for five or 10 minutes and it was kind of surreal - he's the type to say whatever's on his mind no matter what the question is - but it was fine. Wasn't a real good story, but that's how it goes sometimes.
7. How did the hiring process go with the Tribune, was it a mutual
ML: As in most fields, it's a huge help to have friends who can vouch for you and clue you in to various openings, and that happened here from the beginning. I first heard about a potential opening way back in August when Ed Encina moved over to the Times. Hal McCoy, halfway through his fourth decade covering the Reds for the Dayton Daily News, asked me one day when we were in San Francisco if I'd be interested in the Tampa/St. Pete area and my response was a very quick "Yes." Things sort of progressed from there, with help from the aforementioned Tony Jackson and former St. Pete Times writer Kevin Kelly, who's now up in Cincinnati at the Enquirer. I finally interviewed with the Tribune in November and officially got the job in December. It's a great place to work and I'm surrounded by talented people. Basically, I couldn't be more excited about how it all worked out.
8. Any advice for aspiring baseball writers on how to break into the
business, what courses to take in college?
ML: Don't get me wrong, I'm quite proud of my degree from the journalism school at UGA, but the key for anyone aspiring to break into any kind of journalism is to get out and do it. For me, working at the student paper was the catalyst for everything. I covered games alongside writers from the Athens Banner-Herald and Atlanta Journal-Constitution and learned plenty just by comparing their story in the next day's paper to what I had written. Many people have said journalism is more of a craft or a trade than anything. The only way you can get better at it is by doing it, and the learning curve accelerates if that experience comes in the real world, writing for some sort of publication or web site. Aside from writing as often as you can, make a point to introduce yourself to the other writers you're around when you cover events. I'm a horrible networker as a rule, despite the chain of events that brought me here, but there's no denying how valuable just having some sort of grapevine can be. And most of us are pretty agreeable folks, I'd say - as long as we're not on deadline.
9. I'm not sure how familiar you were with the old Rays management and
owners, though I'm sure you at least heard about them, comparing that to the
current crop you've had connections to, is it blind optimism that leads some
to believe we actually have a good group, or is that a reality?
ML: My knowledge of the Naimoli/LaMar regime is limited, aside from occasionally observing the on-field product from the outside. I'm sure they legitimately wanted to win, but it's obvious what they were doing didn't work. It's not difficult to tell things had grown stagnant around here and desperately needed shaking up. My initial impressions of the new management team are positive, but there's no doubt they began the process in an enormous hole. The team they inherited was simply not a player or two away from contending. There's plenty of groundwork to be laid and they've started on that by doing things like placing a greater emphasis on Latin American scouting. Ultimately, I think they probably will help the Rays become more competitive than the previous management, but it's not an easy task.
10. We've heard the team is basically sticking to Rays for their name
change, and as you brought to our attention the jerseys / logo will probably
be doused with a little blue, having a little fun with it, what would be
your `best' suggestion for a new name / color set?
ML: I think just "Rays" would be fine, with some more green-blue or blue-green or aquamarine or something like that (oh, for the Crayola 64-pack I had as a kid). Considering the way the previous nine seasons have gone, I can understand the urge to junk it completely and start over, but that would be taking it overboard. If this team somehow manages to slug it out evenly with the Red Sox and Yankees into late July, no one will care what the nickname or colors are.
11. Of those pitchers who are working out, any names you can assure us of?
James Shields would be one of my guesses though I haven't had this
ML: Partial list: Kazmir, Camp, Fossum, Niemann, Hammel, Stokes, Orvella, Seo. More guys are coming in as we get closer to camp opening. Baldelli and Upton have also been around periodically, though I've yet to meet either one.
12. The Rays' farm system is very deep and talented, perhaps this is
fanspeak but looking a few years ahead, could you see the Rays actually
making a run at Johan Santana in 2009 via trade (assuming the Twins couldn't
ML: The Rays probably will have plenty of prospects and/or young major leaguers to offer, but that's not the main concern. If the Twins can't afford him, what makes you think the Rays will be able to? It's not wise to tie up a huge chunk of your payroll in one player, even one as great as Santana. You never know, I suppose, but I'd say that's a huge, huge longshot at this point.
13. Judging from your experience with him in Cincinnati, can Brendan Harris
play shortstop? And as a whole is he a better utility infielder than someone
such as Tomas Perez or Jose Macias?
ML: I didn't see much of Harris last season - he hardly played as a September call-up in a very crowded clubhouse of about 35 players. But he did have some very nice numbers in Louisville, so we'll see. This team has a ton of interchangeable parts around the infield and I'm not sure exactly where Harris fits in, but I can see him finding a bench spot. If all else fails, he's the type of guy that can go to Durham and get called up two or three times during the season to fill holes.
14. What do you think of Akinori Iwamura's personality from being around him
for roughly a month? I've said he's our Manny / Damon just because of his
seemingly carefree, and abstract attitude, is he a good fit in an American
ML: Well, I haven't actually met him yet - he arrives in town for spring training this Wednesday. But I have heard he's got a flamboyant side to him - far more so than the more reserved Ichiro and Hideki Matsui. I'm looking forward to being around him. The Japanese media I've talked to love him because it seems like he'll say whatever's on his mind and he likes to have fun.
15. The Scott Dohmann signing has been looked upon as a wasteful one, is it
the Rays belief that Jim Hickey can `fix' him, or is he merely a placeholder
on a 40 man slot until we decide which of the two (if either) of Choi / Pena
will make the team?
ML: His numbers aren't pretty, there's no question about that, but he supposedly has a pretty live arm, so who knows? This team is in no position to turn down pitching help, particularly in the bullpen, and it's not like he was an expensive acquisition. Might as well throw him and everyone else (like Al Reyes and Gary Glover) out there and see if anybody sticks.
16. With new turf and a new video board amongst other items being installed
we've heard murmurs of things happening to the outside of the stadium and to
the outfield walls, can you confirm / deny / expand on any of these items?
ML: I've heard there will be some aesthetic improvements, yes, but I don't have all the details. I know they're definitely looking to spruce up the exterior of the Trop, though.
17. Any predictions for the 2007 season as far as the Rays standings / wins
ML: Considering the inexperience on the pitching staff and the usual brutal division schedule, I think 70 wins would be a definite success this year.
18. Will Casey Fossum be ready for opening day or are we looking at him
missing a month or so of the season?
ML: He may be limited early in spring training, but it sounds like he'll be ready for opening day.
19. Given the impressions you're getting, if the Rays were choosing
tomorrow, would the selection be David Price?
ML: I think so. They wouldn't be thrilled with paying him a No. 1 overall pick-type bonus, because no one really considers him a transcendent talent, but they have to build that pipeline of young pitching and he projects as a nice addition.
20. Your gut feeling on where Elijah Dukes will be come April 2nd?
ML: Tough call. Barring a significant trade of some sort during spring training (and I'm not suggesting there will be one), his playing time would be pretty limited if he made the big-league club. Obviously he could continue to play every day and build up at-bats in Durham, but maybe the organization will feel his overall development is better served being in a major league environment on a daily basis. It'll be interesting to watch how that plays out.
21. The biggest difference between the Rays / Reds?
ML: Tradition, first and foremost. As I mentioned in one of my first stories for the Tribune, it's a bit strange to move from covering the oldest professional team to the youngest. There are no glory days for Rays fans to remember, and that must make it particularly difficult to endure all these 90-something-loss seasons. There's that and just the general profile of the team. The Rays' roster beyond Crawford, Kazmir, Baldelli is pretty anonymous. (Even Crawford, as talented as he is, gets very little national notice.) Particularly on the pitching staff, there aren't a whole lot of guys with track records of success in the majors.
22. Have you seen the new video board? If so any details of it's size /
ML: I haven't seen it, but I'm looking forward to checking it out. Not that I'll have much to compare it to, as I've never seen a game at the Trop before...
23. Was it just me or was this the fastest off-season in recent memory?
ML: Ha, maybe for you! I spent three months hoping this job would come through and it seemed like a lot longer than that. I'm definitely looking forward to spring training, though. The typical offseason stories - contracts, etc. - get old after a while. Even though you get sick of watching pitchers throw bullpen sessions on about the second day of camp, at least it's something resembling baseball. And you know the good stuff's just around the corner.
24. Any blogs / websites that you find yourself checking out daily?
ML: The first stop every day, year-round, is Buster Olney's blog on ESPN.com. It's a fantastic clearinghouse of everything that's going on around the game and very well done. During the season, I keep tabs on Will Carroll's "Under the Knife" column on BaseballProspectus.com. Ken Rosenthal at FoxSports.com, for my money, is easily the best all-around information guy covering baseball and I always look forward to his notes. Now that I'm here, I'm checking out this blog and the forums over at RaysBaseball.com periodically - always good to have a sense of what the fans are thinking and talking about.
25. Do you have anything you'd like to tell our readers, and yours,
concerning just about anything?
ML: Well, I hope everyone out there gets in the habit of checking out my blog over at TBO.com on a regular basis, especially once spring training kicks into gear. Blogs are an interactive platform, and without your participation it's just that unsightly head shot of me echoing through an empty room. What fun is that? I hope to see a lot of people over there during the course of this season and beyond. Thanks for your interest...
[editor's note, by R.J. Anderson]I just wanted to again express my gratitude to Mr. Lancaster, not only did he respond to my intial email briskfully but returned all of the answers the same day within a matter of hours, it's a priveliage to deal with him, and as I said I can only hope he's around for many years to come, again be sure to check his blog over at the TBO site daily, quality writer and a quality man.
Check back tommorrow for another interview with MLB Trade Rumors head writer Tim Dierkes