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Prelude to Conversations of the Road: A new interview series

Or “How I got one pro athlete, so far, to agree to talk to me.”

MLB: JUN 23 Astros at Orioles Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

(Author’s Note: Based on the event of this week, I think we all need a palate cleanser.)

Introduction

I have never been particularly athletic, as most of my character creation points were specced into intelligence, charisma, and constitution.

Yup. I lean into my eccentricities.

So when Eric hired me, I privately brainstormed a bunch of wacky ideas worth writing about. Some of them were dumb and not worth doing:

  • Get into a faux-beef with Grant Brisbee...because reasons. I was thinking like wrassling.
  • Make an Instagram account for Adric.

Some of the ideas were pretty good:

  • Make a formal travelogue with an entry for each city, nickname it the Guide.
  • Do long-form essays about stuff that interests me where I introduce the community to stuff off the beaten path.

In my mind, I had an idea that was both dumb and pretty good:

  • Interview people.

It was an idea just crazy enough to work...or implode terribly, but I should dedicate the idea to its patron saint, listed below.


My (Overshadowed?) 2021

This idea for a new series started, in part, because of one man who managed completely upstage me in 2021. He didn’t mean to do it and I certainly took no offense from it. Life is best when it is not a competition. After all, my 2021 story is a neat one, which ultimately resulted in you reading these words, which I am being paid to write to you. His 2021 story ended up with him being called to the Show, pitching against the Dodgers in the NLCS, starting World Series Game 4, and ending up as a World Champion.

We came from the same town, but needless to say, one of us is clearly a much bigger deal now.

I speak of course, of Dylan Lee, of the Atlanta Braves - or why I never bothered to update my hometown as to my adventures. To be fair, I generally don’t think to do that until the news is super stale on a visit home.

MLB: World Series-Houston Astros at Atlanta Braves Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Believe it or not, we grew up in the same Central Valley, California town of Dinuba, California. If you’ve never heard of it, don’t worry, you’re in excellent company. Most of us who grew up in this area default to the shorthand of saying we grew up in Fresno, California, even though that’s over 30-40 minutes away. This shorthand is used because most Californians know of Fresno because they probably drove through it at one point or another.

(And yes, folks from Fresno hate this shorthand, because they tend to be aggrieved that someone is claiming they are citizens of Fresno when they are not.)

I actually graduated high school with Mr. Lee’s cousin, approximately twelve years before he did. That’s not super noteworthy, as that’s literally the by-product of growing up in a small town that only has a single high school. So I thought “hey - a conversation with Dylan Lee might be an interesting idea.”

And that conversation is not what I am announcing to you. That particular request is pending - he may say yes, he may say no. Either outcome is totally okay. But his cousin suggested I ping him through Instagram as that’s the best way to reach him. I don’t really use Instagram, but I was game and I reached out. I slid into the DMs as the hip kids say. But then after I pinged Dylan Lee, I had an idea that got me thinking.

I am technically a professional baseball writer, with at worst a regional audience, and arguably a national audience, albeit a very, very, very tiny one. Out of curiosity, I Googled to see if anyone picked up any of my essays so far, and I’m surprised how much is reposted, even if it’s just bulk aggregation.

I literally went “woah.”

And even if it’s a teeny, tiny, weeny bit of clout to be used as an item of note on LinkedIn or my resume, it’s not nothing. So I decided to conduct a little experiment.

Who Wants to Talk to Michael?

If the answer was “no one,” I’d be sad for an afternoon, I’d have a sandwich, I’d do this write-up, and I would move on.

When Eric hired me, he said, in part, that I write about things that other people don’t write about. I took that comment as a mandate, apart from the usual stuff I do, which was originally going to be the Guide and Postmortems, to do long-form essays on stuff that caught my interest.

Good stories are good stories, regardless of who is involved.

I asked myself honestly who would I want to talk to. Generally, I can (and frequently do) talk the ears off of people. However, I wanted to hear and speak to people who interested me personally because they had interesting backgrounds or they were on the Dodgers roster and had a unique story to tell. To be fair, I knew that I probably did not want to interview folks that everyone would want to interview, because of how little new ground I would likely cover and how removed these folks are from regular people.

Although...here’s how that scenario would probably go:


MJE to Clayton Kershaw: [gibbering, stuttering mess for five minutes.] Why??? Chicago...why???

Hypothetical-Clayton Kershaw: What is wrong with you?


MJE to Walker Buehler: So, uh...do you like...stuff?

Hypothetical-Walker Buehler: [even more awkward silence.] You already asked that...


MJE to Rob Manfred: I’m just going to berate you in as many ways as humanly possible until you either disconnect or sic security on me. But before I do, you’re not hiring lawyers right now, are you?

Hypothetical-Rob Manfred: ...No? Can you not—

MJE: Worth a shot. Might as well get started!


What? I’ve represented my share of colorful characters.

Would those exchanges be funny? - probably. Would those exchanges be useful? - oh good god, no.

So my general rule of thumb is the following: if someone does enough to merit a Post-Mortem, I’m probably not going to try to talk to them. Admittedly, there are three exceptions to this personal rule, which I will share if it ever becomes applicable.

With all that said, I shall introduce my first Conversation of the Road.

A few weeks prior to this idea, I came across a YouTube video of a certain player, who is the main reason why we are here today. Admittedly, I’m a huge fan of the knuckleball because of its mystique and the badassery of it all. Sure, you could throw a baseball at speeds approaching traffic on the Grapevine (looking at you, Graterol), but a player has chosen to stand on a mound, potentially walking the house, throwing at passenger speeds that I drive on the freeway, with as little spin as humanly possible.

Clearly, that is someone who I want to talk to!

(And yes, my DMV-instructor levels of safety while driving drives (ha.) my passengers to distraction.

You: Oh my god, why are we going so slow?

MJE: It’s the speed limit. I don’t want a ticket.

That certain player was Mickey Jannis, a 33-year-old rookie who was in the Baltimore Orioles organization last year. Mr. Jannis was the only knuckleballer in the Major Leagues in 2021. I only learned of Mr. Jannis due (and here’s a huge shout out) to YouTuber SportStorm, aka Taylor [no surname given] for making this piece. Mr. Jannis is currently a minor league free agent.

I was moved by Mr. Jannis’ story, and I figured there’s a similarity in behavioral makeup as we both took circuitous routes to get to where we wanted to go. So I asked Mr. Jannis if he wouldn’t mind being interviewed by me, after introducing myself in DMs on Instagram and including my initial Guide piece to show I could put two words together.

And he agreed to it!

In my mind, that’s forking weird. I responded on Instagram accordingly.

MJE: Oh wow - you actually responded. That’s awesome!

By the time you read this essay, the interview will have happened.

...ohmygodtheinterviewwillhavealreadyhappened...

So now you know, I prepped for this interview, the same way I prepared for depositions: frequent swearing, reviewing the order of questions, and asking myself the meaning of life. You know, the usual.

Joking aside, Mickey has been an excellent sport throughout this entire experience and I sincerely hope that you enjoy the upcoming piece - to be released...soon...ish. I’ve never edited a raw video before (apart from my phone) so it’s going about as quickly as you’d expect.

Aside: You want me to pay HOW MUCH for Adobe?!? Free online version, it is!

Also, I’ve reached out to several current Dodgers who would qualify under the rubric I have described. If something occurs, believe me, you’ll know.

Until then, you’ll have to wait for the first conversation of the road.