This kicks off a mini-series of email-interviews with media members with interesting backgrounds. Shannon Drayer, who was gracious enough to answer my pestering emails while on the run, writes a Mariners blog and covers the team for 710 ESPN Seattle. As you’ll see, she has a unique story and take on baseball.
Eno Sarris: If I remember correctly, you’ve moved around some. How did you end up in Seattle?
Shannon Drayer: I moved around quite a bit as a child and in doing so I really failed to put down any roots so when it came time to pick a college and kind of go off on my own, the decision was all mine.
I was living in Normal, Illinois at the time and while it was a great town to grow up in it was getting a little claustrophobic for me. I needed to get out of the cornfield. In picking a college location was the number one factor for me. It had to be in a city. I would not compromise on that. I lived only two hours from Chicago at the time but with no car and strict parents it might as well have been two days away. One of the reasons why I wanted the school to be in a city was because I would have access to sports. The University of Washington fit the bill. Good school with good sports and only a few miles away from a ballpark. I never even took a visit. I sent in my scores and grades was accepted and headed to Seattle.
Eno Sarris: But you haven’t been in Seattle the whole time since, right?
Shannon Drayer: With the exception of a year spent in NY studying acting it has been all Seattle.
Eno Sarris: How did you get from studying acting in New York to talking and writing about the Mariners in Seattle?
Shannon Drayer: I enjoyed acting but wasn’t quite committed enough to become a starving actress so I moved home to Seattle. Qualified to do absolutely nothing, I took a job at Starbucks for the benefits and schedule flexibility. It was actually a great job. I spent my days making coffee and talking sports with everyone who came in. I was kind of known for that in the area.
One day a customer came in and told me about a contest the local sports radio station was having. The “Sports Hack Wannabe Contest” where the premise was, if you think you can do our job send us a tape. The customer told me I had to do this and he would help me. We put together a tape and sent it in. A few months went by and I hadn’t thought much about it when the phone rang and it was the program director from the station. He told me they liked what they heard on the tape and asked if I would be interested in coming in with a few others for an on air audition. I spent an afternoon at the station doing updates and at the end of the day he offered me a job.
I started out doing one four-hour update shift a week for John Clayton. It would be 4 years before I would quit the Starbucks job completely. I worked my way up and was helped greatly by my sports director Seth Everett. Seth had graduated from Syracuse and he told me that he would do his best to give me the Syracuse education on the job. After a few months I was filling in on weekday updates and I was finally invited to follow along to a Mariners game. It didn’t take long to figure out what I wanted out of radio. While the acclaim and dollars may be in hosting, I wanted to report. I wanted a beat.
I started out with Huskies basketball. The team was terrible but I covered home games and practices and learned a lot from the newspaper guys who covered the team. I eventually worked my way up into being the number 2 reporter for the Sonics and Mariners. After two years I was given the Seahawks. One day when I was away at training camp with the team I got a phone call from the PD of another station. This station had just won the broadcast rights to the Mariners and they had decided to add a full time radio beat reporter that would travel with the team. Was I interested?
In my dream job? Are you kidding? Yes very, thank you.
Eno Sarris: Wow, not too many people can say they got their job through a contest! You say that you talked sports, and you’ve covered basketball, football and baseball. But baseball is where your heart is? What was it like not only switching teams but also switching sports completely?
Shannon Drayer: Baseball was definitely number 1. Some of my first memories are watching games with my dad. It is without question what I wanted to do. My goal from my teenage years on was to get as close to the game as I possibly could. Obviously playing or managing was out of the question so the next best thing was reporting. I just didn’t know how I would get there because when I was looking into schools pretty much the only women who were working in sportscasting were ex- beauty queens and basketball players. That is why I did not pursue it in school. I got lucky.
Switching sports was an education. I knew quite a bit about football and baseball but very little about basketball and to this day I still don’t. I can’t break down a defense or offense and I think my interviews with basketball players were probably pretty weak. Luckily I didn’t have to do that for long.
In switching teams and sports the one thing that remained constant was that in order to cover a team on a day in day out basis, the most important thing is to cultivate and maintain relationships. That does not change. Your people skills are always going to get you further than your knowledge of the sport. When you live with a team, you have to get along.
Eno Sarris: Does your belief in how best to cover a team color your beliefs about how best to build a team? In other words, do you think interpersonal relationships are an important part of building a successful baseball team, too?
Shannon Drayer: I want to clarify one thing. Getting along doesn’t mean kissing up or covering up. A reporter has to do what a reporter has to do and at times that can put a relationship in jeopardy but there is a right way and a wrong way to do things.
Interpersonal relationships are huge in building a baseball team. That is not to say that there isn’t a place for jerks on a baseball team or that a team should be made up of 25 nice guys. Things tend to get worked out in the clubhouse. The killer is when you have a situation where it is one guy and 24 others.
From my experience and from conversations that I have had with players through the years, the most important relationship is the one the team has with the manager. They have to trust him. He has to be able to communicate with them. They have to know where they stand be it in a good place or bad. One player told me that it is crucial that the manager knows how to work with the media as it is his message and his words that are heard more than that of any player. The public learns a lot about the team and players from what the manager says and this player told me the team is listening. I found this interesting.
Eno Sarris: That was an great part of the winter meetings for me. Seeing how different each manager was during their interviews in Orlando was an eye-opener. Do you have a sense of Eric Wedge’s style yet?
Shannon Drayer: What I get from Eric is right now he is trying to figure out what the dynamic is between him and the front office is going to be. How he fits in and how to best communicate with them. It’s a pretty smart way to go because that is an important relationship to establish and there were problems with that last year. His personality that we have seen so far is consistent with what we have heard from those who have worked with him. Very intense, very passionate about playing the game right and so far has been pretty up front about the situation that the Mariners find themselves in. He acknowledges that it is not going to be easy sometimes. That we are going to see things we may not like. He says he is ready to take the hits for that.
Eno Sarris: Well, good luck on the year then! I know you didn’t quite take the ‘normal’ route to your current station, but do you have any advice for aspiring young writers that love baseball?
Shannon Drayer: Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way, or that you might stumble into. Blogs are great. We didn’t have that outlet when I was getting started. Do something with a minor league team. It is easier to get credentialed and you get all sorts of access to scouts and organizational people. Consider taking an internship at a radio station. Many of them are way behind on the blogs and know they need them. There are all sorts of ways to get your foot in the door but the most important thing is get your stuff out there. Write lots of good stuff and put it out there. You never know who is going to see it. Good luck!
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.