A View from the Press Box

Press Box ViewLast week I journeyed to the top of the Phone Booth to cover the Caps/Flyers game for Off Wing Opinion, where you’ll find my game coverage from that night. What follows here is a glimpse into my experiences in the press box, locker room, and the concrete-and-steel maze that is the Capitals’ home.

After entering the arena and wandering through the bowels of Verizon Center, I did as all good journalists do and made my way to the free food. They served a decent pasta and chicken parm that night, and I proceeded to wash it down with copious amounts of Diet Coke. I introduced myself to Nate Ewell, Capitals’ Director of Media Relations, who kindly offered to show me up to the press box.

I settled in an assigned seat in the press box alongside many of the Philadelphia media. I fired up the laptop after getting some free popcorn and coffee — by this point there may have been more caffiene in my veins than blood — and took a look around at the spartan but functional surroundings. The television and radio staff have separate rooms, but the rest of the media are practically in the crowd.

I walked over to meet Capitals’ Senior Writer Mike Vogel. We chatted hockey for a bit, including his upcoming Caps road trip TravelBlog (the timing of the trip would, sadly, prevent him from watching Hockey Day in Canada).

As I settled back into my seat I was struck by how tiny the players looked: even the numbers are sometimes hard to see from that Eagle’s Nest-esque height, which leaves me all the more impressed with Joe Beninati’s ability to do play-by-play. I was struggling to type pithy observations while tracking the action; Joe B calling the game on live television is something else entirely.

The puck dropped and the action started immediately — Ben Clymer scored fifteen seconds into the game — so I was typing furiously from the very start. You have to fold the laptop screen almost flat to avoid obscuring the ice, which meant I was typing blind… after the first few horrendous misspellings I settled on a combination of ad-libbed shorthand and player numbers.
I was not about to attempt typing “Afanasenkov” again until I was in the comfort of my own home, with a frosty beverage to soothe my cramped fingers.

As the blowout became a foregone conclusion (6-2 win), my neighbors in the press box and I started various sidebar conversations, like whether Brashear could get the Gordie Howe Hat Trick (goal, assist, and fight). After all, a tough-guy like Brashear getting that goal is like a baseball player nailing a triple in his first at-bat — hitting for the cycle has to cross your mind once the toughest part is out of the way, as the GHHT crossed ours after Brashear’s fluky tally.
We also enjoyed the chants of Barra Brava, the DC United fan club that sat 70-plus fans directly in front of the press box that night. My favorite was when Capitals’ mascot Slap Shot visited the section; they started a chant of “Kel-ly’s Boy-friend” while pointing to a woman in their group. I’d swear the big bird blushed through his costume. I also made my 2007 JumboTron debut when the camera showed the Barra Brava section; several friends at the game texted me to say “just saw U on the big screen!”

After the game we went down to the locker room for post-game interviews. Ovechkin was a big attraction, obviously — moreso in light of that day’s All-Star announcement. Most of the questions focused on the season sweep of the Flyers and the All-Star game. The impression I got was that the sweep means more to the fans and to the organization than to the players. After all, it’s a young team, and new players don’t fret much about the team’s past struggles; only Olie has enough time as a Capital to likely appreciate the history of frustration the team has had at the hands of the Flyers (particularly on the road).

Ovechkin was enthusiastic when asked about expanding his signed hockey stick collection at the All-Star Game. Something about one of the best players in the game collecting sticks from other NHLers is pretty neat…

I chatted with Kurt Kiel, Capitals’ VP of Communications and Marketing, and Dan Steinberg (DC Sports Bog). We traded a few hockey stories, then all agreed that, while Donald Brashear is a great guy, he is unquestionably intimidating in person (I know, this isn’t a shock to you). I likened him to a coiled spring: quiet, but the undercurrent of power held in check was palpable.

Brashear was incredibly accommodating in the post-game interview, fielding questions for quite a while about his goal that night, his role with the team, and his satisfaction with being a Capital. He relishes protecting the young guys and seems genuinely thrilled to be a Capital — apparently teams were not lining up to sign him this offseason, so he’s grateful to the Capitals organization for bringing him on board (and it shows with his effort on the ice).

In the post-game press conference, Coach Hanlon was not happy with the team’s effort despite the 6-2 victory. Sadly the coach was right on the money, as the Caps proceeded to drop the next three games. The room is tiny; Hanlon at the podium plus about ten media reps (plus cameras) was tight; it would be a claustrophobe’s nightmare.

That about wrapped up the night. I spent a while editing my frantically-typed and excessively-long notes, posted the article, and collapsed into bed happily exhausted. Work the next morning wasn’t much fun, but my friend caffiene helped me through.

I’ll be back in my usual Section 426 seats for the rest of the season, but I may be lurking in the press box again soon… though it was a bit odd for me to be at a Caps game and neither wear a jersey nor drink a beer, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. The way Ted Leonsis and the Capitals have embraced the blogging community helps the fans and the team alike, and should serve as a model for the league. Go Caps!

This entry was posted in Dan Steinberg, Joe Beninati, Mike Vogel, Washington Post. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to A View from the Press Box

  1. kb says:

    Nice post, Mike.

  2. Love the recap! Yeah, after a couple cups of coffee and a Diet Coke yesterday, I had the same “caffeine in the veins” thing in the press box. Sure makes you jittery! But the popcorn is AWESOME.

  3. ThunderWeenie says:

    Very nicely done. A perspective on hockey that I have never enjoyed, but would love to.

  4. Eric says:

    Great job. I’m glad you enjoyed the experience.

  5. chanuck says:

    Next time you will have to sneak some of that popcorn to those of us in the cheep seats.

  6. Boomer says:

    Well done, and congrads on getting mentioned in the Express paper…again.
    So when ya comin’ down to Richmond for a Renegades game?

  7. Susan says:

    Thanks for keeping me on the ice while I’m in the desert, Mikey! 🙂

  8. What’s It Like In The Caps Press Box…

    Both Mike Rucki and Liz Chang have a pretty good idea…….

  9. Chris says:

    Great post man….come check out our site….hope to see ya there.

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