How This Came To Be

As I made clear in my previous post, I am now officially done with in-season blog content. This happenstance dovetailed nicely with what’s going on over at MiLB.com, as my final season wrap-up article was Friday’s piece announcing the 2012 MiLBY Award Winner for “Promotion of the Year” (congrats, Charleston RiverDogs).

Therefore, whilst in this introspective postseason (and post-Sandy) frame of mind, I thought now would be a good time to hit the “pause” button in order to explain a little bit about who I am, what I do, and how this whole “Ben’s Biz” persona came to be.

Me, circa Summer 2012. Yes, that is a hot dog in my pocket and, yes, I am happy to see you.

If you’re reading this, then it’s very likely that you know that my name is Ben and that I write about Minor League Baseball for a living. But things get a little murky from there –when traveling from ballpark to ballpark this season, I was often surprised by the level of confusion that exists regarding my job, even from those who read my writing on (at least a semi-) regular basis. Sometimes I was referred to as “Ben from the Biz Blog,” (or just “Ben the blogger”) other times “Ben from MLB.com” and still other times “Ben from MiLB.com.” There were some who thought I was a freelance entity, and even more who thought I was employed out of Minor League Baseball headquarters in St. Petersburg, FL.

More often than not it was this blog that people identified me with, and that’s great, but my news and feature writing for MiLB.com comprises a larger chunk of my job duties and I am continually trying to make sure that it does not go unnoticed by my core constituency (ie you: a fan of Minor League Baseball or, perhaps even more likely, an employee of a Minor League team).

While I am 100% “Minor League” in my content — not a bad thing, at all! — I am based out of New York City and my employer is Major League Baseball Advanced Media (the online arm of Major League Baseball, commonly referred to as BAM). BAM hosts and maintains MiLB.com as well as (nearly) every Minor League team site, as part of a relationship that began in 2005 and expanded in 2008 when BIRCO (the Baseball Internet Rights Company) was founded. I have been writing for MiLB.com since midway through that inaugural 2005 campaign, and from that moment on my job has been in a state of slow but steady evolution. (There had never been a website covering all of Minor League Baseball before, which, by default, means that there had never really been someone like myself who covers the business/promotional/cultural side of Minor League Baseball on a full-time basis).

It took a long time to get to this point

A (not-so) brief summary:

In July of 2005 I was 26 years old, trudging through a series of dispiriting temp jobs after deciding that a career in the education field was not what I was looking for long-term (my most recent full-time position had been as an assistant third grade teacher at a charter school in Brooklyn). While I’ve always been a passionate baseball fan and considered my writing skills to be a strength, I had never held a job in either the baseball industry or as a writer. But one fateful afternoon I got a phone call from my friend Zack (a niche baseball celebrity in his own right), saying that he was working night shifts as a game recapper for MiLB.com and that they needed more people at that position now that the short-season leagues had started. Would I be interested?

Well, sure! MiLB.com was still brand-new at this point and that very much worked in my favor — as opposed to going in for a formal interview (where my lack of writing experience and surfeit of Minor League-specific knowledge almost surely would have doomed me), it was more a case of “Oh, you’re Zack’s friend? Here’s a laptop, you can sit over there.” And that’s how simple it was — a fortunate connection with Zack (who I had initially met after responding to his Craig’s List ad looking for people to hit fungoes with in Central Park) had led to a part-time hourly gig writing game recaps on the night shift. I learned as I went along.

The 2005-06 offseason was the first in MiLB.com history, and once it began there was a lot of uncertainty amongst us night-shift part-timers. Did we still have jobs? And, if so, doing what? Fortunately we were all kept on the payroll, and after a couple of offseason night shifts with very little to do I decided to come in during the day instead. None of my co-workers did so, and therefore I became, by default, the day-shift writer. It was in this context that I first wrote news articles, and again it was a case of learning as I went along. For whatever reason, one early article that sticks with me is THIS, announcing that State College’s new team would be named “The Spikes.” The article straight-facedly included phrases such as “the donkey’s bones are still on display at the University,” and was therefore an early indicator that the world of Minor League Baseball was indeed a strange and absurd one. As someone who grew up obsessing over the likes of Mad Magazine, Weird Al, The Simpsons, Get A Life (now on DVD!), and, later, Mr. Show, such deeply-ingrained conceptual weirdness appealed to me on a very fundamental level.

New for ’06!

Once the 2006 season began I settled into a role as the day-shift game recap writer/news story utility man, and that May one of the most significant developments of my professional career occurred. A co-worker by the name of Andy Tarica had been writing MiLB.com’s weekly “Promo Preview” column, which briefly describes 10 notable promos occurring over the next week. Andy was a full-time editorial producer with a lot of other work to take care of, however, and noticing my relative lack of things to do he asked if I wouldn’t mind writing the column instead. I was happy to oblige, of course, and quickly realized that this format (approximately 100 words describing each promo) was an ideal way for me to develop a voice as a writer. When talking about Minor League promotions, puns, gratuitous alliteration and obscure cultural references aren’t just tolerated — they’re encouraged!

At first I looked at Promo Preview as little more than an excuse to make jokes, but soon I realized that people were actually reading the column and that most of them worked in the industry. Minor League Baseball is big on idea sharing, of course, operating as it does on the basic principle that an idea that works well in one market may very well be adaptable to another. Unbeknownst to me, my column was fulfilling a need: those working in baseball could peruse it each week in order to see what other teams were doing. Goofily written or not, Promo Preview was a weekly compendium of industry best practices. This industry support was, and is, crucial to my professional existence and has been the foundation upon which my “empire” has been built. So thanks for that.

A typical column: leg lamps, bobble-gloves and dinosaurs

And so it has gone. “Promo Preview” was the crucial first step toward me becoming a “Minor League Baseball business and promotions writer,” but it was the establishment of this blog in October of 2007 that really got things going in that direction. It was initially just a way to pass the time during the doldrums of the offseason, but some 870 posts later it is now the most thorough example of my sensibilities and expertise and, quite possibly, the writing vehicle for which I am best known (to the extent to which I am known at all, of course).

Each season has brought new professional benchmarks, and the most significant to occur in more recent times was being provided with the opportunity to travel to different ballparks throughout the season (beginning in earnest with the 2010 campaign). At the time I considered this development to be of the utmost importance, for how could I be an industry expert without getting a glimpse of how teams operate? Traveling also allows me to take a more of a fan-first perspective in my writing, in that I am conveying the ballpark experience at each stop along the way. As appreciative as I am for the industry support, it is very important for me to keep finding ways to expand my audience and “On the Road” articles and blog posts have done just this. (I am able to get a LOT of content out of each trip, and as an added bonus this has helped to create the impression that I am on the road far more than the month or so of each season that I actually am).

Ben’s Biz, circa 2007

This is the sort of post that could go on and on and on, and I suppose that, by blogging standards, it has. 2013 will, somehow, mark my ninth season and that sort of longevity is something I never expected from this position. (When I was hired at MiLB.com I hadn’t ever stayed at a job for more than 11 months, save for a high school/early college stint as a dishwasher at a retirement home). There are myriad day-to-day difficulties doing something like this — from the inherent loneliness of writing for a living to perceived lack of recognition from sportswriting peers to the pervasive anxiety that accompanies an uncertain career path — but I am immensely grateful to have had the opportunity and therefore there are no regrets that, however improbably, my life has come to be defined by Minor League Baseball moreso than anything else.

It is common for me to end posts by imploring readers to get in touch, and this isn’t just some unthinking rote recitation. Your suggestions and feedback regarding what I write about is absolutely invaluable, on a purely practical level as well as a psychological one. If you have written to me in the past, I hope that the response that you received was timely and appreciative because there are few things more important to me than this sort of correspondence. Knowing that I’m part of a nationwide network of fellow travelers as opposed to simply an obscure and isolated niche-within-a-niche sportswriter is what keeps me engaged with this on a year-round basis.

Let’s keep this roller coaster ride going, delaying the inevitable precipitous descent for as long as possible!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

8 Comments

So, uh, please explain again . . . what exactly is it that you do ??? . . . j/k . . .

Great article, Ben. I enjoyed reading about your journey to the present.

Ben, thanks for the history! Keep keepin on…. Your west coast reflection….
Bruce

Look forward to every blog during the season, Ben. You’re appreciated by a lot of us MiLB fans that are always looking for more on our favorite pass time. Since I only found you last year, it was nice to read how you got started. Keep up the good work

Pingback: Communication Breakdown « Ben's Biz Blog

Dude, I had no idea this is what you did until Zach made his comment about cpr. Uh you have an awesome job. Baseball is still huge in my life but I love seeing people who I remember from when we were kids still following and loving the game. Congrats dude. I will now be following

Good to hear from you, Christian, and thanks for the support. Ambler Junior Baseball for life!

Tell me more about this dish washing job.

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