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Old 02-06-2014, 04:43 AM   #1
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Minors Sports Jabber interviews Benjamin Hill

Well, I received the answers to our questions. Some questions were actually three in one, so I edited them a bit. I hope you like it.
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Old 02-06-2014, 05:31 AM   #2
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SportsJabber interviews Benjamin Hill

Benjamin Hill is a (blog) writer for the website of Minor League Baseball. Benjamin's blog is named Ben's Bizblog (link embedded).

Benjamin was born in Cleveland. He spent most of his childhood in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Benjamin studied at the University of Pittsburgh. When he moved to New York in 2002, he got a part time writing job with Minor League Baseball.

When he doesn't spend time with baseball, Benjamin spends time with playing pinball, listening to music, going to concerts, reading and occasionally writing and performing sketch comedy.



First of all I would like to thank Benjamin for taking time to answer our questions.



SJ. You studied at the university of Pittsburgh. Was this study related to what you do now?

Benjamin Hill:
Not at all. I graduated with a Communications degree, and directed most of my passion and energy toward various positions I held at WPTS (Pitt’s college station). Like most college graduates, I had no idea what I wanted to do after obtaining my degree, and ended up enrolling in a Pittsburgh-based AmeriCorps program (AmeriCorps is, to put it simply, the domestic Peace Corps). I ended up getting placed at a downtown charter school, helping high schoolers in their English and Social Studies classes. This leads to the next question...


SJ. You mentioned that you stumbled up a part time writing job for MiLB. But how did you get this job? How did you get into it?

Benjamin Hill:
It’s a convoluted story, but I moved to NYC in 2002 and since AmeriCorps was the only thing on my resume worth speaking of I continued to work education-related jobs. In the summer of 2004 I quit the field, because while it was worthwhile I realized it was not something I wanted to devote my professional existence to. I started temping, and during this time in the professional wilderness my friend Zack Hample (a niche baseball celebrity, know for his ballhawking skills) directed me to MiLB.com. The site was then in its first season of existence, he was writing game recaps, and the site needed a few more writers now that the short-season leagues were starting. MiLB.com was so new that no hiring systems were in place. I got the job on Zack’s recommendation, even though I had no experience as a writer and minimal knowledge of Minor League Baseball proper. That was my foot in the door, so to speak, and I slowly (and, at first, accidedntally) developed my niche from there. I was part-time (and correspondingly angst-ridden) for four years, and it took me another year to get a travel budget so that I could start visiting ballparks on at least a semi-regular basis.


SJ. The few times that I have been in the United States, I have visited both MLB games and MiLB games. Personally I like MiLB games better. How about you? And why?

Benjamin Hill:
I like both, but it’s sort of an “apples and oranges” scenario. The Majors are first and foremost about winning, and the action on the field is what matters. The Minors are more about getting fans in the door, regardless of how the team is doing, and the focus is on the industry mantra of “affordable family friendly entertainment.” I’m biased, but at this point I like the Minors a bit more. It’s cheaper, far more intimate and accessible, and the front offices have far more opportunity to think on their feet and take promotional risks.


SJ. Do you have a favorite Minor League club? And MLB team?

Benjamin Hill:
I grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, and was absolutely obsessed with the Phillies even though they were rarely any good when I was a kid. They will always be my favorite team. As for the Minors, my favorite teams are the ones that have the best stadiums and/or front offices. It’s tough to pick favorites, but I will say that as a Phillies fan it’s been great to see first-hand how well-run their Minor League affiliates are. Lehigh Valley, Reading, Lakewood and Williamsport all offer great experiences for the Philadelphia-
area baseball fan.


SJ. I assume that you have visited most MiLB clubs by now. Last season I saw more items about the towns where the clubs are located. Are you shifting the attention to that slowly because there is less to tell about the ballclubs?

Benjamin Hill:
One of my go-to statements regarding this job is “each team is a reflection of the community in which it operates.” Therefore, I think it’s important to provide as much background as possible regarding the towns that these teams play in. When I travel I often don’t have the time to explore as much as I’d like, but I present as much “out of the ballpark” material as I can. My priority remains the ballpark experience itself, but often I “Return to the Road” on my blog in order to provide content that might help fill in the blanks regarding the towns these teams play in. It’s not really a matter of my attention shifting, or that I don’t think there’s much to tell about the ballclubs themselves. It’s trying to do both, as best as I can under the circumstances.


SJ. Obviously you like what you do. Otherwise you would not have been writing this blog for so long. But do you still long for a job as a more "serious" baseball journalist?

Benjamin Hill:
I indulge the ridiculous to a fairly high degree, but that’s also because ridiculousness is a core Minor League Baseball operating principle. Teams are always engaging in attention-getting stunts of one kind or another, and this allows me, in turn, to engage in my innate love of absurdity.
That said, I think that what I’m writing about is as “serious” as anything else in baseball journalism. I am covering a nationwide industry from a wide variety of angles, trying to paint a picture of the day-to-day existence of a fundamentally American enterprise. Also, the blog is an extension of my writing for MiLB.com. I write plenty of more serious-minded features for the site on a year-round basis, from recurring columns to as-needed “breaking” news stories. When I tell people what I do for a living, I often get the response of “So when are you getting the call-up to the Majors?” I explain that I have no desire to leave the Minors, which allow far more freedom and provides so many more stories to tell. And, yes, I don’t have to be so serious all the time!


SJ. I would love to have your job. Do you have tips for our members how they can get into this business as well?

Benjamin Hill:
As for anything specific, no. In a lot of ways I got lucky, but at the same time I put myself in the position to get lucky (and even then, it wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I had any job security as regarded full-time status and benefits). Speaking broadly – if you want to get paid to do what you love, do what you love before you get paid for it. While I didn’t write about Minor League Baseball proper before getting this job, I did both comedy and baseball writing on a personal basis because I knew that it was what I wanted to do. Little did I know I’d find a baseball-writing job that allows me to indulge in a lot of bad jokes!


SJ. I assume that you see a lot of promotions each year. What is the best promotion that you ever saw? At which club was that? Same question for giveaways.

Benjamin Hill:
I struggle with this sort of question, as I’ve written about so much that it kind of blurs together. As for something I’ve seen in person, it was hard to top the opening of the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum in Mobile in 2010. I interviewed Aaron, Rickey Henderson, and Bob Feller (and got turned away by a demonstrably rude Reggie Jackson), and stood 10 feet away from Willie Mays while he made a pre-game speech.

As for a giveaway – the first time I ever went to a ballpark in order to cover a promotion was in 2007 for the Altoona Curve’s “Awful Night” (it is what it sounds like). That night, the team gave away sporks and that probably remains my favorite giveaway. It’s awful, of course, but it illustrates the sort of tongue-in-cheek irreverence that makes me such a big fan of Minor League Baseball.


SJ. In your profession as a reporter, is there someone that is or has been a big example to you?

Benjamin Hill:
As a kid I would read Jayson Stark in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and his reporting on bizarre and head-scratching baseball minutiae really spoke to me. My monthly in-season “Crooked Numbers” is my attempt to be the Jayson Stark of the Minors, and I hope that one day he actually cknowledges the fact that it exists! Beyond that, most of my biggest influences are from the world of comedy: Weird Al, Mad Magazine, The Simpsons, and Get A Life! to name a few.


SJ. Our board owner was born in Cleveland too. Were you a tribe fan as well when you grew up?

Benjamin Hill:
My family moved to the Philadelphia-area just before my second birthday, so that’s why I am first and foremost a Phillies fan. But the Indians will always be my second-favorite Major League team. (For the record, I was born at a Cleveland hospital but we lived in the small town of Ravenna, OH.)


SJ. What major league team do you think has the best farm system?

Benjamin Hill:
That’s the one area of the Minor Leagues I am not qualified to speak on. Maybe one of my MiLB.com colleagues would be willing to do an interview on the prospect side of things…


SJ. During your trip through Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin (Timber Rattlers, SilverHawks, Snappers, etc) you came close to cities like Joliet and Schaumburg. Both have independent league clubs. Are you allowed to write about Indy clubs, or does your contract with MiLB prohibit this?

Benjamin Hill:
Since many independent clubs are in direct competion with affiliated clubs, I am not able to write about them. I’d love to explore the world of indy ball as well, but understand completely that it would be a conflict of interest to do so within my current professional set-up.


SJ. One of our members is a big Cardinals fan. He asks if you think there are any studs in their farm system to watch.

Benjamin Hill:
Again, you’re going to have to get one of my MiLB.com colleagues on the line for questions of this nature...


SJ. Which MiLB ballpark did you enjoy the most, and why?

Benjamin Hill:
As much as I enjoy visiting the brand-new parks, my personal favorites are the classics. The sort of places where you can feel the history, and the front offices are forced to be creative with what they have to work with. Along these lines I really like Jackie Robinson Park in Daytona, McCormick Field in Asheville, and Recreation Park in Visalia (to name just a few).


SJ. In the past several years, the Pirates' Minor League system has been rocketing in the rankings published each year. Who do you see as the prime players coming out of that system? How do you foresee Polanco, Meadows, McGuire, Glasnow and the rest doing?

Benjamin Hill:
You know more about this particular subject than I do!


SJ. Do you like any other sports besides baseball?

Benjamin Hill:
I pretty much like every sport, but the NFL is the only other league I follow at all. Ever since I was a kid I was an obsessive baseball fan, and I can’t imagine that it would ever not be my favorite.


SJ. Final question. Something that I absolutely don't like about Minor League Baseball is the fact that teams move so easily. I think those ball clubs are an important part of the community. What is your take on teams moving this easy to other towns?

Benjamin Hill:
I would disagree with the premise of this question, that it is “easy” for teams to move. One of the reasons that Minor League Baseball is healthy as an industry is because of the largely unprecedented level of stability it currently enjoys. The Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA) between MiLB and MLB guarantees 160 Player Development Contracts (affiliation agreements, in other words) and as such every club is currently guaranteed a long-term existence.

When these clubs do move, it’s often tied into a distinct lack of fan support (which of course can be caused by many factors). I understand that it is very upsetting to the local fanbase when a team leaves, but when you look at those that have moved in recent years it is almost always because they were at or near the bottom in attendance. Sometimes that’s because changing demographics in the market can longer sustain that level of play,
sometimes it’s because of poor management, and sometimes it’s because of an inadequate ballpark (often it’s some combination of the three). But Minor League Baseball’s “wild west” days are long over, and I would say that on the whole teams move far LESS “easy” than they used to.


Once again I would like to thank you for taking your time. Hardly I have interviewed someone who gave such extensive answers. We really appreciate it.
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Old 02-06-2014, 09:26 AM   #3
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Quote:
SJ. In the past several years, the Pirates' Minor League system has been rocketing in the rankings published each year. Who do you see as the prime players coming out of that system? How do you foresee Polanco, Meadows, McGuire, Glasnow and the rest doing?

Benjamin Hill:
You know more about this particular subject than I do!
Well damn... :-(
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Old 02-06-2014, 10:57 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by MSRoble View Post
Well damn... :-(
I feared that a bit already. Benjamin is covering the way MiLB clubs are run behind the scenes. He doesn't pay attention to the game itself.

Maybe I should have discussed this with you before sending the questions. Sorry for that.
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Old 02-06-2014, 10:30 PM   #5
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always interesting to learn more about interesting people. Thank you YBF
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Old 02-08-2014, 12:03 AM   #6
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always interesting to learn more about interesting people. Thank you YBF

It always helps if someone takes his time to answer the questions and not jist says yes and no.
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Old 02-08-2014, 04:10 PM   #7
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he certainly put some good thoughts into most of his answers. Great interview YBF
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Old 02-08-2014, 10:32 PM   #8
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Awesome interview YBF!!!!!
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