Our Interview With MLB.com Phillies Beat Writer Todd Zolecki

Our Interview With MLB.com Phillies Beat Writer Todd Zolecki

In 2003, Todd Zolecki began covering the Phillies for the Philadelphia Inquirer. He has followed the team during some lean years, over their metamorphosis into a contender, and their 2008 World Series run. Now covering the team for MLB.com, Zolecki has also recently published a book on the PhilliesThe Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Heart-Pounding, Jaw-Dropping, and Gut-Wrenching Moments from Philadelphia Phillies History

Regular readers of The700Level have seen Todd's stories linked often here. He's a great reporter and a nice guy, and Philly fans have responded to that. He was also an early MSM adopter of new media, starting his Zo Zone blog years ago, followed by an active Twitter account, making his coverage easily accessible to those of us who seek out any and all Phillies story lines and tidbits.  

I began talking to Todd about doing a Q&A last season, focusing in part on his transition from the Inquirer to MLB.com, his coverage of the 2008 title run, and the ins and outs of beat writing in a rapidly changing media landscape. With Todd in Clearwater covering the team's early days of spring training, getting ready to cover another championship run, we conducted the following interview focusing on all of those things, plus his new book. I'm in Arizona for a week, and I just finished The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly... It's been a great travel companion. As its title indicates, the book covers some of the highs and lows of the franchise over its long history. But, it doesn't read like a dissertative history book. It's a collection of distinct moments, some of which marked major turning points, reshaping the franchise for better or for much worse. 

These are moments Phillies fans should know and understand, though many of them are from long before most of our lifetimes. I knew the feeling of going my whole life without seeing championship, which made the 2008 run that much more rewarding. But reading some of the real lowlights of the past had me appreciating the current team that much more. The book also includes some fun features such as an all-time team of Phillies greats, along with managers like Charlie Manuel and Dallas Green filling out all-time lineup cards. In short, this is an accessible book with insights into past Phillies players and teams, as well as a close look at the recent history and current roster. 

After the jump, our interview with Todd Zolecki. 

One commenter will be chosen at random to receive a copy of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. To be eligible to win, the comment should be about the interview, modern media coverage, or your own most memorable moments in Phillies history. 

The700Level: You've now finished your first full season as the Phillies beat writer for MLB.com after several years at the Philadelphia Inquirer. What made you decide to leave the Inquirer and take the new gig with an online-only outlet? 

Todd Zolecki: MLB.com contacted me just before Christmas 2008, and until then I never considered leaving the Inquirer. I took a lot of pride being on the Inquirer's staff. I really enjoyed working there. But the more I talked with MLB.com the more I liked the opportunity, and it became something I couldn't pass up. It's a great company, and they're doing a lot of great things in terms of giving fans the total package—stories, audio, video, everything. They treat me incredibly well. But I still pull for everybody at the Inquirer. They gave me my start and always supported me. I won't forget that. 

How would you compare covering the team in your new capacity versus your former role with the Inquirer? Are there any differences regarding standards or rules? Any advantages in terms of early leads on stories?

Not much has changed. I still cover the team. I still try to break news. I don't have to worry about deadlines as much, which is great. There are no space restrictions, which is nice although sometimes I look at my word count and I'm like, "Holy crap, I just wrote 1,000 words on Brad Lidge's bullpen session. I need to reel it in." I still get to write what I want. I've written "negative" stories. When J.C. Romero got into an altercation with a fan last year in Tampa Bay, I contacted the Florida state attorney's office just like I would have at the Inquirer. When Brett Myers injured his eye the night before a rehab start in Clearwater last year, I contacted the police department in Jacksonville to see if he was in a bar fight. I wrote this week about Dane Sardinha, who is a catcher in camp, getting arrested for DUI. I haven't found any difference in the way I've been treated by the club since I joined MLB.com, or any advantages. I'm absolutely not handed anything, and I wouldn't want it that way. 

I've been covering the team since 2003, so I've built relationships and sources in that span. That helps me more than where I work. I broke a few stories this offseason, but others certainly had their share. CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury led the charge with Roy Halladay, Danys Baez, Shane Victorino and Carlos Ruiz. Mandy Housenick in Allentown had Brian Schneider. ESPN.com had Jose Contreras. But I get no early leads. I had my family in town for Christmas and a couple days before Salisbury wrote about the Phillies agreeing to terms with a relief pitcher, who ultimately turned out to be Baez. I had no luck tracking it down. If the Phillies were handing me stuff, you would think they would say, "Yeah, it's true. Now go have a beer with your family." No chance.  

Even before your move, you had embraced "new media" elements including your blog, the Zo Zone. Why have a blog as well as your regular coverage? What is the difference between the two in terms of how you decide what to post on one versus the other? 

The blog is great for its immediacy. I can say, "Here are a few things Roy Halladay said at today's press conference," and post a few quotes within minutes of the event taking place. The turnaround is much longer for stories. The blog also is more casual. I posted a picture of Jayson Werth's beard on there. I talked to Shane Victorino about designing a t-shirt for Silver Star, and posted a Q&A about that. Last spring I took a photo of a hole in the drywall that Ryan Howard made with a foul ball in the Bright House Field press box. Fans like behind the scenes stuff. I always try to remind myself that I'm writing for the fans, and a blog is a great place to put the lighter stuff. But like I said, it's also a place to put news, etc.  

In what ways do you think fan blogs have affected the mainstream media's coverage of baseball, if at all? How often do you read fan blogs? 

I think blogs have opened some minds. You read a lot about sabermetrics on blogs, and I think they have made people understand them more. I think blogs can tell you what fans are interested in. If I see enough blogs asking about a certain issue, I might go into the clubhouse that day and ask somebody about it. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. In terms of how often I read blogs, I read them every day. They're entertaining. And they find things about the Phillies I don't find. That part is great, too.  

In your experience using Twitter over the last season and off-season, what are the advantages and disadvantages this medium poses for beat writers? 

I think the advantage is telling people about your work. You can link to your stories and blog. That part is great. You can break news. The disadvantage is that it gets a little insane. It's funny how the beat writers feverishly type on their Blackberrys when they find out something in a scrum.  

With so many people covering the Phillies, both locally and nationally, how much pressure is there to have your stories be unique from the pack? How much pressure is there to be first with stories (or pictures of bearded awesomeness)? 

There is pressure, and it is tough. We've got five travelling beat writers (Inquirer, Daily News, Wilmington, Delaware County and MLB.com) and we're always around each other. I think the key to finding unique stories is time. You need time to do your reporting. That is a real challenge when you're covering the team every day, writing game stories, notebooks, etc. As an aside, as soon as I saw Jayson Werth's beard I knew I wanted to get a photo of that on the blog and Twitter.   

I think Jayson finds the fuss about his beard a little silly, but fans really like him - and it is an awesome beard. Images like that help fans sitting through another snowstorm in Philly realize that baseball is coming. 

I think Jayson Werth's beard can heal people.  

No doubt! Regarding the team, how would you say the culture of the franchise has changed since you first came to Philadelphia? 

I'm not sure if cutthroat is the right word, but they don't mess around. They're not afraid to get rid of bad contracts. They ate a lot of money to trade Jim Thome to make room for Ryan Howard. They swallowed Adam Eaton's and Geoff Jenkins' contracts last year. They weren't afraid to cut loose Pat Burrell. They've traded a lot of good prospects the last couple years to get guys like Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Joe Blanton and Brad Lidge. They took a flier on Pedro Martinez. And when they got indications that Lee would be tough to re-sign, they said, "OK, we'll just go get Halladay then." It's not like they haven't made mistakes. There's Freddy Garcia and Eaton and Jenkins, and I'm not sure why they had to give Jamie Moyer a two-year contract, but they haven't been afraid to take chances or move on from people.  

What is your fondest memory from the championship run? 

It's tough to pick just one. My top two are Matt Stairs' home run in Game 4 of the NLCS. I've seen the replay a million times and it just doesn't do it justice. He murdered that baseball. The crack of the bat was so loud and the ball flew so high. It was sick. But I think the second moment was when I was on the field after Game 5 of the World Series. The players were celebrating and the entire crowd was signing "We Are the Champions." 

I didn't grow up a Phillies fan, but that was a very, very cool moment.  

You've just had your first book
published—The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Heart-Pounding, Jaw-Dropping, and Gut-Wrenching Moments From Philadelphia Phillies History. That's a pretty heavy load given the long history of the franchise; how did you pick which stories and players to include? 

Some of the stories were obvious. If you have a chapter on "The Bad," you've got to include Black Friday and Chico Ruiz. But I tried to pick the stories I thought fans would find most interesting. Again, I tried to put myself in the minds of Phillies fans. Scary, I know. But what would they want to read? I had some freedom to go on my own. I put together my all-time Phillies team. I picked eight position players, five starters and one closer. And then I had Charlie Manuel, Dallas Green, Jim Fregosi and Danny Ozark—four Phillies managers who took their teams to the postseason—make lineups from my team. I also gave each manager a wild card selection so they could remove a player from my team and replace him with a player they wanted. I had a lot of fun with that, and I think they did, too. It was cool to see how they set up a lineup with guys like Utley, Schmidt and Luzinski, and see who they used as their wild card.    

Many of the games and people discussed pre-date your time covering the team. Others pre-date your birth. Was it tough to track down those older stories and give them the same treatment as the things that happened in the last two or three years? 

It was difficult, but not impossible. I talked with a few of the Whiz Kids, which was fantastic. They were great. But anything that happened before 1950 I did a lot of research and used what I could to write the best stories possible. Rich Westcott is a Phillies historian and he has written quite a few Phillies books. They were a big help.  

Did you uncover any jaw-dropping stories that weren't suitable for print? Any teasers as to what might have been involved? 

I've got a few of those just from covering the team for seven seasons, but I can't say much more than that. I'll save those for my next book.

Thanks to Todd for taking the time to conduct this interview. We're looking forward to reading his coverage of the 2010 World Series run. Leave your comments below for a chance to win a copy of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. 

Raudabaugh throws 10 touchdowns, Soul clinch home-field advantage

usa-dan-raudabaugh-soul.jpg
USA Today Images

Raudabaugh throws 10 touchdowns, Soul clinch home-field advantage

The Soul (13-3) defeated the Orlando Predators (12-4)  67-59 at the Amway Center in Orlando on Saturday night.  

With the win, the Soul will have home field advantage throughout the American Conference Championship game.

Reigning league MVP Dan Raudabaugh completed 21 of 29 passes for 335 yards and 10 touchdowns.  Four of those scores were to receiver Chris Duvalt, who led all receivers with nine receptions and 155 yards.

The Soul will host the Tampa Bay Storm (2-14) next Sunday, August 7 at 6 p.m. With a win, the Soul will return to PPL Center for the conference championship on August 14. 
 

Hellickson wins possible Phillies swan song, but sustains minor hand injury

Hellickson wins possible Phillies swan song, but sustains minor hand injury

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA – Though he wasn’t happy with the way he pitched in what might have been his last start with the Phillies, Jeremy Hellickson still helped the ballclub win on Saturday night.
 
He just did it more with his bat than his arm.
 
Hellickson’s two-run double – the first extra-base hit of his career – gave the Phillies the lead in the fifth inning of what eventually became a 9-5 win over the Atlanta Braves (see Instant Replay).

“The big hit for me was Hellickson’s double,” manager Pete Mackanin said after the game.
 
Mackanin was so happy with Hellickson’s double down the leftfield line that he absolved the pitcher for not being able to get a bunt down earlier in the at-bat.
 
Well, sort of.
 
“We’re going to have to do extra work with all the pitchers because we’re not getting bunts down,” said Mackanin, who was happy to get the win but a little exasperated by the sloppiness of the three-hour, 40-minute dull toothache of a game.
 
“At least we won,” he said. “A win’s a win.”
 
Hellickson's at-bat in the fifth was actually a little more adventurous than anyone would have liked, particularly with the pitcher being on the trading block. Before stroking the double to left, Hellickson got jammed while hitting a foul ball to the right side. The jam shot caused some soreness and bruising on the palm of his right hand and prevented him from getting through the sixth inning. He left after 5 2/3 innings with a 5-3 lead that he helped build.
 
“I’m still not really sure what it is, a bruise or I popped something in there,” Hellickson said after the game. “But I felt fine, though, after I did it. It was just a little tough to grip -- just the curveball.”

Mackanin sent pitching coach Bob McClure to the mound to check on Hellickson in the sixth. The pitcher told McClure his palm was sore so Mackanin got him out of there.
 
“It jarred him,” Mackanin said. “But he’s OK now. In the end, it’s not a big deal. It’s not like his elbow was hurting, you know what I mean?
 
“Anyway, his hit was the big hit of the game. It turned it around for us.”
 
It remains to be seen whether Hellickson’s sore hand will affect his trade status. The issue seemed minor enough that it shouldn’t, but one never knows.
 
The Phillies, according to sources, have received significant interest in Hellickson and he could be on the move by Monday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline. A number of teams including the Orioles, Pirates, Blue Jays and Cardinals have been monitoring him. The Dodgers and Tigers, both in the market for a starter, had scouts at Saturday night’s game. The Tigers scout parachuted in specifically to see Hellickson.
 
Hellickson finished the month of July with a 2.34 ERA in six starts and gave up just four runs in his last three starts. So if someone trades for him, they will be getting a hot hand. He is 8-7 with a 3.70 ERA in 22 starts with the Phillies.
 
“I have no idea what’s going to happen,” Hellickson said. “I'll find out Monday. 
 
“I can't control any of it. So I've just been focused on every start and in between starts. Whatever happens happens. Hopefully I'm still here on Tuesday.”
 
Mackanin echoed that thought.
 
“He’s been an outstanding guy, a real likable person,” Mackanin said. “He’s got a good work ethic. He’s focused and poised on the mound. He’s a true pitcher. He knows how to change speeds. I’d like to keep him.”
 
Atlanta out-hit the Phils, 14-9, but the Braves made two errors and their pitchers walked eight, including four in the eighth innings when the Phillies sent nine men to the plate and scored four times without getting a hit.
 
“When you score four runs without a hit you better win the game,” Mackanin said.
 
The Phillies were able to do that because Cameron Rupp had three hits and scored two runs and reliever Edubray Ramos got four big outs, three via strikeout. Trade candidate Jeanmar Gomez closed out the game in a non-save situation.

“I wanted to win the game,” Mackanin said of his decision to use Gomez. “I didn’t want to take any chances with anyone else. I just wanted one of my best guys knowing that he’s well rested and we have a day off Monday.”
 
Not everyone will be off Monday. The front office will be working the phones as the minutes tick away until the 4 p.m. deadline. Vince Velasquez is in play (see story). Gomez could go. David Hernandez could go. And so could Hellickson. If this was his last start with the Phillies, he finished up with a win.

Best of MLB: Happ gets 14th win, Blue Jays take over 1st place

Best of MLB: Happ gets 14th win, Blue Jays take over 1st place

TORONTO -- With one big inning and another strong start from J.A. Happ, the Blue Jays moved into the AL East lead.

Happ won his eighth straight decision, Devon Travis homered and Toronto used a seven-run fifth to beat the Baltimore Orioles 9-1 Saturday, taking sole possession of first place for the first time since early April.

"There's still a lot of baseball left, but I feel we're starting to play good ball," Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin said.

Toronto, which won for the 16th time in 22 games, had not been alone atop its division since a 2-0 start. The Blue Jays have scored seven or more runs in an inning three times this season.

Kevin Pillar had two hits and drove in four runs to match his career high. Major league RBIs leader Edwin Encarnacion drove in his 89th run (see full recap).

Giants find just enough offense for rare win since break
SAN FRANCISCO -- Hunter Pence is healthy at last. Joe Panik has been back a few days from a concussion and is driving in runs again. The San Francisco Giants sure are starting to look like themselves again.

Oh, with that new face in the infield of Eduardo Nunez.

Panik hit a go-ahead sacrifice fly in the seventh inning, Nunez had a two-run double in his first start with San Francisco and the Giants snapped a three-game losing streak by beating the Washington Nationals 5-3 on Saturday.

Pence was activated from the disabled list after missing 48 games with a strained right hamstring that required surgery.

"It's huge, just his presence in the lineup," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's one of our guys. In addition to the talent, he brings energy and all those intangibles. He charged up the troops being out there (see full recap)."

De La Rosa, Rockies win 5th straight, Mets lose 4th in row
NEW YORK -- Jorge De La Rosa earned his 100th career victory and the Colorado Rockies eventually caught up with Bartolo Colon, beating the New York Mets 7-2 on a rainy Saturday night for their fifth straight win.

The Rockies improved to 12-4 since the All-Star break and won despite losing NL home run leader Trevor Story to a jammed left thumb. He seemed to get hurt on a scrambling slide in the fourth, exited early and X-rays on the rookie shortstop were negative.

On the day the Mets retired Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza's No. 31, the Mets lost their fourth in row. The 43-year-old Colon (9-6) faltered in his first start on three days' rest since 2005, and slugger Yoenis Cespedes left in midgame because of a nagging quad injury (see full recap).

Rea injured in Miami debut, Marlins win 11-0
MIAMI -- The Miami Marlins' big win might have come with a price.

Newly acquired Colin Rea left early with an elbow injury in his Miami debut in the Marlins' 11-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday night.

"We obviously needed the win, but it's not at that cost," Marlins reliever David Phelps said. "Hopefully, it's nothing, but you never like to see a starter come out of the game when you're strapped for starters to begin with."

Rea, acquired in a trade with San Diego, pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing one hit and striking out four.

"I kind of felt something in my elbow and it gradually got worse throughout the game," Rea said. "I don't know if I could have thrown another pitch, but we'll see. We don't know anything yet."

Rea initially felt a pain in his arm during warm-ups before the game, but tried to pitch through it (see full recap).