Friday, August 4, 2017

Andrew Baggarly Jumping through his Career

Story by Kent Paisley
Photo courtesy of The Mercury News

Syracuse, N.Y. - The bright lights are beaming down. A fourth victory is on the line. 

Final Jeopardy  is about to begin. 

The category? “New Olympic Sports”. 

Alex Trebek reads the answer aloud.

“This sport introduced in Summer 2000 plays out over a raised area 16 ½ feet long & 9 ½ feet wide. Good luck.” The music begins. DAH-dah-dah-dah, dah-DAH-dah.

While the correct answer in the form of a question evaded the 20-year sports media veteran on Jeopardy!, the Olympic sport is symbolic of his career.  

Andrew Baggarly, three time Jeopardy! Champion and San Francisco Giants beat writer for the Bay Area News Group, has jumped from blogger to novelist to TV insider and more. 

Baggarly talked to the Newhouse Sports Media Center about his career over the phone Monday evening.

Baggarly has covered the Giants since 2004, including their 2010, 2012, and 2014 World Series victories. The first championship he was a beat writer, and the latter two he was a TV insider for Comcast Sports Net Bay Area. 

One of his most touching stories came early in his career, at his first job at the San Bernardino County Sun.  

During his time at  the Sun in the late 1990’s, Baggarly wrote a piece about the local high school football team out of Barstow, California, and the connection its members formed with the local veteran’s center off the gridiron.

The Veteran's Home of California- Barstow houses veterans who require long term medical care and need assistance in taking care of themselves. 

“It was a neat sort of way that two very different parts of the community kind of came together to support one another,” Baggarly said.

The football team would reserve seats for the veterans at their home games, and the veterans would host the team for dinners at their center.

Baggarly wrote the piece for the Thanksgiving edition of the paper. While a touching story, he recognized what was most important for the people involved.  

“Made those guys (the veterans) feel appreciated and made the kids feel like what they were doing was important,” Baggarly explained. 

His career, like jumping on the correct Final Jeopardy! question, would take off from there.   

What is Trampoline?

Interview transcript with Andrew Baggarly can be found below. Audio can be found here.

Kent Paisley: I’d really appreciate it if you could tell me at what point in life did you realize you wanted to go into the sports industry?

Andrew Baggarly: Um, gosh, that’s kind of hard to pin down. Always enjoyed watching sports, playing sports, collecting baseball cards, I think that probably when I was in junior high or so, I thought it’d be really fun to be a sports broadcaster, and so, that’s when I really sort of pivoted towards wanting a career in sports media, and I ended up you know with a newspaper focus, which kind of changed when I was in college, but I think that was probably the first time I thought about working in Sports Media, 6th or 7th grade.

KP: And, as you’ve mostly done print work as a beat writer throughout your career, you’ve also blogged, you’ve written a couple books, and served as an on-air talent for formerly Comcast Sports Net Bay Area, what have you learned from each experience outside of your job as a beat writer?

AB: I think in terms of career advice I’d give to someone, it would just be, always do more than what’s expected of you, always look for way you can just tell stories, tell interesting stories in different ways, and now I think you have to know not only how to do that and how to ask the right questions and form relationships and get people to trust you to tell their stories, but also you need to have the skills to be able to tell that story on different platforms, whether it’s broadcast, or knowing how to shoot net to video, or a lot of things that I probably need to do a better job of, in addition to what I do on the print side. I think it just boils down to if you keep it simple and you try to tell compelling stories, look for them and seek them out and try not to necessarily follow the pack but try to go where nobody else is to tell story that nobody else is telling. If you do that, no matter where this business goes, or where the revenue streams come from, I think you’ll be in demand as somebody who will have an audience that will seek you out.

KP: Certainly, and speaking of telling good stories, at Syracuse we have a Sports Matters Symposium, discussing Sports and how they impact everyday lives, such as talking about the backstories of kids on a little league team. What has been your favorite sports matter moment to cover in your career and why?

AB: Favorite, what kind of moment? I’m sorry.

KP: It’s a moment that kind of impacts an everyday life, talking about a little league kid and his background and how he got brought up in sports versus talking about the sporting event itself.

AB: Oh sure. I think, when I look, a good example, something I did, first newspaper I worked at out of college, the San Bernardino County Sun, I wrote a big Thanksgiving Story, about how this football team in Barstow California, there was a center for Veterans who need medical assistance, constant care, and all of these guys who are veterans have a lot of health challenges. A lot of them   are very elderly, they started going to the football games. They embraced each other. They became their best supporters, the kids really took to the veterans, they made sure to save them the best seats in the house, they did a dinner at the home, it was a neat sort of way that two very different parts of the community kind of came together to support one another and made those guys feel appreciated and made the kids feel like what they were doing was important. That was really neat to be able to tell a story like that.

I think, on the pro side, covering Major League Baseball for a couple decades, I think probably the neatest thing was the Giants hadn’t won a World Series in San Francisco, and when they won in 2010, it was something that generations of people had waited for, maybe not as dramatic as the Chicago Cubs, but pretty close. I mean the Giants had never won in San Francisco, 50 plus years of waiting to see all that pent-up emotion kind of spill out in 2010, and for that to happen in my seventh year covering the team and not my first or second, I didn’t grow up in the bay area, I didn’t have a connection to the Giants, so you know I got to have a few years to really understand what the franchise was all about, what the fan base was all about, what it would mean to people to win a world series. To be a part of that, to see the parade, to know I’m kind of writing the first draft of a history that they’re not going to forget, that’s pretty darn rewarding and that’s pretty cool. Obviously, memories like that are nice to harken back to when the team is just god awful to watch.

KP: (laughs) Yeah it’s been a bit of a struggle this year to watch the Giants. Speaking of other interesting experiences for you Mr. Baggarly, how did you initially end up on Jeopardy, and can you take me through what the experiences on the show were like?

AB: Yeah, I first tried out for Jeopardy when maybe I first came out of school, I passed the test I think three times, and taken it four times.  In the previous times, I had been in the contestant pool and I hadn’t been picked. You know, I would do it off and on, and then a couple years later I’d be like oh yeah, I need to try to take the test again. Then I moved up to the Bay Area, so I wasn’t near the studio where they give the test. Then they started doing it online, so then I’m like ok, I’ll give it a whirl and see if I can get back into the contestant pool. You know, I’m actually glad I didn’t make it on when I was 24 years old, I think there was so much more I didn’t know, there were a lot of categories that I think I was stronger in now than I would have been then. It was a lot of fun when they finally called my name, and I went for the taping. Won the first show, and then they taped 5 shows in a day. So, I was on the Friday show, which was the final taping of the day, won that, came back the next day, it was a whole new group of contestants, so it was old hat to me by this time, I went through the whole orientation, and I’ve seen the taping I know how it works, and now I felt like ok, I got a win under my belt, that’s all I wanted to do was just win one, and now I have a little insider knowledge on how this all works over everybody else. It allowed me to relax a little bit, and I got some very very big lucky breaks, got on a roll, ended up winning three shows, and might’ve won a fourth show had I known Trampoline was an Olympic Sport. But, uh.

KP: (Laughs)

AB: But it was great. I feel like you know a high school quarterback reliving his glory days when I talk about it. But, it was just one of those bucket list type of things I hoped to do, just hoped not to look stupid when I made it on, so I’m glad I represented the Sports Writing Fraternity well enough, I guess.

KP: Well on a final note, to let you keep reliving your high school glory days of Jeopardy, do you recall the toughest question you had to answer was?

AB: Probably the one that I didn’t get, the one that knocked me off the show, final jeopardy, it was recent Olympic Sports. And I actually studied the Olympics because I knew it was going to air in July, when the games were going on in London, and they tend to be pretty topical. So I did study Olympic winners, events, stuff like that, host cities, things that I could memorize. And then the clue was that the sport which was first a medal sport in 2000 is played out I think it said on a raised platform that was raised that was 16 feet by 9 feet or something like that, and that’s all you got. So I thought, gosh I have no idea, you know the raised platform, it’s not diving, it’s not you know women’s boxing, I have no idea. So I finally put sumo wrestling, just because I figured it’s not an Olympic sport but who knows, I know that usually it’s on a raised platform. And then the guy next to me knew trampoline. I did have that fear that I would get a Sports question wrong that would make me look stupid. I’ve asked that clue of hundreds of people, and nobody, maybe one person has known the answer to it, so it makes me feel a little bit better.

KP: I certainly would’ve been on that list. Thank you so much for your time Mr. Baggarly, I really appreciate it.

AB: Yeah sure, hopefully that helps a little bit.

KP: Oh absolutely it did. Thank you so much, have a great day.

AB: You too, bye.

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