Large correction: the original version of this post hinted that an employee of the Upright Citizens Brigade posted a blog item about Darryl Strawberry. That was false. A brother of a UCB employee, with no formal connection to the troupe, posted a blog item. You can read my correction here. This post has been edited to correct the error. It follows.
So I'm sitting there during the dreadfully boring Maryland win over Hampton last night, and with my laptop I'm scanning the usual subjects in blog-o-land, and I settle on Deadspin, where I read the latest round of funny stuff about Darryl Strawberry. In this case, Straw apparently delivered a talk to a comedy troupe, which won an auction to hear him speak, after which [a member of the audience] blogged about some of Straw's best lines, including some choice stuff about deeds done with women and drugs. Prompting, naturally, others to blog about Straw, and many jokes.
So I'm sitting there reading this, and then the closed circuit TV's at Comcast show Darryl Strawberry sitting in maybe the sixth row. His son, of course, plays for the Terps. So I look over, and there he is. And now I'm thinking, ok, Darryl Strawberry is the talk of sports blog-o-land today, including Deadspin, whose world this is whilst the rest of us just blog in it, and now Straw is maybe 50 feet away from me. So I figure I have to go ask him about this, right? Maybe even show him the Deadspin post and see what he thinks? Others in media land egg me on. But what am I gonna ask? Am I gonna ask if he really said what the [blogger] said he said? Or why he said it? Or if he reads Deadspin? I want no part of this assignment. This is why I don't want to be a sportswriter, or even a sportsblogger. I don't like unpleasantness.
Anyhow, I walk over there at halftime, and excited young Maryland kids are lining up to ask Straw for autographs and shake his hand. They have these goofy grins, like they're doing something a little bit taboo, and they're saying clever things, like "METS IN '07 BABY!!!!!" Straw is quietly signing everything handed to him. I stand there and do nothing. Then he walks down the stairs and out one of the tunnels with the young lady he'd been sitting next to. I follow. The whole way, people point at our little parade and sometimes yell or reach out their hands. Several ushers greet Straw. He goes to the bathroom. Baltimore Sun columnist Rick Maese and I wait outside. Straw emerges, and pays $7 for something or other from the snack vendor. An usher approaches and can't wait to introduce himself. He's so excited he confuses his speech, and tells Straw several times, "You're my biggest fan, you're my biggest fan."
So finally, Rick and I introduce ourselves. We figure the appropriate thing to do is ask about D.J., his son, and how frequently Straw sees him play.
"Not much last year," he says. "I pretty much try to stay out of the way and let him enjoy it and have fun. I don't get caught up into this scene. You know, I work with the Mets so I'm doing some things, traveling around through the minor leagues with player development."
Rick asks about D.J.'s progress on the court.
"I think there's a few things he still needs to work on," Straw says. "He needs to work on being more consistent. But he's improved a great deal and I'm proud of him....I'm just happy that he's healthy, that he's a good kid."
Then he tells us he was just in New York for a 1986 Mets reunion, and how he has to go back to New York today for an awards dinner, and how he just had a day off in between the events and thought he'd come down to see D.J., and how he thinks D.J.'s blessed to have a coach like Gary Williams. Finally I ask him about Monday's speech, and tell him that some outlandish comments from the event have made their way onto the Internet.
"About what?" he asks.
"Drugs and women," Rick eventually says.
"I never talked about drugs," Straw says. "I said we liked to party and we hung out. That was the lifestyle. Fortunately I'm no longer in that lifestyle and I'm grateful that I don't have to live like that, you know?"
(It would appear that athletes have different speeches prepared for different audiences: one set for comedy troupes, and another for mainstream journalists who ambush them in arena hallways.)
So we talk a little bit more about this topic. Straw says he did what other successful people did at that time. He says everything he talked about on Monday has already been written up in various books, that he said nothing new. He says "it was different in the '80s; you can't do those things in the '90s, in 2000, you can't do those things today." He says steroids are drugs too, and that players today are seeking instant gratification, just in a different way. He repeats his fears about MySpace. I ask if he's worried about D.J. reading his comments, like the ones we all read earlier this week.
"I've already made him fully aware of it," Straw says. "I've made him fully aware of the lifestyle, things that can occur and things to stay away from."
He also tells us about his 12-year-old son Jordan and how good a basketball player he'll be. The young woman he was sitting next to, who turns out to be D.J.'s girlfriend, is standing by the tunnel, waiting to go back into the arena. "Be fair to me, guys," Straw says to us before he leaves.
Not to be all philosophical, but it somehow feels a lot different making jokes about people when you're staring at your computer screen, and then making jokes about those same people after you've actually seen them hug excited ushers and make small talk with their son's girlfriend and talk proudly about their children and buy arena snacks at inflated prices and agree to chat with you when you're clearly up to no good and then look you in the eye and ask you to be fair, whatever that even means. Does it mean not trusting the transcripts provided by a [blogger]? (I mean, I have no reason to think that [blogger] either was or wasn't giving us verbatim quotes, just like you have no reason to either trust or not trust my Strawberry quotes.) Or does it mean not linking to those transcripts, which I've already done? Or does it mean not linking to underground Web sites that helped spread the word? Or does it mean adding a link to a column Straw recently wrote about getting his personal life in order and his autism foundation? He was trying to tell us about his foundation last night, but I interrupted to ask about drugs and women and comedy troupes. That's what we do, I guess.
Either way, I'll admit that the whole incident has me feeling a little unsettled. This is why it's better never to leave my desk. I blame underground Web sites.