This story falls in the category of "factual fictions." How do you create a fictional interview with a real ball player? Why you go through a bunch of interviews over the years, starting from his college days, and pull quotes that work to answer questions coming out of your character's mouth.
It is actually also based on a semi-true story. In 2005, Dr. Charles Steinberg gave me permission to film a pilot for a kids' show down in Pawtucket at the Red Sox AAA affiliate, the Pawtucket Red Sox. The idea was a 15 minute short to run on NESN alternating with the (then) 15 minute Sports Desk on Saturday mornings. Dr. Steinberg wanted me to interview an exciting young player just moving up from Portland by the name of Dustin Pedroia. Unfortunately the night before we were to film, Pedroia took a foul ball off the wrist and wasn't able to make it, so Kelly Shoppach subbed for him. My son did a great job asking questions and Kelly Shoppach did a great job talking to a bear puppet on my son's shoulder and my son.
Mr. Bear's Clubhouse, our pilot show, sat on a shelf at NESN for years. Every so often I'd get a rejection and some notes for Mr. Bear until it finally got shelved for good a couple of years ago. Colleen (aka Tessie) did sign a ball for my son, but she never met him. He met some other Red Sox ambassadors (one of whom he had a crush on) and Hazel Mae, formerly of NESN and the MLB Network, and he shoots skater videos as he prepares to start in art school studying mixed media and painting.
So to my fourth grader who gave me the prompt about him getting a job on NESN after he's picked for the Sunday kid introductions and is just too good for them not hire him, thank you for reminding me of the excitement of a kids meeting a "real" ball player and having the chance to interview them for the camera.
Teddy looked through the script one more time.
“Do you think this will work?”
His teacher nodded.
“You put a lot of effort in, you made your case and you won the approval of the team. Now all you have to do is take it one step at a time. If you get stuck, just look at the cue cards and always remember that it’s not a big deal if you mess up, you can fix it in the editing room.”
Dr. Steinberg, the Red Sox PR guy, had given him permission to interview Dustin Pedroia. Teddy loved Pedroia because, like him, he was short. If he was lucky, Teddy might be as tall as Pedroia one day, but it was difficult to know.
Teddy had asked to interview the struggling rookie because he wanted to know how he fought agains the odds to do something that few people got to do: play baseball for the Boston Red Sox. Not only that, he did it against major odds.
He knew about major odds. A month before his third birthday, Teddy had been diagnosed with a kidney disease. Now, in the sixth, he was the shortest kid in his class because the steroids that kept his kidneys functioning had stunted his height. Even many of the girls were taller than him. While he had been “drug free” for two years and he was starting to catch up height wise, but in the mean time he took a lot of abuse from the jocks and popular kids.
Teddy was a tech nerd on the school news program but, after a chance meeting with Andy MacDonald the skateboarder and interviewing him at a local skatepark, his teacher Mr. V wanted him to try to interview more people for the news show. He told Teddy he had a good, easy style and it would be good experience for him.
Now here he was, his first major interview with Dustin “the destroyah” Pedroia.
Set up on the field in front of the dugout, he stood there trying to feel as tall as possible - all five feet of him - with his mike in hand ready to go. Mr. V stood behind the camera and Teddy’s best friend, Jake, stood there holding the questions written in sharpie on poster board as cue cards.
“OK, where’s Teddy Goldman?” a young brunette woman asked.
Teddy immediately recognized “Tessie” from the Dropkick Murphys video. He raised his hand and she looked at him, unable to hide the unspoken questions on her face.
“All right then, “ she said, “I’m Colleen. If you need anything, I’ll be right there next to your teacher. Mr. Pedroia only has few moments. Ask keep your questions coming and when I signal you, wrap it up as Mr. Pedroia has to get to batting practice.”
A moment later, she escorted the ball player to him.
“Hey kid,” Pedroia greeted Teddy, “sorry to make this so quick but it’s a busy day.”
“No problem, and thank you again for your time,” Teddy remembered the drill Mr. V had put him through.
“Where’s this going to air again?”
“On our school news channel and the local public access station.”
Pedroia nodded, “Fire away.”
Teddy faced the camera and started, “This is Teddy and I’m here with Red Sox rookie Dustin Pedroia. Mr. Pedroia, most baseball players are six feet or taller, it’s clear you’re much shorter than that. Do the other players tease you at all?”
“Sure I get short jokes but I figure being big has nothing to do with playing baseball. In fact, I think you move a lot quicker when you’re close to the ground.”
“Seeing how quickly you move, I don’t think anyone would doubt you on that one,” Teddy said easily. “Were you worried you might get missed because of your height?”
“I think anybody, if they were the same size as me, and they were putting up the same numbers as me, they would get recognized just as much as I did.”
Teddy nodded. “What’s it like being a rookie?”
“I didn’t know what to expect at first, but I am who I am, I’m not going to change for anybody,” with an easy smile he added, “It’s not too bad except for the short jokes.”
They both laughed.
“What position do you like to play?”
“It doesn’t matter much which position I play - whatever it takes is fine by me.”
“What advice do you have for kids?”
“I try and set little goals, stuff like that. I’ve put in a lot of hard work and I’m ready for it to show on the field. I think to myself ‘There’s no way that guy’s better than me.’ But that’s what pushes me. At that time was that guy better than me? Yeah, probably. But I wasn’t going to let myself think that. So that’s what drives me to be even better and better. To prove to everybody I’m just as good as they are. You know what I mean? How come people don’t think like that?”
“Good question, but it looks like we have to wrap things up here. I want to thank you again and I’m Teddy here with Mr. Dustin Pedroia. Mr. Pedroia, thank you again,” he turned to shake the ball player’s hand.
“Not a problem kid,” he winked. The stood for a moment until Mr. V gave the sign.
“And we’re clear. Good job Teddy.”
“Not a problem,” he wandered towards the batter’s box while Teddy helped Mr. V and Jake start to pack things up.
“Hey kid,” it was Tessie. He shook his head and reminded himself that her name was Colleen.
“Good job. What grade are you in?”
“Really,” she looked puzzled.
“I know, I know, I look much younger. I have a kidney problem so I’m shorter than most kids my age because of the medicine I had to take to keep things in check.”
“Really? Is that why you wanted to interview Mr. Pedroia?”
“That was a part of it. He’s popular, which was another part.”
“Well Teddy, I think you have a future in broadcasting. There aren’t a lot of people - kids or adults - that could hold their own that calmly in an interview.”
“Hey Teddy, you ready?” Jake called out, “We’re all packed here.”
He turned to his friend, “Did you remember to get B roll of players practicing and the park?”
“Done and done my friend.”
Teddy turned to Colleen, “I need to go. It was nice speaking with you.”
“Teddy, here’s my card. In a couple of years, when you’re in high school, if I’m here and you want to intern in the media department, I’d be happy to talk to you then. I was really impressed and I’ll put in a good word with Dr. Steinberg. If we could take take kids under the age of 16, I’d tell him to scoop you up now. But,” she shrugged, “rules are rules.”
“You’re welcome and remember to give me a call in a couple of years.”
He smiled. Walking back to Mr. V, he looked at the card.
Stuffing the card in his pocket he looked at his teacher.
“Getting girls phone numbers all ready? I knew you had it in you,” he teased.
Teddy shrugged, “You could say that. But I think I like blondes better. Besides, she’s too tall for me.”
Mr. V laughed. He nodded towards the equipment indicating Teddy should help. He picked up one of the bags with the equipment.
“I wish you could have had your first game with a media pass,” Mr. V said.
“Maybe next time.”
“At least we have some great seats for the game. Dr. Steinberg arranged for us to sit in the owner’s box, which is a rare privilege. I think Jake is going climb out of his skin he’s so excited.”
Teddy shrugged, “How can you not be excited at sitting in the owner’s box at a Red Sox game?”
Mr. V laughed. “We still have work to do. We’ll add titles and edit tomorrow during class and it will air Tuesday.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
As they headed back towards the ramp into the park, Teddy smiled. If Dustin Pedroia didn’t need to be tall to play major league ball, maybe he wouldn’t need to be tall to be a documentary filmmaker one day. He would set small goals and keep building.
His first goal, he would intern in the media department with the Red Sox until he could get a job at NESN. From there he’d go to either Emerson or NYU. He’d find a way to get them to let him make short features to show athletes that were good, hard working people to inspire kids. The guys the media didn’t cover.
He felt the card stock in his pocket poking him.
With a smile he followed his teacher and his friend off the field.