Covering the Minor Leagues is often a thankless profession. Writers work just as hard as their Major League brethren in smaller stadiums, in smaller press boxes, in smaller locker rooms, and for much smaller pay. But for the hardcore fan, their work does not go unappreciated.
This upcoming season, Rays fans are fortunate to have one of the best in the business cover the Durham Bulls. Jessica Quiroli has been writing about baseball for over eight years on various websites and her own blog, High Heels on the Field. espnW called her one of the top ten women in sports to follow on Twitter, where she can be found at @HeelsOnTheField.
Jordi caught up with Jessica at the Winter Meetings last week in Orlando and talked with her about her previous work, writing about the Bulls, and building a brand.
Rays Index: So who are you writing for these days?
Jessica: I freelance for MiLB.com but I will be writing some for MinorLeagueBall.com and also on my blog High Heels on the Field, and anything else that comes up, but it will mostly be Durham Bulls coverage starting in April.
Rays Index: How did you get the Durham Bulls position? You were in NJ, correct?
Jessica: Well, I don’t exactly work for the Bulls. But I let the Bulls know – they kinda know me from Twitter – I let them know I was moving there and needed credentials for the season and that was that.
Rays Index: The move predicated what team you cover?
Jessica: That’s usually how it works. When I lived in Philadelphia, I travelled a lot to cover the Trenton Thunder. And I also ended up covering the Eastern League for years. Then when I moved to New York, it was the New York-Penn League, because the Brooklyn Cyclones and Staten Island were right there. Then there is also a high school sports writing position I also got for MaxPreps.com so that worked out as well.
Rays Index: Looking forward to it then?
Jessica: Very much.
Rays Index: In regards to the Durham Bulls, are there any players in particular you are looking forward to covering?
Jessica: Well, I know the team last year was pretty great. I have never covered Triple-A on a regular basis, most of my career has been Double-A or below, so I am really looking forward to seeing the difference at that level. As far as players, Odorizzi I covered when he was with the Royals. I remember then he was really good and thinking this guy is going to be something. So I would like to see him pitch.
Rays Index: I remember when he was in the Florida State League with the Brewers. He was in the Grienke trade.
Jessica: Yeah, when he was with the Royals I said to him “How tough was it for you?” He said it was tough, those were the guys he came up with and it was really hard for him. So I am wondering how he is faring with the Rays.
Rays Index: I always wonder how players feel in regards to guys they come up with. Do they stay in touch, send Christmas cards, etc?
Jessica: You’ll hear them say they stay in touch with certain guys. They say Twitter helps. I think the relationships they create in the Minor Leagues helps them. They need that. Especially the Latin players who have a really hard time adjusting and they need each other. Different situations like that really help the friendships.
Rays Index: You mentioned Twitter. You are very prominent on Twitter. You come out the “Minor League Players to Follow on Twitter” list and your “College Ballplayers to Follow on Twitter” list. How did those start and will you be continuing those?
Jessica: Oh yeah. I will be doing those again. They have become weirdly popular in a way that I did not know was going to happen. I didn’t know players were going to be so serious about it, really interested in it, and asking why they weren’t on it or why they were so low. But then you realize that’s their competitive nature and Twitter has become a huge part of their lives and how they connect with fans.
Rays Index: Both positive and negative. There are a lot of trolls on twitter who tweet “you stink” and other not-so-nice things.
Jessica: And they have to deal with that, yeah.
Rays Index: So is there anyone on Durham that you have communicated with on Twitter and are looking forward to continuing to talk with Twitter-wise?
Jessica: I don’t think so. Most of the guys I am connected with are the (Hudson Valley) Renegades. I am really connected with them on Twitter. I few of those guys I have a really great professional relationship with and so it has been mostly them. Mostly the guys who just got drafted, Jake Hager as well. I didn’t get to see him play, obviously, but most of the guys at the lower levels.
(See Jessica’s latest article on Hager here.)
Rays Index: What brings you here to Orlando for the Winter Meetings?
Jessica: Well, I was asked to speak at the Bob Freitas Speaker Series. I was asked to talk about covering Minor League Baseball and creating a personal brand and developing that and what that kind of career has been like. So I did that today and it went well.
Rays Index: Could give a quick summary of what you talked about in regards to your career and the challenges?
Jessica: You have to love it. Things are always changing and I am always looking for something new and new work. At this point it what I am known for. I like people know and read my work and respect my opinion knowing that this is what I do. I cover Minor Leagues and I cover prospects.
This is not usually my thing. Normally, I don’t like having this much attention, but MiLB asked me and I wasn’t going to say no.
Rays Index: Do you ever see High Heels on the Field being such a site that you would have people writing for you, or is it just your personal site?
Jessica: I’ve brought in writers to take it over for a week and things like that. I have thought about that too, what would I do with the whole thing? I have considered that. I am in my fifth year, but I don’t know. I want to expand it more and I have done that in the past year. I want to give other writers the opportunity to cover something in the Minor Leagues that I am not looking at. Or someone who works for the Minor Leagues. I had someone do that. So it’s a matter of what direction I want to bring it in eventually. But I do want to bring in other writers. But of course a lot of times, I don’t have time to do something with it. It’s not my job, you know. It is not a paying thing. The paying thing has to come first.
Rays Index: So you would be open to contributions, if there are readers who are interested?
Rays Index: Being that it is High Heels on the Field, do you limit it to women only?
Jessica: No, no, no. Not at all. Guys have to be comfortable. I have had players write for the blog. They wrote about their experience, what they go through, and they never mind. It’s great. I actually just had a story up about the charity, Minor League Baseball relief for what happened in the Philippines. That was a really great story to cover. And was different from anything I had done before. That’s another way I want to expand it. To have stories that are not just about the game or one player, but are about something bigger.
Rays Index: I did notice on your website it said you have written two fiction novels. Can you tell us about those?
Jessica: (Laughs.) I did not think you were going to bring those up. I decided to write a series where the main character is a female minor league baseball writer. Her name is Lauren Day. She is not me, but she is based on a lot of people, although it is a little bit based on my own life and experiences. I wrote two short novels, long short stories. I am still deciding if I want to do a third or move forward because I think I am done with that. It didn’t get a lot of attention, but I loved taking what I had learned in the Minor Leagues and presenting it in fiction.
The first story is about a first round pick who decides he wants to quit baseball and the second one is about the difficulty of sports journalism and how everything is sort of changing. Some people like the change, others don’t. There are traditionalists and purists and people just going to school today just to do media. Both stories focus a lot on being a sports writer, being a journalist, and what that life is like.
Rays Index: Where can people find those?
Jessica: They are available on Amazon and Smashwords.
Rays Index: Are you going to try to make a Rays game this year after covering the Durham Bulls, especially after the September call-ups?
Jessica: Maybe. I don’t know. That would be neat. I know now I am looking forward to covering the guys I saw in the New York-Penn League. I want to see them get up to Triple-A and watch their growth. I definitely like where I am at but there is something about seeing them debut, you know? Just watching that progression, it is really great to see that happen.
Rays Index: Thoughts on Taylor Guerrieri? (Guerrieri will begin the 2014 season serving a 50 game suspension for substance abuse.)
Jessica: I watched him in the NY-Penn League. He was probably one of the best prospects I have ever covered. I was amazed by him. Amazed. He is a good guy. When I say that I am careful, because you don’t them personally. But when I say that I mean he has tried so hard and he has show how hard he is willing to work. He is a hard-working player. He has his wildness and he has his stuff he needs to figure out, but I think it is important for Rays fans to know that I saw a guy who needed to get better and needed to apply himself and he did that. Whatever personal stuff he has going on, he will be fine. It is so early in his career, and you don’t want people to say that he is a top prospect and a screw-up. He is really not.
Really all those guys I covered on the Renegades. They will be in the Midwest League this upcoming season. That team worked hard. Julian Ridlings, Justin Choate who is gone now, Aaron Griffin, Chris Kirsh, Darryl George. I watched a team of guys who were intense and had the drive. And with Taylor, give him a chance. He’ll be fine. He has so much talent.