Successful season about more than stories for sports writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — While millions of U.S. residents enjoy four seasons every year, alumnus Jake Kaplan knows of only two for sure — baseball season and the offseason, and they’re not at all equal in length.

In fact, the offseason ends soon for Kaplan, the baseball beat writer who will be entering his third season covering the Houston Astros for the Houston Chronicle. That’s the world champion Houston Astros, and the team’s run to its first championship provided highs and lows for Kaplan last season.

“The highs are when you file a story you know was good. It’s hard to describe but there are certain days you know you nailed it and there are certain days you didn’t, and it does not have any correlation to how the team does,” he said.

Of course, following a team from the start of the season in spring training all the way to the World Series provides a few more opportunities for good days. And those initial days were especially important for Kaplan, a 2012 journalism alumnus. He took over the Astros beat after the start of the season in 2016, and missed spring training with the team. Getting to start in spring training in 2017 made an impact on his coverage.

“It was great to cover a team from the day players reported to their fourth champagne celebration in a month,” he said. “You have more time to know people on a personal level and it shows in your work. You have a better sense of the trajectory of the team.”

During a season that runs from mid-February to early November Kaplan’s challenges were often as much personal as professional, including an ongoing effort to eat healthy, exercise and make mental notes about the day of the week and month of the year.

“You constantly wake up not knowing what city you’re in or checking your phone for the day of the week. It’s kind of a blur,” he said. “So, you prioritize sleep, with seven or eight hours a night, and try to live a healthy lifestyle.”

During off days on the road he would often explore a city by foot and make time to plan upcoming legs of travel for the season. Movies are often an option, but they can be dangerous — at least professionally. “I get paranoid going in there and turning my phone off,” he said. “I just know some news is going to break when I do that.”

Although Houston is the nation’s fourth-largest city with 2.3 million people in the metro area, Kaplan’s competition on the baseball beat might not be as intense as that in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago or Philadelphia. Planning and travel have provided the most consistent challenges for Kaplan during his young career. While competitors influence his work and editors provide regular feedback, maintaining a high bar of success is about much more than access, breaking news, interviews, sentence structure or storylines.

“I don’t think you understand how much time you spend on the road until you do it. Along with flying, just getting to the airport is 45 minutes and then you’re waiting for your bags. There’s a lot of dead time,” Kaplan said. “You gradually learn the tricks of the trade and, like writing, there’s always room for improvement. Plus, it’s the kind of job a lot of people would want, and I never lose focus on that. I know I’m lucky to be doing this.”

Last Updated January 16, 2018