latroyhawkinsThis story appeared in today’s Wall Street Journal. It’s my profile of LaTroy Hawkins, Mets reliever and 19-year Major League veteran.

I enjoy talking process here, so a little of the back story …

I love writing for the Journal. Absolutely love it. A. They’re cool cats. B. They’re open to unconventional ideas.

I’ve never been one to say, “How about an article on David Wright? He’s having a great year!” I prefer unconventional and quirky and different. Also, at age 41, I’m a fan of, well, athletes of my era, fighting to stick around, backs aching, necks stiff, arthritis kicking in. Though I’d never interviewed LaTroy before (maybe once, actually, when he was a Twin and I was profiling Torii Hunter back in the SI days), I loved that he’s an almost-41-year-old veteran who’s neither a superstar nor a lefty (the two categories that can last). He’s just a guy with a sub-.500 record and lots of health. In my mind, I group him with Mark Kotsay and Bruce Chen—other inexplicable holdovers from the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Anyhow, I pitched the idea, the Journal accepted. I called Jay Horwitz, the Mets awesome PR man (and the subject of one of my Journal pieces from a while back), asked for a credential, showed up at Citi Field during the series against Arizona.

It’s funny: There are few places in this world where I feel particularly embraced, but Citi Field is one of them. Mets fans really took to The Bad Guys Won! (my first book, about the ’86 Mets), and there are always mentions of, “Loved that book!” or “Man, I’ve read that three times!” It’s lovely and embracing, and it happened again as I entered the stadium.

I digress. As I entered the mostly empty Mets’ clubhouse, Jay pointed to LaTroy and said, “Hey, this is Jeff Pearlman. He’s a good guy.” Which always helps. Hawkins was in the middle of a conversation, and as soon as that was done he turned his attention my way. “How can I help you?” he said.

As a journalist, I think it’s important to make as immediate a connection as possible. You don’t want to be just another guy with a credential dangling from his neck; just another notepad holder spewing cliches. I knew LaTroy was from Gary, Indiana—easily the most dangerous city I’ve ever visited. I spent three or four days there about seven years back, writing a lengthy story on the murder of Lyman Bostock. Gary was my link, and I was happy to talk about it, talk about my experience there, etc.

We chatted, strictly Gary, for 15 minutes, then dove into baseball.

He only had a half hour or so, but it was enough. Lovely guy, fun piece to write. Not my best work, but enjoyable.

The end.