Hitting the big time

Erik Boland ’96 started his career in media at a small, local radio station in Warren, Ohio. Now he’s a beat writer for the New York Yankees.

By John Walsh

Many people consider Erik Boland’s job a dream job – a beat writer covering the New York Yankees. Boland has been working at Newsday since 2002, when he started at the daily newspaper answering phones in the sports department. Then he covered high school sports and worked his way up to cover local colleges. In 2008, he caught a break and was assigned as the beat reporter covering the New York Jets. A year later, he was assigned to cover the Yankees. But Boland’s current job was never part of his grand professional plan.

“New York was never my goal,” he says. “Money drove me here.”

Big fish in a small pond
Boland followed his uncle, Jim ’62, and dad, John ’66, to John Carroll, where he hosted a radio program on WUJC (changed to WJCU in 1998) and wrote for The Carroll News. After graduating from JCU with a degree in communication, Boland worked for a small radio station in Warren, Ohio, WRRO, which was owned by Art Greenberg and Phil Lavin. They were general managers of the WHK radio station in Cleveland where Boland worked as an intern during his senior year.

“They bought a small, all-sports station and were looking for young, cheap talent,” says Boland, who did play-by-play for high school basketball and football games and sold air time to advertisers.

Boland chats with former Cleveland Indians catcher Sandy Alomar, now a part of Terry Francona's coaching staff.

Boland chats with former Cleveland Indians catcher Sandy Alomar, now a part of Terry Francona’s coaching staff.

Boland’s transition to print media was born out of financial necessity. In 1998, he approached the sports editor at the Warren Tribune Chronicle, David Burcham, asking to write news articles.

“At the time, I was probably making $12,000 a year, and the editor paid $25 a story,” Boland says. “He said to me, ‘All you radio guys think you can write.’”

While Boland and Burcham talked about Boland writing for the newspaper, a parent of a high school student-athlete called Burcham to pitch a story about a boys golf team. So Burcham told Boland to cover the story. He did. And with the help of an editor, he published his first newspaper article. More assignments followed.

“I thought if I can write four stories a week, that’s $100 for groceries,” Boland says. “I turned sportswriting into my own niche.”

By year’s end, Boland was doing as much work for the newspaper as he was doing with the radio station. He was writing every other day and was on air three times a week. Eventually, he covered the Cleveland Browns and Indians – on the heels of the beat reporters writing sidebars. During his last year in Warren, 2001, he was doing more with the newspaper than the radio station.

“My vision was never to actually write for a newspaper,” says Boland, whose dream job was to do play-by-play for the Cleveland Cavaliers. “I did it because I always enjoyed writing. I had mentors at Carroll who told me writing was important. I never thought of it as a career possibility until I began writing more for the Warren Tribune.”

Change of plans
In August of 2000, Boland sat in a press box helping cover a preseason Browns game for the newspaper. He didn’t know at the time, but it was the start of several events that altered the direction of his career. Pat Saunders, who hosted a popular high school football TV show on WFMJ on Sundays, also was in the press box covering the game. Boland knew Saunders because Saunders would have Boland on the show occasionally as a guest. The station had scored the rights to broadcast live a Youngstown State University football regular season game, which was to be played in California.

“I jokingly asked if they needed a sideline guy,” Boland says. “Here I thought I was making a joke about a job that didn’t exist, but they needed someone.”

Boland traveled to California and worked the game, then traveled to Richmond, Va., and worked YSU’s next postseason game, which was played in a torrential rainstorm. A week later, Boland received a call from WFMJ’s news director, Mona Alexander, asking if he was interested in interviewing for a weekend sports anchor position. He auditioned and eventually was offered the job and accepted it. But a week after Boland accepted the TV anchor job, he was accepted to New York University’s Master of Arts in journalism program in the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.

Boland (left) in a group of reporters talking to New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera in 2013.

Boland (left) in a group of reporters talking to New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera in 2013.

“I applied to graduate school because I wasn’t making much money even though I loved my job,” he says. “I needed to make a choice – newspaper or radio. So, I thought I’d learn journalism at NYU.”

After deep thought and talking to his parents, Boland decided to attend NYU and called WFMJ to apologize.

“I applied to NYU late and was accepted late,” he says.

In August of 2001, the Shaker Heights, Ohio, native moved to New York City.

Bite the Big Apple
While Boland was going to school full time (he earned a master’s in journalism from NYU), he worked at ESPN Zone, a sports-themed restaurant on Times Square. It wasn’t until his last semester of graduate school when he started as a part-timer at Newsday, working 28 hours a week on Long Island where high school sports is a big deal. The newspaper needed employees to sit in its office and take calls from high school coaches for all sports. If one did that successfully, then he’d be allowed to pitch story ideas to the high school sports editor, then go out and cover the story.

“I worked the phone for two months before I wrote part time and did that for five years before I was lucky enough to get hired full time,” Boland says. “I was low man on the totem pole but was fortunate enough to get some opportunities covering the pro teams. I’d get to do a fifth sidebar for a Giants game in which I would interview the quarterback from the other team.”

As a beat writer (he is one of 11 traveling beat writer who cover the Yankees for the New York media), Boland writes from a news standpoint – reporting – but is expected to do so with an edge. Occasionally, he’ll write an analysis piece heading into spring training (he’s in Tampa, Fla., from Feb. 10 until March 31) or during the off season. He receives guidance from his office but is given a lot of freedom to cover the beat.

“The game mostly dictates what I write,” he says, acknowledging themes develop throughout the course of a season, such as Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter playing his last season, a player in a slump, or one who’s playing well.

Boland’s job is basically to report a day in the life of the Yankees. On days with night games, the clubhouse opens 3.5 hours before the first pitch. Boland arrives at the ballpark at 2:30, and the clubhouse, which has a professional atmosphere, opens at 3:30. He waits for the players, who walk in and out of the clubhouse, then interviews them.

“You walk up to them and get what you need,” he says, adding there’s a lot of downtime in baseball for the players who are very routine. “As the new beat guy, it took a little longer for the players to recognize me. I’ve never had a guy I needed to talk to blow me off, but I have had someone postpone an interview because they had something scheduled. But there are guys who don’t talk at times.”

Boland – who’s still a Tribe fan but roots for the Yankees to provide him with good stories – says the players recognize the grind reporters endure throughout the long baseball season, which helps build relationships and earn trust.

“It’s easier to do the job when you’re there every day because the players I think have a grudging respect for the people they see every day,” he says.

A lot of Boland’s job is knowing what questions to ask and being astute. Last year, during the playoffs in Tampa, covering the Rays – Red Sox series because the Yankees didn’t make the playoffs, Boland talked to Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli in the parking lot about being suspended for 50 games because of his involvement with the Biogenesis performance-enhancing drug scandal.

“He walked out, I yelled to him across the parking lot and got an exclusive when I asked him about Biogenesis,” Boland says. “I was in the right place at the right time.”

After games, the newspaper deadline isn’t Boland’s friend. As such, he isn’t looking for in-depth material, rather a sound bite, which is derived sometimes through an inane question.

Aside from interviewing players, Boland and the rest of the media collectively meet with the Yankees manager and general manager to talk to them for various stories about the off-season, free agents, possible trades, updates on hurt players, players they might be signing, and minor league players that move up to the big leagues.

So much is made about the New York media, and Boland says it’s different from other cities’ media mainly because of the numbers – there are so many.

“Stuff that’s not a big story in other markets is big here because of the competing dailies,” he says. “There’s no such thing as a small story when the Yankees are involved. I work with a lot of New Yorkers, but you wouldn’t know it because they’re objective about what they write. Pound for pound, New York has more quality hard-hitting reporters than any other city.”

Boland, who has Yankee fans who follow him on Twitter, feels extremely fortunate and loves what he does.

“Getting paid to go to sporting events isn’t a bad way to make a living,” he says. JCU

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