August 28, 2007

Interview: La Velle E. Neal III

As many of you Twins fans know, La Velle E. Neal III is a beat writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and covers our Minnesota Twins on a daily basis.

La Velle was born and raised in Chicago, and grew up a big sports fan, and for that matter, a big baseball fan. He has worked for the Star Tribune since 1998, and has also worked for other newspapers, and covered other teams such as the Kansas City Royals.

La Velle (known by many as LEN3) was kind enough to take some time to answer some of our questions. As you'll soon find out, LEN3 has a lot of good information and stories about how he has gotten to where he is.

My favorite part is the last question, but read the rest first! Also, make sure to check his blog "Twins Insider" out daily for the most recent news on your Minnesota Twins.

On with the interview....

Twins Territory: Growing up, what was your favorite baseball team, and favorite sport?

La Velle: I grew up in Chicago, rooting for the White Sox. Dick Allen was my favorite player. I was fortunate to catch a few games at Comiskey Park. Baseball always has been my favorite sport.

Twins Territory: Did you always want to become a sportswriter, and what was something else you might be doing if you weren't a writer?

La Velle: I was always enamored with the possibility. My job in the mornings was to go to the corner news stand and get the papers. We had four in town at the time - the Tribune, Sun-Times, Daily News and the Chicago Today. I read two or three of them most mornings (just the sports sections!). I was a marketing major my first two years of college, but I really wasn't into it. I decided to try writing, and it's turned out fine.

Twins Territory: What are some of the different teams you've covered and even different sports you've covered?

La Velle: For the Star-Tribune, it's been mostly baseball, but then I've filled in for Gophers sports and the T-Wolves. In Kansas City, I did everything. Covered high schools, indoor soccer, rodeos, marathons, triathlons and the World Cup in 1994.

Twins Territory: How did you work your way up from the lower ranks up to where you are now as a writer for a Major League team?

La Velle: I was a high school writer in Kansas City, trying to prove I could be more than that. So I volunteered to cover the indoor soccer team when no one else wanted to. I treated it as a pro beat as much as I was allowed to. That got me to the World Cup in 1994. It also played a role in me covering the Royals from 1994-97.

Twins Territory: What did you have to do to become a sports writer? Such as the steps to become one, etc.

La Velle: My path wasn't a typical one. I left the University of Illinois after my sophomore year and ended up at Illinois-Chicago. I changed my major from marketing to mass communications (UIC didn't have a J-program) and got all my experience working on the school newspaper. I was hired as an intern in Kansas City for what was supposed to be four months, but I was offered a job at the end of the stint. That's how my career began.

Twins Territory: What is it like to know that everyday you get to go cover a baseball team?

La Velle: I never tire of arriving at a nearly-empty ballpark between 2:30 and 3:00 each afternoon to start gathering information for the next day's paper. In some of the older stadiums, like Fenway Park, you sometimes hear the ghosts whispering.

Twins Territory: What is it like to meet all kinds of different players, managers and baseball people?

La Velle: It's always great to be able to talk baseball, but the job is so much more than that. There's contracts, trades, clubhouse issues, so many things a beat writer must watch out for. In the 1960's there was no such thing as a Sunday notes package, assistant sports editors or cell phones.

Twins Territory: What is a basic day like for you as a sportswriter? A daily schedule or something like that.

La Velle: Read baseball stories/news at home in the mornings. Some days, you're already checking in with sources then. Arrive at the park between 2:30 and 3:00 p.m. In the clubhouse at 3:30 to dig up notebook items. On the field for batting practice around 4:20. Gardy does his presser around 5:00. Grab something to eat between 5:30 and 6:00. Work on pre-game notes after dinner until about 7:30. The first-run story is due at 9:45, so you start to crank around 9:00 - earlier if the game is going fast, After the game, you're in the clubhouse for about 45 minutes. Then the final story is due around 11:30ish.

Twins Territory: What is the in-game stuff like? What are some of the different things you do other than watch the game?

La Velle: You keep up with other games in the league. I have the package on my laptop, so I can see what Cleveland and Detroit are doing, I'll peek at and to see if there's breaking news.

Twins Territory: What is the best moment that you've had in your career as a sportswriter with the Twins or another team you covered?

La Velle: I've been in the press box for three no-hitters: Bret Saberhagen against the White Sox, David Wells against the Twins and Eric Milton against the Angels.

Twins Territory: What are your favorite and least favorite parts about being a sportswriter?

La Velle: Plus: You get to see the country and cover games in some of the great ballparks in the league. Minus: The late nights, travel and spring training aren't the best for relationships. I haven't been good at juggling life outside my job.

Twins Territory: You have met many sports figures. Who do you think is the nicest? Who is the most favorite player or person you've met?

La Velle: I've covered a lot of good people. In Kansas City, there was Mark Gubicza, Tim Belcher, David Howard, Jay Bell, Mike Sweeney, Jermaine Dye and Johnny Damon. In Minnesota, there's been Torii Hunter, Brad Radke, Mike Trombley, Michael Cuddyer, Johan Santana. There really hasn't been anyone I've covered who's been tough to deal with. Marty Cordova didn't like talking about himself, but that's pretty much it. Each player is a little different and you respect most of them in different ways. I mean, it was great to hear Terry Mulholland's perspective on things. And it was an entertaining interview with Kevin Appier and Mike Morgan, two guys who had unique views on life.

Twins Territory: How do you think the Internet is changing writing? You have a blog now, has that changed the way you do things, and how has it helped?

La Velle: It allows me to get news out there quickly. I post the lineup before every game, which seems to create a daily controversy. It also allows me to get information to the public that may not be able to fit in newspaper. The Internet has been great for sports writing because research is easier.

Twins Territory: What is some advise you'd give to someone who wants to someday be a sportswriter?

La Velle: Read, read and read. I check out what other beat writers are doing every day. It can help you come up with story ideas to new approaches to writing. But don't just rely on the Internet.

Some fun questions....

Twins Territory: Who is one person that you'd like to someday interview or meet? Someone you wish you could have interviewed?

La Velle: Hank Aaron

Twins Territory: What is your favorite baseball movie?

La Velle: Long Gone

Twins Territory: What is the weirdest thing someone has said to you or asked you?

La Velle: Are you Rembrandt? I guess the woman was looking for cocaine, she thought I had some (No I didn't and never have!) and that was the secret phrase.

Again, I'd like to thank La Velle for taking time out of his busy schedule. It was fun to read the stories he had to share, and his tips about becoming a writer. I really liked the last question, it was pretty funny when I first read it.

If you don't do so right now, make sure you make La Velle's blog "Twins Insider" a daily stop for all your Twins News.