Thursday, November 14, 2013

Interview With Empty Netters' Seth Rorabaugh

I'm excited to introduce Seth Rorabaugh of Empty Netters in this latest installment of the Pittsburgh Sports Blogger Interview Series. Seth writes Empty Netters, a blog published on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's website, which is a must-read for any Pittsburgh Penguins or hockey fan. I think you'll enjoy this.

You're in a unique situation where you write a blog for a major newspaper. What is your background and how did you start working for the Post-Gazette? Were you hired specifically to write Empty Netters?

I started working at the Post-Gazette in the fall of 1998 as a freelancer. I was going to and living at Point Park College (now university) for a degree in journalism. One of my professors was a copy editor at the Post-Gazette and got me a job just answering phones on Friday nights for high school football. I did that for a year answering phones for all sorts of sports such as basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring. The next fall, I "graduated" to typing agate (i.e. box scores, standings, statistics, etc.). A year after that (fall of 2000), I was hired a full-time news assistant typing agate and other entry-level things. I did a little writing for high schools and small colleges throughout the years and started doing a little copy editing on the night desk for sports. In 2007, I started doing the blog in my spare time. Over time, it's has morphed into a full-time position.

The Post-Gazette credentials get you access to the Penguins and NHL teams and players that most bloggers don't have. Have there been interviews or people that you met that stand out either in a good way or a not-so-good way? Have you ever been star struck?

There have been a ton of interviews that stand out in good and bad sense. Easily the best for me personally was when Sidney Crosby was kind enough to give me an hour and a half one day during the lockout. We just sat in the bleachers at Southpoint and talked. I think part of it was that he didn't have anything else to do. Over the years, I've encountered lots of good and surprising interviews. In no particular order, Paul Bissonnette, Martin Brodeur, Steve Yzerman, Frans Nielsen, Bryce Salvador, Nicklas Lidstrom, Andy Murray, Brent Johnson, Matt Niskanen, Teemu Selanne, Ben Lovejoy, Mike Commdore, Andrew Ference, Toby Petersen, Ron Francis, Patrick Roy, Scott Hartnell, Jaromir Jagr are some that really stand out in a good way. For various reasons, John Tortorella, Erik Karlsson, Peter DeBoer, Patrik Elias, Zdeno Chara, Brad Marchand, Lindy Ruff, Adam Oates and Dwayne Roloson stand out as some of the worst. I will admit I still get a little star struck around the likes of Jagr or anyone of that era that I grew up watching. I'm really eager to interview Selanne again when the Ducks are in town next week. I still act professionally (or I hope I do) when I interview those players, but the seventh-grader in me is ecstatic when some of those players come around.

A 90-minute conversation with Sidney Crosby seems unreal. What all did you talk about? I sort of hope him living at Mario's house came up.

During the lockout, we (myself and other Penguins reporters) talked to Crosby and the other Penguins players working out down at Southpointe a lot. Under normal circumstances, a PR person will usually shuffle you away after 10-15 minutes. During the lockout, the players and team employees were not allowed to interact so we sort of had free reign on talking to these guys on and off the record. Most of them were really generous of their times and sometimes, I think they just had nothing else to do other than talk to us. Crosby was sort of in that boat. One day, I just asked him if he had a little bit of time for an interview. He said yes and we just sat in the stands and talked. After about 20 minutes, I asked if he needed go leave. He said no. I asked again after 40 minutes and he said no again. I published this Q&A and it turned out great in my opinion.

Not a question but a comment. I'm not at all surprised that John Tortorella made your list for worst interview subjects.

The shame about Tortorella is that he is very intelligent and has some tremendous insight into the game. There are occasional moments (I.E. non-game days) where he will hold court with reporters and answer all kinds of questions about the general state of the game. One time, I asked him about the art of "clearing the crease." And talked about how different it is today with the newer interference rules and gave a very detailed response. Sadly, he doesn't offer much on the day of game.

One of my favorite features of Empty Netters are the pictures taken of folks wearing hockey jerseys. How did you start taking game-day pictures? Do you ask people to pose for pictures or just roam around the arena taking action shots?

When I would "live" blog the home games in the first year or so of EN, I would attend as a fan then watch the game on my DVR and type up the play by play. I would add my notes I took from the game in person and link to photos of a players jersey I saw. So if I saw someone in a Janne Laukkanen jersey, I basically would do a Google image search for a Janne Laukkanen photo and link to that. Eventually, I joined the rest of humanity and bought a phone with a camera and started just taking the photos.

During hockey season, you write multiple lengthy posts per day with play-by-play coverage of every Pens games as well as sharing links from throughout the hockey world. Do you have any hobbies during the season besides following/writing about hockey?

I'm a big college football fan but as the season really kicks in, my time to watch that sport wanes. I also have a fantasy football league with some of my best friends from high school. I can only really indulge most of my hobbies in the summer. During those months, I swim and ride my bike as much as possible.

Is there ever a time like a February game against the Florida Panthers where you want to take a night off?

There are times in October that I feel that way. I love this sport, but trying to cover it, or at least cover it well, is a very time consuming endeavor. Unlike baseball, covering a night game takes up an entire day virtually. A morning skate starts at 10:30 a.m. You stick around the rink to cover both teams' skates until roughly 1:30 p.m. You can get home, do a little writing/research then you need to be back at the rink by 5 p.m. for a 7 p.m. start. Depending how late the game goes, you might not leave until midnight. When you work in sports in any capacity, you must understand you have to sacrifice a lot of your free time. I've skipped a lot of weddings, parties, family events etc., to cover the team.

I'm always amazed at how much I seem to learn about Penguins players and history by your posts. Would you consider yourself a Pens historian?

I like to think I have a good mind on Penguins history but anytime I'm around Penguins broadcaster Bob Grove or Webmaster Jim Kubus, I feel pretty inadequate in that area. They are the best Penguins historians around.

Has your work ever been featured in the print section of the Post-Gazette? Would you like your work to be published there?

I occasionally write for the paper if I happen across an interesting story or even a scoop. Most of my work is online and frankly, I'm much more comfortable writing for an online format than a print. Mainly, I enjoy the virtually unlimited space you can write with on line.

Can you explain your post on The Pensblog about three years ago where you asked readers to contact the Post-Gazette editors about Empty Netters? (At this point, I fully expect you to take off the microphone, declare that this interview is over and storm out.)

Sean, I'm under a non-disclosure agreement with my editors to not discuss that post on the Pensblog publicly. I can only reference my post on EN which followed it up. I appreciate your understanding on that.

Why the "great" Joe Vitale? He can never replace the great Mike Zigomanis!

A former Penguins writer for the Post-Gazette used to reference Dick Tarnstrom as "the great Dick Tarnstrom" in Q&A's with the readers. As a bit of a "tribute" to that writer, I started calling Mike Zigomanis "The great Mike Zigomanis" when he strung together a few good games. When he left, that "honor" fell onto Martin Skoula and eventually Joe Vitale. Vitale actually asked me about it once this season because he follows me on Twitter and I explained to him the lineage with Zigomanis and Skoula. A teammate was privy to the conversation and sarcastically said, "That's some great company Joe." Vitale calls me "The great Seth Rorabaugh" in return.

Finally, do you have any predictions about the Penguins, either as a team or for individual players this season?

I think they'll be one of the five best teams in the NHL this regular season. But the regular season hasn't really been their problem the last few years. It's the postseason. I usually hesitate to predict the postseason this time of year. So many things like trades or injuries can occur between now and then.

Thanks again to Seth to participating in my interview series. Make sure to check out Empty Netters everyday and follow Seth on Twitter @emptynetters.

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