The Dirt Interview

So today was the big day: the day I became an on-camera reporter for At Home with Maya. If I knew it was going to get this complicated, I might not have suggested that we build a 2-base base path behind the pool house so I could teach Jacob to slide and so he could practice base running on something like real bases. Having dirt to run in would also give him a chance to get used to spikes, something he can’t do running on the perfectly manicured grass out behind the Sharpman house.

Jacob originally wanted a whole baseball diamond. That wasn’t gonna happen, but it got me thinking back to the idea of the 2-base mini base paths that I intended to have at my baseball resort exactly so the guests could practice base running and sliding without taking up a whole diamond. Maya liked the idea and gave it the go-ahead. She even got an expert in from Dodger Stadium named Dax who I reckon is what you call a consultant on the job. The Sharmpans’ gardeners are gonna do the labor: Pancho, the head gardener is a diehard Doyers fan who knows a lot about the game. I know my fair share about ballfield construction, so, with me, Dax and Pancho on the job, we should have a dang nice base path set up in a couple weeks’ time.

One of the most important ingredients in this plan is the kind of dirt we get. Some of y’all may think that you just dump any old dirt on the ground and you’ve got a ballfield, but it’s more complicated than that. You need the right kind of dirt: a combination of clay, sand and silt. The clay’s there to give traction and firmness plus that distinctive infield color, the sand is there to give it body and softness, and the silt helps with drainage. Lucky for people building ballfields you can buy the dirt you need ready mixed, which is what we were going to do for the base path.

Dax told us that the best place to get infield dirt in Southern California is a place called Terra Cotta Brick & Clay that’s got a factory set up somewhere in Riverside County. The place is owned and run by a husband and wife team who, I was told, are huge baseball fans.

Sandy arranged for them to give us the dirt we needed for free, but that was in exchange for their getting to be on a segment of At Home with Maya. That’s how Sandy gets a lot of free shit besides dirt; I’m starting to get how reality TV works. The segment about Terra Cotta Brick & Clay was going to be a visit to their factory, and an interview with the owners…and guess who was selected to do the interview?

Me.

I get it that I’m the resident baseball expert and that the base path was my idea, but I have no experience interviewing people on camera, which I told Sandy when she gave me the assignment. She insisted that I was the best man for the job…so I sat down with Ethan in the pool house a couple days ago, after I finished with Matteo.

“You just ask questions and listen to the answers,” Ethan said as he helped himself to one a beer from the minifridge. “You want one?”

“Yeah, please,” I said. I didn’t know how long the meeting was gonna last and I was thirsty. I was also tired after working with the boys for getting on 3 hours.

“But how do I know what questions to ask?”

“That’s why we’re here – to figure that out. I figure the segment should run 2 to 3 minutes, unless these brick and clay people turn out to be a lot more interesting than I think they’re gonna be. It’s also going to be a chance to get you talking on camera some and looking interested with those blue eyes of yours, and we know the audience is interested in that. I gotta admit that I know squat about baseball and baseball fields, so you’re going to have to come up with the questions.”

It may seem weird that two guys would sit around coming up with questions about dirt, but, like I said, it’s not just any old dirt we needed…and it’s kinda interesting that there are places that worry about blending just the right kind of dirt you need for a ballfield. I was also thinking that this place might be interesting because baseball dirt is a sideline and they’re really in the brick business.

We finally came up with about a dozen questions, which Ethan told me to write down in a cool little notebook he gave me. He did say it would be even better if I learned the questions by heart before we got to the factory, though.

Ethan told me to meet him and the crew at the Sharpmans early this morning and that we’d all drive over together. That meant packing the crew into a hugeass Tahoe and me and Ethan into what he told me was a new Lexus GX he said he bought during the quarantine. I don’t know that it’s a gayass car, but I’d much rather have a real truck than an SUV. But then I’m not a reality show director like Ethan.

It took us around 2 hours to get to Terra Cotta Brick & Clay. We were met by the owners, Wes and Janet, who turned out to be super nice. He’s short and stocky and very blond with a beard (Joyce would want me to mention he’s got very light blue eyes), about 5’8” and 190. She’s almost his height and a little heavy, with dark coloring. I wasn’t surprised to find out that he’s got Swedish ancestry and that her maiden name was Rizzo.

I’ve never been to a brickworks, so I was interested to see how they made bricks. I mean, I was there, and how many times was I gonna get to visit a place like that? None of the questions I prepared had anything to do with bricks, but I talked Ethan into letting us take a quick tour of that side of the business, which Wes and Janet were happy to show us. It was interesting to see the whole operation, and it was hard not to be a little fascinated by the hugeass kilns they use to ‘fire’ the bricks.

“But that’s not what you came to see,” Wes said, leading us to another part of the factory where they make the baseball dirt. “That was the part of business we do for money. Now let us show you the part of the business we do for love.”

I gotta admit that guided tour was even more interesting. I’ve been playing in baseball dirt for 22 of my 28 years on this earth, but I never really knew where it came from before. Even with what I’d learned about it.

“We start out with the three ingredients, sand, clay and silt, and mix them in different proportions, depending on whether it’s for the infield or the mound and home plate. All our dirt particles are sized to less than 1/8 of an inch. You played ball, right?”

“Yessir.”

“What is it that you wanted most in a surface?”

I thought about that for a couple seconds.

“Something stable that you weren’t gonna fall on your ass on,” I said. Ethan frowned, I reckon because I said ‘ass’. So I repeated it without the ‘ass’ for the camera. Ethan nodded his approval to that one. Maybe I was getting the hang of it.

“And as a groundskeeper you’re going to want good drainage that still keeps the clay moist. If it dries out…”

“You’re scre…the playing surface gets ruined.”

“Exactly,” Janet said.

That got a little weird…I thought I was supposed to be asking the questions. But I got back on track.

“I think everyone knows what clay and sand are,” I said, “but what exactly is silt, and what does it do?”

“Silt assures proper drainage. You water the infield every day, but you don’t want the water to puddle and turn the clay into slop. Silt makes sure that the water runs through the dirt and then off. That’s why you have to build a field at a slight angle.”

“Right,” I said, “Dax already explained that. We’ve got the gardeners…the building guys…in on that. They know how to make that happen.”

“Perfect,” said Wes. “So what silt is is a granular material of a size between clay and sand, and made of quartz and feldspar. Here,” Wes said, “let me show you examples of all three ingredients.”

He led us over to where he had a bunch of buckets set up. He took some of what was in each bucket and let me feel it, which Ethan said made a great shot.

Then Wes did something I thought was real interesting: he combined the three ingredients in different ways and left me to feel them, both with my hand and my foot. It kinda sucked that I was in my church shoes for the interview…spikes would have been better for testing baseball dirt. But I think we demonstrated the difference between the various mixes. He even whipped up a couple handfuls of pitchers mound and batters box dirt, although I had a feeling that that was getting a little too technical for our viewers and might not make it on the air.

“What made you go into the dirt business?,” I asked them.

“We’re huge baseball fans,” Janet explained.

“Go Dodgers!,” interjected Wes.

We gloated some over the World Series…and they asked the Blake Snell question, just like everyone else I’ve discussed Game 6 with.

“We have a boy playing in the minors,” Wes then said. “He’s a left handed pitcher. We think he’s got a chance, but it’s a longshot even thought he’s made it to AA. Who did you play for?”

“The Hickory Crawdads.”

“North Carolina, right?”

“Yessir.”

“Jamie’s is down south too, with the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.”

Some minor league teams have very weirdass names. If you think Jumbo Shrimp is weird, try the Rocket City Trash Pandas (who are in the same league as the Jumbo Shrimp.)

“Nooo!,” I said, laughing. “Jacksonville crushed my hopes of having my Tennessee Smokies win the Southern League championship two years in a row. I was a teenager when that happened…and it hurt a lot worse than the Astros beating the Dodgers.”

“Tennessee Smokies?,” Janet asked. “They’re in Knoxville, right?.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“You from around there?,” Wes asked, turning the interview tables on me again lol.

“Maryville. Just outside of Knoxville.”

Then I finished up with my list of questions and we got some more film. Finally I fist-bumped Wes, and we got back in our SUVs to drive back to San Marino.

“You did a good job out there,” said Ethan once we were underway.

“Really?,” I asked. “I felt like I was flying blind.”

“You’re good in front of the camera,” he explained with as much of a shrug as you can manage while you’re driving. “But I should have known that from how you blew up the first time. You’re not just another pretty face on a hot body.”

Ok…that made me a little uncomfortable. Maybe because Ethan wasn’t flirting with me…he was just talking about me like I was, well, a piece of meat. And it may be weird of me, but I mind it a lot less when people talk about my looks in general than about my body in particular. Especially as there are guys out there with way better bodies than I’ve got. I mean, I’m in pretty good shape and, yeah, I know I’ve got dang good legs, but I don’t have one of those movie star bodies. I’m built like a ball player.

“That baseball player build of yours is very effective on camera,” Ethan said, kinda reading my thoughts. “I think people like it that you don’t look like one some West Hollywood twink who spends 8 hours a day in the gym.” That made me think about Luke, although I wasn’t sure if he was a ‘twink’. Is that like a twinkie, and, if so, how? “You look like the boy next door,” Ethan continued. “The boy next door with a juicy butt.” I hope I didn’t squirm too visibly.

“Did we get everything we needed today?,” I asked, both out of curiosity and to change the subject.

“Absolutely,” Ethan said. “You did great. We’ll probably make a longer segment out of it. Those people” he meant Wes and Janet “were pretty good on camera too. You can pat yourself on the back, Hunter: you made dirt interesting.”

That gave me a good feeling.

We were having such a nice time with Wes and Janet that we didn’t leave until 12:30, meaning it was close to 2:30 by the time we got back to the Sharpmans…which meant Jacob was sitting by the pool impatiently waiting for me.

“We might as well get some film of you with Jacob today, since the crew is here,” Ethan said.

“You down for being filmed?,” I asked Jacob. “We should probably go swimming while the weather’s still nice,” I said.

“Cool,” Jacob said.

“Let me get changed,” I said, heading off to my ‘office’ in the pool house to put on a tshirt and shorts. I wasn’t sure what Ethan could film us doing that would be different. Then I thought of football. Jacob’s never played and doesn’t know a whole lot about throwing and catching a football, so there’s a lot I can teach him. I thought throws and running catches would be good for him to practice, so we did that in various forms for about half an hour, until it was time to change again and get in the pool (and for Ethan to get more film of me in my boardshorts…it seems like every week there’s a shot of me getting out of the pool.) I put Jacob through some pretty intense swimming paces instead of just letting him splash around, so he was exhausted by the time we were done. I take it as a challenge to get Jacob good and exhausted at least once a week.

Then it was time to change back into shorts to join Matteo for his gym workout. Then I stuck around late to put him in the pool as well. That was after Ethan and the cameras left. Matteo wasn’t going to get in the pool with America watching. I think even Ethan understands that, which was good. I spent more time with Ethan today than I have in the past, and I gotta admit I’m starting to like the dude. When he’s not talking about my body, that is.

I had a good feeling about the day when I was driving home. I really didn’t know what I was doing in front of the camera, but I reckon I did it right. And Wes and Janet helped: they were real easy to talk to…and I guess interviewing people is just talking to them, bottom line. I was curious to hear what everyone was gonna say after seeing the film Ethan and the crew had shot. This was a whole new step for me.

“How’s the new ace reporter?,” Keaton asked when he was getting me a beer after I headed over to his place to relax from what was a long day.

“Pretty good,” I answered. “I think I did a decent job. Ethan said so at least. And he does seem to know what he’s doing.”

“He’s certainly always made you look good on TV, bubba. Well,” he said, holding up his Kona Longboard, “here’s to the new interviewer star of At Home With Maya…”

“Thanks, man.”

I downed my beer and asked for another.

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