SSTN Interviews Tamar Chalker
SSTN: Today we are here with SSTN writer Tamar Chalker. Tamar is a writer/recovering attorney (because we all make stupid mistakes in our 20s). She graduated from Kenyon College, where she played field hockey and softball, and some irrelevant law school prior to writing for IIATMS in 2009. She eventually became the Minor League editor along with contributing the occasional silly Photoshop graphic. After taking a few years off, Paul coaxed her out of writing retirement and she is happy to be writing about the Yankees again for SSTN. She is currently misplaced in the frigid wasteland known as Vermont, where she lives with her partner, Jenn, and their two cats, Bernie (named after Tamar’s favorite player growing up) and Noodle (whose theme song is “Vicious” by Lou Reed). They hope to relocate back to civilization (or at least Connecticut) as soon as possible.
Tamar, It is great to have this discussion with you.
Thanks, Paul! I’m glad to be a part of all of this.
To begin, please tell us how you became a baseball fan.
It all began when I was a wee, tiny, baby and my parents took me to the beach for the first time. My mom sent my dad to the store to get me a sunbonnet and he returned with my very first Yankees cap. That hat got very good use and is in a lot of my baby pictures. I don’t remember not being a baseball fan. In fact, I think I was in my 20s before I realized that not everyone has a favorite baseball team, as it was such an integral part of my childhood.
What is your first great baseball memory?
My first memory - probably watching my dad play softball with the base’s Navy team when I was 5 or 6 and we were living in South Korea at the time.
My greatest baseball memories would be 1. going to see Yankees-Red Sox at the Stadium with AJ Burnett pitching against Josh Beckett and A-Rod hitting a walk-off homer in the 15th inning, and 2. being at Fenway for Derek Jeter’s very last game. I’ve been surrounded by far too many Red Sox fans for far too much of my life, so it was very cool to be at Fenway, filled mostly with Yankees fans, and to see and hear the respect Jeter got from the Red Sox fans who were there. It was absolutely one of those experiences where baseball transcends rivalry.
As a young fan, what did you do to keep your interest in the game? (Did you play ball, collect cards, etc...?)
I’m pretty sure my dad had me signed up for tee-ball when we still lived in Korea. I tried to sign up for baseball when we moved back to the States, but it was 1990 and they just automatically made girls play softball, so I played softball through my sophomore year of college. I had to stop because field hockey was my main sport and I destroyed my shoulder and had to have surgery. Since then, there are some slow-pitch leagues around me, and I’ve played a few times, but I absolutely loathe slow-pitch. It is a sad excuse for the game. I definitely collected baseball cards and had a decent set. Honestly, basketball was my favorite sport growing up, and my basketball card collection was epic, but once I hit high school and had to accept that I was always going to be short, baseball became my favorite again. Even in adulthood, I’ve occasionally treated myself to some packs of baseball cards. When I was preparing for the bar exam, I used them as rewards for studying.
Who are some of your favorite players over the years?
My favorite player growing up was Bernie Williams. I just loved everything about watching him play. Mike Mussina would also be up there. I got to watch CC Sabathia in person a lot during the early years of his career, in Cleveland, and he quickly became my favorite. He signed with the Yankees right after I returned to the east coast, cementing him as one of my all-time favorites. Other favorites over the years - I always loved watching Ichiro, no matter who he was playing for. Same with Rickey Henderson, Johnny Damon and Gary Sheffield. I think I’d have to throw in Kirby Puckett, as well.
Why do you write about baseball?
When I first finished law school, I ended up moving back with my parents for a bit. I had gone away to school not long after my family had moved north, so I had never made any connections up here. Yankees Twitter was probably one of my main social outlets at the time, I was reading all the main blogs at the time, IIATMS, River Ave Blues, etc. And when Jason decided to add more writers to IIATMS I was awaiting bar results and needed something positive to do with my time, so I threw my hat in the ring. I’ve gotten to know some great people over the decade-plus of writing for IIATMS and SSTN and it’s always been such a positive space and experience for me. Even when I’ve had trouble coming up with things to write about, there is a part of me that just can’t walk away from writing about baseball.
What do you like to focus on in your writing?
I think growing up in the 90s with those epic Yankees teams with the Core Four, Bernie, Tino, Paul O’Neill, etc. part of me is always curious who the next batch of great Yankees will be. Because of that, I’ve skewed more towards the minors and prospects over the years. I’m fascinated by how a player can be drafted in the 62nd round like Mike Piazza and end up in the Hall of Fame, while so many first-rounders flame out. I love rooting for the young players and people like Higgy, who toiled for about a decade in the Minors before reaching the Majors, and so I tend to focus on them.
Why, do you believe, are people so drawn to baseball and its stories, legends, and people?
Baseball history is US history. It’s so deeply ingrained in our culture. Everyone knows Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson, even if they aren’t a baseball fan. I think it’s also been a sport that a lot of people have played at some point, even if it was only Little League. It takes incredible skill to make it to the Majors, but at the same time, it’s a sport that can be played recreationally with varied skills. I may hate slow-pitch softball, but it allows all kinds of people to get involved. I think that the fact that minor league teams play in all kinds of cities and towns also has a lot to do with why people appreciate baseball, but more on that later.
There's a lot of talk about baseball needing to be "fixed." Is baseball broken? If you were the Commissioner of Baseball what change(s) if any would you make to the current game?
I don’t think baseball is broken, but at the same time, I don’t think it hurts to make some tweaks. I think there are certain ideas that are focused more on fixing “problems” than they are on maintaining the integrity of the game. The stupid extra-innings, runner on second rule. It makes it feel like a Little League game. That being said, I am also not against banning the shift, or at least giving that a try. If I were Commissioner of Baseball, the biggest change I would probably make would actually be to focus a bit more on the Minor Leagues not as a way to make money, but as a way to continue to drive interest in the sport. I grew up going to see the Albany Yankees play the New Britain Red Sox. I went to New Haven Ravens games and as an adult have seen a bunch of different minor league teams play. The games are so much fun, inexpensive, and builds fandom. In its early history, it seems like just about every town had some kind of baseball team that the community would embrace and while I don’t think we can replicate that in today’s society, I think we have started to ignore it’s importance in building a lasting fan base. I believe that in the long run, it would benefit MLB to invest more in the minor league system.
I agree. Baseball is shortsighted when they ignore the Minor Leagues and their impact on growing the game - in so many ways.
In looking at the history of the Yankees, or baseball in general, what person or event would you like to see a book written about?
I’m not going to answer this one, because I have a very specific answer and hope to get around to writing that book soon.
In the book and the movie The Natural, the main character wants nothing more than to walk down the street and have people say, "There goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was." Who was the best baseball player you ever saw?
I think it’s hard to argue against A-Rod being the best player I’ve seen play, though I’d also throw Hideki Matsui (who I think gets historically underrated) into the mix.
Our final question is really just a collection of short answers...
What was your favorite baseball team growing up? Was there a team other than the Yankees you ever rooted for?
It was always the Yankees. As a kid, we would cheer on the Twins a little. My dad grew up in Minnesota for a bit and had adopted them as his backup team. I’ve adopted Cleveland as my second team. When I lived in Cleveland I was able to go to a lot of games at the Jake and it’s one of my favorite stadiums and has a great, fanbase.
Who is your favorite musical group or artist?
This is a tough one. At this point, I’d say it’s between Glass Animals, Digable Planets, Lyrics Born, and Sa-Roc.
What is your favorite food (if it is pizza, what is your favorite pizza restaurant)?
Korean food, especially spicy chicken bulgogi. I love pizza, but it’s hard to think much about because they don’t know how to make half-decent pizza in Vermont (with the exception of Cock-A-Doodle in Bethel - they rock). When I get back down to CT, I tend to eat as much pizza as I can. Pepe’s Pizza is the best.
Please share anything else you'd like with our audience -
Thanks! This was a lot of fun!
Thank you Tamar. We are all so thrilled that you're part of SSTN. I appreciate you a great deal! Let's Go Yankees!