"Urban Legend"- An Introspective w/ Mychael Urban Part 1

Mychael Urban asks himself "Dude, did you see that bomb by Cespedes?!?!"

Hello Athletics Nation! It is my pleasure to share with all of you an exclusive interview piece that I put together on local, long time bay area baseball writer and media personality, Mychael Urban. You will get an opportunity to have a deeper understanding of the man, the writer, and the personality behind the curtain.....

Due to the length of the interview, more than an hour in real time, I have split it up into two separate posts.

Part 1 focuses more on the personal side of Mychael, his background, and his road to becoming a bay area sports media man for all occasions. This is my first, and hopefully not my last, front page post for AN. I sincerely hope that you all enjoy it as much as I had fun, putting it together. Cheers and Go A's!

-Martin Vincent Rodriguez

a.k.a. "M-Rod"


March 7th, 2012

mrod- It's a beautiful day outside in downtown San Francisco and I am joined by longtime bay area baseball writer, Comcast Sports Network personality, and radio host at 95.7 FM The Game, Mychael Urban.

Mychael, thank you so much for taking the time to sit down and talk with me today, on behalf of Athletics Nation. How are you doing and what are you up to these days? (The street is filled with passersby, construction crews, and general hustle and bustle...noisy is a nice way to put it!)

murban- I'm doing great! First off, it's really great to be talking with you. You and I have been personal friends for awhile and also connected through Athletics Nation, so it makes it easy. I'm doing well. I just finished my show at 95.7 FM The Game, the A's radio flagship station, and I really enjoy radio work. Liking it more and more...I have a great co-host in John Lund. It's a lot of fun and I'm hoping to turn it into a full time gig at some point.

In the meantime, I'm trying to piece together a living writing for the SF Examiner and my alma mater, USF, and do some things on their website. I'll be doing some TV work for CSN as well... I'm no longer a full time writer for their website. They wanted a more traditional type of beat writer on the road. Where I'm at now, at this point of my life, I did it for ten years of my life covering the A's...

mrod- Sure..

murban-Missed a lot of my kids growing up and they're at the ages now, 7 and 8, two girls, where they definitely feel it when I'm gone. Before when I left they'd be sad, and then forget I was gone. Now I don't want to be gone. I want to be at plays, I want to be helping coach them when I can. Right now, during this slower time in my career, I'm taking advantage of it as a dad and as a husband.

mrod-Interesting...thanks for sharing.

murban- Sure.

mrod-So before we get into the meat and potatoes of all things Oakland A's baseball, what can you tell me about Mychael Urban, the guy? Where did you grow up and what were you like as a kid? Let's talk about that aspect of your life first.

murban- I was born in San Francisco, raised in Redwood City, and spent a lot of time in San Francisco because my dad was a night school teacher at USF, every week we'd spend a couple of nights with my grandmother in SF during that time, ended up living with her as well. I ended up going to USF.

I played every sport under the sun when I was young. In high school I played four different sports: baseball, football, basketball, water polo. I played soccer on the side because I really loved it. I ended up playing men's league soccer on the side, because it conflicted with baseball, all the way through high school against older guys, so that was a lot of fun. Hence, which is why I'm against kids specializing in one sport at a young age because I think they can get burned out pretty quick. I think it's good for them to do a lot of different things if they can. For me, baseball was always my best sport but basketball was always my favorite sport. I was decent enough at both to get some opportunities but I didn't even play baseball my junior year in HS because I felt like everything was coming down on me and I was getting burned out on it so I went back to basketball and did that for awhile.

I went to USF and played baseball right out of high school and because my birthday is so late in the summer, and I got to start school a year early, I was 16 the first day I stepped on a college campus, wasn't quite ready yet to be on my own.

mrod- Yeah that's pretty young.

murban- Yeah, so I played one year of baseball at USF and ended up missing basketball too much, so I went to a junior college, Canada (pronounced Quinyada) in Redwood City and played baseball and basketball there. We won a conference title in both sports, a first for the school in both sports so I'm the answer to a sports trivia question! I'm kinda proud of that. (smiles while chuckling, playfully.)

I decided, "I'm realistic about my athletic abilities...I know exactly where I belong". I'm not one of those guys that's like, "I got screwed or I should be here, I should be there", I knew that even back in JC. So I went back to USF thinking I wasn't even gonna play sports and focus on school. The reason I love baseball so much is the BS'ing, camaraderie, being a teammate is what I like.

mrod- Sure.

murban- I mean I'm obviously a people person because of what I do, so I got sucked back into baseball at USF. We weren't a very good team and I wasn't a very good pitcher but I did get to play baseball at a Division 1 college, which is a lot higher level than most, which has helped me as a sports writer. I think the players know, or I'll let them know, that I played baseball at a high level. It's rare for a baseball writer to have that kind of experience. So that's helped me, I think, a little bit. I just love the game, I love the people around the game, I love the stories that develop from the time in a season. Once I figured out I wasn't good enough to make it as a professional athlete, I looked at sports journalism as a way to weasel my way into the games without having to pay and take advantage of it some other way. I found out I could write about it a little bit, eventually found out I could talk about it a little bit, so that's what I did.

I really enjoy talking to people, as you can tell, and sports to me is more about human interest stories than it is about numbers. I get some grief from some people about not being well versed in sabermetrics and I understand that. I respect the fact there is a place for that in the game, respect people who value that, and I do to a degree, but I'm more into human interest stories, which is why I'm a better opinion or feature piece type of writer. I mean, I can break the game down, but if you want me to spit out sabermetrics, I'm gonna fail you every time. Again, nothing wrong with that side of the game, but I just like dealing with the human side of the game more than anything.

Big into my family. Right now, I'm really into my daughters growing up, them being 7 and 8, and it's been a joy to watch them grow up. I'm a husband and father first, and an employeee, second, and hope I can continue to be that, because that's what's most important to me.

mrod- Good for you, and I totally respect that, Mychael.

So speaking of your family, can you tell me how you met your wife?

murban- I met her on campus in college at USF, actually. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen! Funny story how I did get to meet her, actually. I met her at "Senior Grog Night" at a bar on campus. It was a huge drunk fest.

mrod- No way...you don't say?

murban- Ya! So I was there one night and her roommate was in the middle of a dust up with some guy, and I had plenty of liquid courage going on. So I saw it as an opportunity to be a hero. I'm a big guy, and back then I was in much better shape than I am now. Pretty imposing physically, I guess. So I went to diffuse the situation, thinking I'm cool and asked the guy, "Hey, is there a problem here?", puffing out my chest...(Insert theme to "Superman" here..)

So I turned to Kelly, who ultimately became my wife, and said, "If you give me one date, you will end up marrying me!". She says to me, "I have a boyfriend". So I said it again...! "Give me one date and you will end up marrying me!".

mrod- "Did you tell her it was "mind over matter?". As in, "I don't mind and he doesn't matter?".

murban- Hahaha! No, I wasn't clever enough! I think it was more the 17 Mickey's Big Mouth I had before that! (He's turning rather red now!)

mrod- Oh, lord.

murban- I don't drink anymore, by the way. That's important to know. That's been an interesting chapter of my life as well. At the time it worked for me, she accepted the date, and ten years later we were married.

mrod- That's a great story, Mychael. As far as your personal interests go, outside of sports, what kind of music are you into? Who are some of your favorite artists and what's in your iPod at the moment?

murban- I'm all over the place musically. Some people say, "I can't stand rap, or country, or heavy metal etc..." I think there is good music and bad music in any instance. I consider myself a fan of music in general. There's some country I like. Garth Brooks, George Straight, Lady Antebellum is really good, obviously. I even like Taylor Swift, probably because my daughters listen to her non-stop and I don't have a choice!

Pop music certainly has it's place but I do lean towards hip-hop and R&B. Old school R&B. That's just the environment that I grew up in. Like I said, basketball was a huge part of my upbringing. Love, love basketball to this day! Bottom line is that, and I don't care if this comes across racist, because it's not: In my personal experience, black guys play better basketball than most white guys do, for the most part. So, usually when I was playing basketball in Junior Olympics or AAU Ball, I was always the only white guy, so I typically didn't have control of the music being played. So rap and hip-hop ended up being the soundtrack of my childhood and that's what I stick with. There's bad rap out there and bad hip-hop but there's also lots of good stuff, too.

I really love Jay Z. Mack Miller is a favorite of mine right now. Going old school I really love Otis Redding. Louis Armstrong is on my iPod right now. There's even some classical stuff on there right now. Classic rock wise, I really love Pink Floyd. The Police are my favorite band of all time.

mrod- Good man!

murban- Yeah, exactly! So, I'm all over the place, musically. My other interests are in art.

mrod- Oh, wow.

murban- I minored in art in college. I draw a lot but don't paint anymore mostly because I don't have the time. I thought I was gonna be a cartoonist for awhile, it really interested me. Away from sports, anything that has to do with art and music, being right brained and left handed, really interests me and so those are really big parts of my life, too.

mrod- Who are some of your favorite actors? I don't use the terms "actor and actress" because I don't believe in those particular industry terms. Also, some of your favorite films?

murban- Shawshank Redemption, Finding Forrester, and The Ocean's Eleven series are absoultely near the top. George Clooney and Brad Pitt are two of my favorite actors and they were both in the Ocean's Eleven series. Clooney can tell a story with his face and I think Brad Pitt is an underrated genius, in my opinion. Finding Forrester had Sean Connery and it was a story about a young writer, so that really spoke to me. And, who doesnt love Sean Connery?!?! Shawshank was just such a great and compelling story and featured a stellar cast...can't argue with that one.

Meryl Streep blows me away in everything I see her in. Believe it or not, Justin Timberlake is someone whose music that I like and appreciate, and he's also turned into quite an actor as well. He's kind of like the new Will Smith where he can do everything. He pisses me off, really! (I totally get it!) It's like, "God, did you have to give this guy all of the talent? Couldn't you have spread it around just a little bit?!?!". He's really good! More recent movies that I dig are The Help. I guess that will cover most of it for your audience.

mrod- I guess you never heard my Sean Connery impersonation?

murban- No, but I'd love to!

mrod- Maybe off the record since it wouldn't translate very well?

murban- Sounds good! (At which point, Mychael proceeds to rattle off a very hilarious take on Connery from Finding Forrester, flush with American Idol references...funny shit!)

mrod- What's your typical day like?

murban- Actually, I don't really have a typical day, which is great. I love that part of my job. I have three part time jobs, trying to piece together a living to keep me out of the poor house. There's days where I get up at three in the morning and prepare for my 10 AM radio show, sending off emails to my co-hosts, my boss for that day. Getting into SF at 7:30 AM and staying until 5:00PM. Some days, I get up, fix my kids breakfast, and take them to school before spending a good amount of time at the Livermore Public Library. Certain days pounding the pavement, so to speak, looking for work, sending off emails, or trying to meet certain deadlines that I have for a writing piece. It's all over the place now that I'm not covering one team full time. I have my own website, urbsunchained.com, which I update when I am not looking for work so it's never a typical day for me.

mrod- How did you initially make the switch to radio, first at KNBR and then 95.7 FM, from writing for mlb.com covering the A's full time, as well as the progression to television working with Comcast Sports Network?

murban- The radio thing came about mostly because Rick Barry was hosting a show on KNBR at the time and I was covering the A's for mlb.com full time. To his credit, he noticed that the A's were not getting very much coverage from the station and he thought they should be getting more attention than they had been. The A's were a better team than the Giants at that time and even though you might be the Giants flagship station, you should be covering every team for one thing, and certainly if one team is playing better than the other. It just makes sense that you would be giving that team some attention! So he read something I had written and liked it, asked me to come on his show as a guest, the programming director liked me, and eventually asked me if I wanted to co-host with some folks. Skip Bayless was doing an hour a week, and I would co-host with Rick in studio for awhile. Didn't screw it up! I would fill in for Rick occasionally, didn't screw that up! Eventually, I was filling in all over the place for the different hosts at the station until KNBR gave me the Giants pre and post game shows.

I realize that may have been difficult for A's fans because I had covered the A's as a beat writer for so long, which is supposed to be an entirely objective job. In contrast, the radio job is totally subjective. So I'm being subjective about the Giants and I'm supposed to be objective for the A's, or as much as I can be. I don't truly believe anyone can be completely objective. So, I was doing both for awhile and then the radio thing led to some opportunities on TV, didn't screw it up....(I sense a theme, here.)

Eventually, Comcast wanted to beef up their web presence, the Giants were becoming good all of a sudden, and I was starting to get closely identified with the Giants. The boss there knew I was getting weary of the road, not the A's mind you, because I love the A's, but I wanted to get off the road. Initially, the job at CSN didn't involve much travel at all. It was a lot of TV stuff and I really wanted to explore television work...make it a bigger part of my career. So I jumped at the opportunity.

I always wanted to be the one guy in the market who was a triple threat: I could write, I could do radio, and I could to television. Having the job at Comcast gave me that opportunity and I'm still that guy, and that's where I'm at today. The job at Comcast changed because they wanted a more traditional beat writer, someone who was going to cover the Giants full time, and I couldn't do it. It's probably better for me and for fans because I love baseball, love covering the A's and the Giants, and I get to do that at the SF Examiner, at 95.7 The Game, give both teams attention. It's not like I have burned bridges anywhere I have been, so Comcast is going to have me doing some TV work this season and I'm looking forward to it. That's how it all developed.

mrod-Excellent. Something that you and I have talked about at length over the years is your innate ability to make a connection with people, your "calling card"so to speak. Players and coaches both seem to gravitate towards you and your demeanor. How would you describe your approach to professional athletes in this day in age?

murban- One of the first lessons I would teach, when I had interns at mlb.com, is spend half your time, without a notebook, a pen, or a recorder in your hand, just talk them, get to know them. Look through the media guide, find out if they're married, find out if they have kids, find out where they're from, and relate to them on a human level. If every time they see you and you have a notebook, a recorder, or pen in your hand, then it becomes a one way relationship. "What does this person want from me?". If you know a player's wife just recently had a child and you walk up and say, "Hey, what's up? How you doing? How's the family? Is your son/daughter sleeping through the night, yet?" Then, it's not like, "Ok, what does this jackass want out of me?!?!". Then you're just acting like a normal person would and it's not like you're always trying to get something out of them by asking and asking....

Baseball is such a long season and treating the players and coaches like normal people is really essential. Again, back to the human element, ya know? I like to tell people stories as much as I like to tell sports stories and that certainly helps. Another part of it, quite honestly, is my size. I'm closer to a professional athlete's size, stature, than a lot of guys. It doesn't make a lot of sense, it's not necessarily fair, it doesn't make me more qualified. A lot of times, there will be a group of writers around a player and a question will be asked, and because I'm tall, that player will look at me, even if it wasn't my question. Sometimes it makes me uncomfortable like, "Dude, it wasn't my question!". But they might be thinking, "Well, he gets it. He's tall, he looks like he played sports." Like I said, I'm not shy about letting guys know I played baseball, I know how hard it is, but it doesn't make a lot of sense sometimes. It isn't always fair to the writers who are smaller than I am or who haven't played the game.

mrod- No pun intended! (I am all of 5'7!)

murban- (Laughing) And might know the game better than I do. I'm perfectly willing to concede that, but in a player's mind, "This guy looks a little more athletic so maybe he can relate to me better". I think that helps. More than anything, it's me trying to relate to them on a human level. You know, way back in the day it used to be that everybody was on the same side. Players and writers hung out together. That was an accepted part of the business, it was good for business. Ya know, "I'll scratch your back, you scratch mine. You got my back, I'll kind of protect you".

When Mickey Mantle rolled into the clubhouse drunk, it wasn't splashed all over the New York tabloids! If that happened today, of course it would! As the media has blown up, it's become an adversarial relationship for the most part, "Us against them", and players have their guard up all the time.

mrod- Sure.

murban- So we're the enemy. Now what I do, some of my colleagues think that what I do is the wrong approach, that it might represent a conflict of interest. You know, "You're getting too close, your objectivity is getting compromised". Well, ya, I'm willing to concede that, certainly. There have been a couple of instances where, quite honestly, I take more shit for my friendship with Barry Zito than anything, but Barry Zito is my good friend. If we were both plumbers no one would say poo about it!

mrod- Yeah..

murban- But because I'm a writer and he's a baseball player, we're supposed to deny each other the pleasure of our friendship because of that? Thankfully, he doesn't ascribe to that theory either. Neither did Erik Hiljus, who is the first ball player that I can actually consider a friend. Honestly, I can count the players that I truly consider friends on less than one hand but you're going to run into players that you hit it off with and because we have jobs that say we're not supposed to be friends is ridiculous to me! Some people say, "Well you're gonna favor Barry because you're his boy". I don't favor Barry. Anyone who really pays attention knows that I rip him when he's bad.

mrod- Oh, trust me, I know!

murban- I'll offer insights that other people can't give, but it's the same thing when Jason Kendall was with the A's. I got to be pretty tight with him. I knew Jason better than some other writers did, so I knew what kind of made him tick and that made my coverage of the A's better. It was more informed coverage. It wasn't compromised coverage, it was more comprehensive coverage. And if that's a bad thing, then I'm ok with taking the criticism from my colleagues that I'm running the risk of, ya know, compromising my objectivity.

End Part 1


Part 2 coming Monday 3/19/12'

{Note: Today's game is a 7:00pm start, A's vs. Mariners.}

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