Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Inside the Athletes Studio: An Interview with Don from Mondesi's House


PSaMP is excited.

June has been a pretty good month. You, the visitor, have made June the most visited month in PSaMP history. Yes, PSaMP's history is pretty short, but June is really bringing it.

Between the reads, your suggestions, cool links from bigger sites and my writing, PSaMP is reaching a wider audience every day. Last week, I brought you the initial installment of Inside the Athletes Studio, a segment in which PSaMP interviews prominent people with ties to Pittsburgh sports. Torina Henley, Running Back of the still-undefeated Pittsburgh Passion, was a great first guest.

Today, I have a treat. PSaMP was able to throw some questions at a guy named Don. "Who is Don?", you might ask. Don owns/operates/writes for a little sportsblog that you may or may not have heard about. Its called Mondesi's House, and its well worth your time. Go there. They can use the visits.

In all seriousness, Mondesi's House, Pittsburgh's most-read sportsblog, was a huge inspiration to PSaMP. I started this site primarily because of the great content over at Mondesi's House. With his unique style and countless radio interviews, Don proves that Pittsburgh fans can have a voice, and that voice can be heard by countless readers worldwide.

Within the Pittsburgh sportsblog community, there is a sense of camaraderie. I mean, there is only a certain amount of stories that the growing list of Pittsburgh sportsbloggers can write about. However, each brings their own style, which provides fresh views on popular local stories. Visit any of the Pittsburgh sportsblogs out there and I'm sure Mondesi's House was an inspiration to a good many of them.

Oh, and this week is the one-year anniversary for Mondesi's House. PSaMP didn't even think about this when asking for an interview. But I guess all things work out if you try hard enough.

So I'll stop gushing, and let you hear what Don had to say about several topics that PSaMP was eager to hear about. Don's take is peerless, and is a major reason that Mondesi's House is so successful. I'll shut up now, and let Don take it away.

I count Mondesi's House as a major inspiration for starting PSaMP. Were there other sites that inspired you to start MH? Was it more of, "Hey, I could do that" or was the site well-planned?

I'd like to think it was well-planned. I surveyed the Pittsburgh sports blog scene at the time and felt like no one was doing what I wanted to do. There were some great sites, but they usually focused on one team, and most didn't really make much use of the kind of photos I wanted to use. I aspired to create a site that I would want to visit as a reader.

Like most sports bloggers, you have to start at Deadspin as an inspiration. They're the gold standard. My definition of an interesting site is one where you don't know what will come next. Kind of like the way Howard Stern's show was described in his Private Parts movie. That's what Deadspin is. You have no idea what's around the corner.

I liked the unexpected quality of their site, but I tried to add on. I mix in some opinion, some analysis, some Q&A...and now I'd like to think that I've found my own niche. I think being called "a Pittsburgh version of Deadspin" isn't accurate, because I feel like I do a number of things that they don't.

But being the man in charge of this site is exciting in its own right. Why? Because I don't know what rumor, photo, or tip I'll find in my inbox next.

As it stands now, there are a number of Pittsburgh-based sites that use Mondesi's House as a model. Many of them were, or are, readers of mine. I take great pride in inspiring someone to write.

Are there any writers or journalists that you model your writing style around?

From the sports world:

DJ Gallo of Sports Pickle and ESPN.com - has a very similar sense of humor to mine. We both seem to dislike the same teams and athletes. He's also been a personal mentor to me, which increases his "good guy" standing in my book.

Bill Simmons of ESPN.com - He loses me sometimes with all the 80s stuff, the 4-team NBA trades, and the constant barrage of all things Boston. But still a must-read in my book. I love his interaction with readers.

Mark Madden of ESPN Radio 1250 - May rub some the wrong way, but never hesitates to speak his mind. I like honesty as a sports journalist.

Will Leitch of Deadspin - The best national blogger going. Period.

Michael Wilbon of ESPN and PTI - Very well prepared, professional, and gets his point across without being a jerk. No schtick. That goes a long way with me.

From the comedy world:

Conan O'Brien: Despite his success, doesn't take himself too seriously. If you'll notice, I have been known to take more than a few shots at myself on the site.

Jim Krenn and Randy Baumann of WDVE: They have Pittsburgh comedy down to a science.

Jerry Seinfeld: The king of observational humor. I try to catch things in Pittsburgh sports that might fly under the radar.

What's the best thing to happen to you since you started the House?

Realizing that I have a voice and the ability to shape opinions. And getting to know so many of my readers on a personal level. I feel like I've made thousands of new friends in the last year.

You've done plenty of radio interviews. How do those stack up against actual blogging?

Tougher than you would think. Don't get me wrong, it's not rocket science, but it certainly takes some getting used to if you want to do a good job with it. You have to have quick answers, you have to be prepared, and it certainly helps to get a laugh from the host. I think I've gotten better, because my comfort level is much greater now than when I did my first interview last year. When you're in front of the biggest radio audience in the city [WDVE] and it's your first radio interview ever, it can be a little intimidating.

I count the '04-'05 playoff game against the Jets, where Doug Brien missed two field goals and the Steelers won in OT, as one of the best games I've ever gone to. Also, Bettis' last home game and the game where Polamalu intercepted Carson Palmer and weaved through the entire Bengal offense for the touchdown are also on that list. Do you have any unique games, Steelers, Pirates or Penguins, that you went to, that stick out in your mind as exceptional?

I've been lucky enough to attend a ton of great Pittsburgh games in my relatively short life. Some had the result I hoped for, others did not. Off the top of my head, a few favorites:

---The Penguins-Flyers overtime game in 2000 that went 5 OTs. Yeah, we lost, but I can say I was there. I'll never forget how slow the pace was by the end. I'll also never forget the fact that I got home at about 4 AM.

---Last game at Pitt Stadium, Pitt beat Notre Dame. I was only at the game because a Pitt law student friend of mine had some studying to do. I will never forget that act of kindness. The game was an absolute classic, a back-and-forth shootout the entire game. We rushed the field after the game, I bumped into a few jubilant Panthers...it was an all-night party.

---Canadiens at Pens, 2005. I'm sitting five rows behind the net and here comes Sidney Crosby on a shootout. He buries it for his first shootout goal, the goalie's Gatorade bottle goes flying in the air...I will never forget it.

---Last game at Three Rivers, for the Pirates and the Steelers. Our city had a run of "last games" for a while there, and I seemed to catch all of them. The Pirates' last game would have been great if Wehner could have come through in the last inning, but that kinda sums up the Pirate experience. I went to the Steeler game (vs. the Redskins) with my dad and brother. We arrived about 10 minutes before kickoff, somehow scored 3 tickets together from a scalper, and soaked up every last minute of the experience. Lots of good memories for me in that stadium.

---1994 MLB All Star Game and HR Derby. At the derby, it was amazing to watch the Big Hurt and Griffey park shots into the Three Rivers upper deck. That's not something you see everyday. As for the game itself, it was an exciting extra-innings affair, and although I was sitting in one of the highest seats in the stadium, I was truly thrilled to be there.

---1997, Broncos at Steelers (the regular season game, NOT the AFC Championship). Kordell at his finest, Elway at his peak, and the Steelers end up winning a thriller. Plus, the added bonus of an overzealous and oversized Bronco fan getting kicked out for taunting Steeler fans the entire game.

---It wasn't a Pittsburgh game, but Super Bowl 31 in New Orleans, 1997, Packers-Pats. My dad actually got a pair of tickets from a business associate, and even though the Steelers were eliminated, it was still a sight to behold. I'll never forget Bourbon Street littered with drunk Packers fans. I could have only imagined the scene if the Steelers would have represented the AFC instead of the Patriots.

As a Pittsburgh blogger, I read Mondesi's House as often as I would the Post-Gazette, Trib, or other news service. How do you approach a day of blogging? Also, what blogs out there in the blogosphere do you frequent?

I actually do the bulk of my work the night before, so I can have things ready for the early risers who enjoy frittering time away at work. First I go through my email and see what the readers have sent. That's usually where most of "The News" comes from. I'm on a pretty tight schedule, so I can't visit as many sites as I would like. But I'll hit a few sports destinations for some of the bigger stories: ESPN, Deadspin, the PG and Trib, and The Big Lead. And a stop on WWTDD.com to let the readers know the latest in the world of Paris Hiltons and Lindsay Lohans.

Gwenjen. Ronnie Florian. Now Cheap Sexson Mondays. You have a gift for creating internet celebrities. How does it feel when something like that takes off?

It's fun, but I can't take full credit. In a way, I'm like the messenger, delivering what the people are telling me. The Gwenjen pics were sent in from a reader. Cheap Sexson Mondays was a story from a reader of mine in Seattle that somehow made it to SI.com. And although I've been talking about him for a while, it was readers who sent in Ronnie Florian photos from various games. I'm telling you, it's the readers that make this site go.

I remember being young and rather disappointed after the '92 NLCS. A lot changed after that game. My team lost, and I felt odd about it. Obviously, the Buccos were a lot better back in those days. What stands out most to you when you think back to that game?

I remember being so confident when Cabrera came to the plate, thinking he was an automatic out because he was a nobody. And then came the hit. And then came me shutting off the TV in disgust at age 15. And then came my 11-year-old brother throwing his mangled Green Weenie at the same TV set. It's 15 years later, and the pain is still there. The Green Weenie, however, is not.

You reach a large audience. Did you ever think Mondesi's House would grow to the level it has in one year?

I'm very proud of how the site has caught on in the first year. I put in hours and hours of hard work: writing, research, radio appearances, and the hardest part, actually watching the Pirates. That being said, there's no other experience like getting fan mail. Having people say they start their day reading your site, telling all of their Pittsburgh-loving friends about it, all of the positive feedback...as a creative person, it's incredibly rewarding to know that people enjoy your work.

Where do you see Mondesi's House in another year?

I want to grow it as much as possible, but remain true to the roots. This site will always be dedicated to Pittsburgh. I have so many ideas for new and fresh angles, it's just a matter of having adequate time. I have enough content for years, and that's if the sports world shuts down tomorrow. I just love to write.

What are your feelings regarding ESPN. A lot of bloggers despise the big E. Others love it. I'm kinda in the middle, whereas I enjoy it for the news/highlights, but still take it with a grain of salt. Plus, that Hashmarks link has got to be a bonus.

If you're a big sports fan, your options are rather limited. That's why people don't just turn it off...they really don't have much of a choice. Their coverage is thorough, but they latch on to certain stories and go over the edge, in my opinion and the opinion of many others. Michelle Wie, Danica Patrick, Yankees/Red Sox, Terrell Owens/Cowboys, steroids, Bonds...these topics have all been thoroughly beaten into the ground. I think they need to mix things up a little.

The WWL really wears me down with the schtick, though. The Skip Baylesses, the Stephen A. Smiths, the Mike & Mikes... why do so many feel the need to put on a fake persona? Is it necessary? I respect their true reporters the most. Guys like Peter Gammons, John Clayton, Buster Olney...I could listen to them all day.

And yes, it's very cool of ESPN to link to my site.

Should the Buccos ditch Dave Littlefield for Ray Shero? And what's your take on the Buccos and their recent first-rounders.

Littlefield has not carved out much of a legacy, but I think his hands are tied for the most part. That being said, he's been an atrocious judge of talent, their system has proven time and time again that they are incapable of developing players, and nearly every decision he makes turns out to be the wrong one. But I'm positive that things will not change under this ownership group. You can change GMs, you can change managers, you can change players, but as long as McNutting is in charge, look forward to another losing season.

Shero has been nothing short of amazing. Just look at the Chris Thorburn trade. Here's a guy he plucked from the waiver wire, and he turns him into a 3rd-round draft pick. I've been very impressed at the way Shero has built the team so far.

Last Friday was big. First the Pens re-sign Roberts and Recchi, then draft a former top prospect in Angelo Esposito. Does Esposito make the club this season, and can the Pens win it all?

I think Esposito makes the team, because he doesn't have the pressure that he would've had if he went top-5. And this is a guy that looks to thrive as a non-"top banana". It looks like a great situation. I like the pick.

I think they can contend, but they might still be a piece or two short at this moment in time. But they are close. Very close.

Finish this sentence. Honestly. "By September, the Pirates..."

"...will be out of my mind because it will be football season."

Favorite Pittsburgh sports moment/memory?

Wow...so many to choose from. As far as memories, I'd say watching Mario Lemieux play or watching a Steeler game at Three Rivers while the stands shook up and down.

And moments? Even though I wasn't alive, the Maz home run was sweet because it took down the Yankees. I always think it gets historically short-changed behind The Shot Heard Round the World, which was merely a playoff game. The Immaculate Reception is great because it usually does get the recognition that it deserves. As far as things that I actually saw in my lifetime, there's Mark Smith's Walk-Off "Freak Show/No Hitter" Home Run in 1997, James Harrison's bodyslam of a Browns fan, Roethlisberger's tackle against the Colts and Vanderjagt's subsequent miss, Larry Fitzgerald's 2003 season, the Steelers' trick plays in the 2006 playoffs, Mario's five goals five ways, Sidney's regular season debut, the playoff comeback against the Browns a few years back...I could go on and on.

- Don (Mondesi)



TheStarterWife said...

Great read from both you.

Sean said...

Great Q&A!