Across the street from Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies Pregame Live crew at Comcast SportsNet prepared for the first contest in a four-game series against the Mets. Weekday affairs in mid-August between the two worst teams in the division normally brings little fanfare, but this game carried a little extra intrigue. Rhys Hoskins had just arrived from Lehigh Valley for his much-anticipated major league debut.
Host Michael Barkann, the 21-year CSN veteran, turned to former big league closer Ricky Bottalico for some insight on the Phillies’ new prospect. He then turned to Corey Seidman to add some perspective before bringing in beat reporter Jim Salisbury, now covering the Phillies for his 24th year for the Philadelphia Inquirer and CSN.
Corey Seidman, only a couple years removed from his first appearance on live TV, found himself alongside some of the best in the business. And his rise through the ranks just so happened to come during one of the most tumultuous times in the sports television landscape.
“I guess I wonder, did I come at the right time? Is this wrong time?” Seidman questioned as we spoke for this piece last week.
At first glance, it sure seems like he chose a horrible time to enter this field. To attract more millennial viewers, sports networks have shifted their focus away from highlights to feature more analysis.
With roles changing by the minute, though, it’s possible Corey chose the perfect moment.
Call it good timing or bad, one thing you can’t call it is luck. Seidman appears to have a plan for just about everything. He leaves little to straight chance, while at the same time creating plenty of intentional ambiguity. His career path resembles more of a planned chaos.
Seidman graduated from Penn State in 2011 at a time when the industry was rapidly changing and he didn’t know if jobs in the sports writing field were going to still be around by the time he got out of school. “So I was going to go the law school path,” Corey said. “I had interned at CSN Philly as a sophomore and I liked what I did. I didn’t want to do homework for a living, so I didn’t want to be a lawyer, and I kind of just reached back out to some of the people I made contacts with in college when I was still pursuing this path. I latched back on at csnphilly.com part time for a while and kind of just parlayed that to the point that they started to feel comfortable having me do other stuff, as well.”
That “other stuff” was writing for one of Philadelphia’s top sports websites and doing pre-and post-game hits from the ballpark for the best (and only, really) sports television station in the region.
His official title at CSN is “Phillies Producer,” in charge of choosing the ideas to run on the website throughout the week, headlining articles, and coordinating schedules. “My name doesn’t get put on a lot, but I have a role in getting the stories up fast,” he said.
“And then there’s days like today at CSN Philly when I’m at the office copyediting.”
“Dave Zangaro, or Reuben Frank, or any of our different writers send me stuff, I pore through the article, fix anything that’s factually or grammatically wrong, and correct any spelling mistakes. Then I’m getting it up on the site, headlining it, getting it out on social.”
That versatility is exactly what helped land him this sweet (or is it suite?) gig to begin with.
A Northeast Philly kid who attended George Washington High School, Seidman interned at CSN in 2008 and came back as a part-timer in the summer of 2011. Most of his work at the time consisted of copyediting, running a CSN blog named Beerleaguer, and appearing on web videos.
Separately, he co-hosted Phillies Nation TV, a 30-minute program for the blog Phillies Nation, for exactly 100 episodes from 2012 to 2015. “It was Pat Gallen and I, and we had limited experience on air. I had none, and Pat had some. He was really good as a host and giving me pointers earlier in my career. I was the one who was pretty much writing the entire show, so I really ended up getting a crash course on how to do TV.”
“When I first started [at CSN], they were a little hesitant to put me on air because it’s like, ‘Who is this guy?’ But after they had seen Phillies Nation a little bit, they gained confidence that they could put me on air and that I could speak sensibly and make good points about baseball. I started doing Philly SportsTalk, Lunch Break, and that just became other things like hits at the ballpark for the pregame show that first year.”
Two years later, he describes his television role as making “off beat little points that I come up with just by observing and watching baseball.” That’s downplaying things a bit. It’s like when comedian Jerry Seinfeld said, “There's more to life than making shallow, fairly obvious observations."
Corey has a great feel for the game of baseball, and he brings it to viewers in a natural way. His comfort in front of the camera was not crafted in broadcasting school, he was not groomed for the position, and he didn’t openly vie for the role. To put it in baseball terms, he came to the park early, put in his work, and ran hard to first base. His work spoke for itself.
“The hardest part is getting people to notice,” Corey said. “Unfortunately, in this day and age you have to put work out there, sometimes for free, in order for people to notice.”
He says you have to do a lot of different things and be willing to do a lot of different things. “Then it’s just a matter of proving yourself to the right people and showing people that you are willing to do more work than you are asked.”
Such a simple and effective concept.
“The thing I always go back to is in the movie The Social Network when they were making Facebook,” Seidman explained. “Their thing was just make it cool first, then it will make money. Make it happen first, don’t focus on the financial reward of it, focus on making it a good product and once it hits a certain level then you should get some opportunities.”
Those opportunities came along because of the path he chose.
“My advice to kids who want to go into this industry,” he says, “is to major in something else in college just to give yourself a backup plan. If you have the passion and you have the skills, and you write throughout college, that will take care of itself. I don’t think you necessarily need to get a degree in journalism to be a journalist. Doing other things will open your mind to more and it will make you a more well-rounded person.”
There’s that planned chaos again. While it seems logical for journalists to major in journalism, there is a good chance Corey is not chatting with Marshall Harris and former major leaguers if he followed the logical route. He took the risk to develop his skills rather than boost his resume.
As a result, he is well versed in many areas in the industry. “I refer to my training at CSN Philly as almost a sportswriter boot camp,” Corey says. “You’re asked to be doing so many different things, that unless you are a complete idiot, you’re going to retain a lot of it.”
Retain? Maybe. But excel? Not necessarily. It takes a certain kind of awareness to put it all to use. Corey is one of those people you run into in life who have that awareness of the world and landscape around them, along with a certain maturity about them.
Former Phillies pitcher Don Carman recently spoke of his former battery mate and undisputed clubhouse leader, Darren Daulton. “Everybody looked up to him,” Carman said. “Even when he was 26-27, the 35-year-olds looked up to him.” Corey, who is ten years younger than myself at age 28, gave me the same impression.
“I majored in Political Science, wanted to learn about the world, learn about how decisions are made worldwide,” Seidman said. “When you graduate with a political science degree, there’s not a ton you can use if for. I didn’t see a point in majoring in journalism because it didn’t seem like a field you could be guaranteed of a job, so I might as well try to broaden my horizons.”
Good luck finding another under-classman walking along Beaver Avenue in State College with long-term plans beyond the next kegger. He even applied that same type of far-sighted thinking to something as natural as writing, which is what brought me to reach out to Corey in the first place.
“I just kind of write how I talk,” Seidman explains. “I don’t think a lot of people are reading stuff that gets into tremendous language with big, flowery prose. I just don’t think people consume sports writing the same way they might have in days past, and so I try to be real conversational about it. I can’t even tell you how many times that I’ve been at the bar with my friends arguing about something sports related, and the next day I’m writing a column about it. I try to incorporate a lot of the things we discussed and I find out there’s an audience for it.”
It’s not that Corey lacks the ability to write in a more journalist way. I get the sense he would excel at NASA’s Mission Control Center if he needed to.
For him, it’s just a stylistic choice, and one he credits in many ways to Bill Simmons, a notable writer for ESPN. “I think that in the early 2000’s when Bill Simmons came along, that really did kind of change the game. It made people realize you could write about things in an entertaining way and incorporate other aspects of the culture. At the end of the day what we do should be fun. We shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously, we shouldn’t agonize over every little thing that happens traffic-wise. These are fun gigs.”
His writing style took further shape in an English class during his freshman year in college. “The theme of the course was pretty much less is more. Sometimes not revealing a detail can be more powerful than revealing that detail and that really is something that has resonated with me for years.”
“To me, being an editor too, that’s the quality that I can’t stand the most in writers. Don’t write something in 33 words if it can be written in 17. I think it’s the same thing with readers too. If you’re scrolling through an article and see it’s really long (sorry to disappoint, Corey!), it’s going to be a daunting task for you, as opposed to where you’re in, you’re out, you’re making your point, and you let the reader kind of digest it all.”
Seidman signifies a shift from the way sports media was presented in the past. Some credit goes to Seidman’s managing editor, Andy Schwartz, for recognizing, embracing, and encouraging him. “He’s a great boss,” Corey said. “I mean it’s really awesome when you can say that he’s also one of your good friends. He is. He never put the reigns on me in any way. I remember the first couple times I covered college basketball games way back in the day where he didn’t like the way that I phrased things, and he offered other education moments like that along the way, but he never put the reigns on me.”
It also doesn’t hurt to work alongside a professional like Jim Salisbury, who Corey says “is just The GOAT. He’s the greatest in so many different ways and he’s such an incredible mentor. I couldn’t ask for anybody better to have to learn from. Just working so closely with him these years, I’ve picked up on many different things, like how you can criticize a player without killing him. “
Put it all together, and you are looking a new-age writer who writes for his audience rather than forcing himself on them. “Not everybody loves my writing style,” he admits, “but wherever I try to incorporate advanced stats or advanced metrics or anything like that, I really do try to put it in perspective and simplify it. I want to be able to bring it to them and not have them be turned off while at the same time not selling out among more of the stat heads who are really into that stuff.”
Whatever he is doing seems to be working, albeit in relative anonymity while the Phillies fight for relevance in a football crazed town. But as the team he covers begins to grow and their billionaire owner starts dishing out 9-figure contracts in a quest for the next Phillies dynasty, we might be looking at the voice of the next generation of Phillies fans.comments powered by Disqus