The first time I took notice of Benjamin Hochman was during his National Burger Adventure, specifically in a December 2010 blog entry where he came to my then-hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, and chronicled his meal at a popular local restaurant with which you may be familiar... McDonald's.
Charlotte has some great local burger joints, and Hochman went to the golden arches.
[Editor's note: if you're ever in Charlotte, grab a burger here. Yeah, there are Colorado locations, but it started in the Queen City and we're damn proud of it!]
Hochman's unique humor, good nature, and lighter take on the way-too-serious sides of sports and surrounding culture are what made him so unique as a sportswriter, and it's what brought him more responsibilities with the Post over the years.
Against the better judgment of, well, everybody, he was given a Nuggets podcast (that rarely talked Nuggets!). He penned incredible pieces of long-form journalism, as well as those more frivolous, like the opening volley in decent society's war against tyrannical dinosaurs. Just before his departure, he helmed a phenomenal series on the intersection of baseball and life around Colorado.
He took on social issues, injecting his work into those kind of cultural events that inevitably cross over into sports and demand the best of us to take a stand for equality and magnanimity. There was personal stuff, too; he endured unimaginable, sudden tragedy, and recovered in the craziness that is October baseball.
Along the way, he was funny, accessible, and welcoming on Twitter. The owner of a refreshing feed that never felt the need to "stick to sports," Hochman routinely crossed over into debates about Seinfeld characters, movies, endless pop culture snark, and all the other weird things that have made Twitter such a beautiful disaster.
And then, just like that, he left Denver for St. Louis. His move to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was a big deal in that city; in Denver, the paper of record had just lost arguably its best sportswriter. But for Benjamin, St. Louis is home, and the Post-Dispatch was the right move at the right time. Such is life.
Wanting to see how things were going in St. Louis—OK, I really just wanted to debate Seinfeld episodes with him—I tracked down Hochman to discuss the Rockies, the Cardinals, and much more about baseball, sportswriting, and, yes, Seinfeld.
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BOBBY: First, how are things going in St. Louis, being back home? Were you given a parade upon arrival? The St. Louis Magazine article last month was incredible – has your career now come full circle?
BEN: It wasn't a parade, per se – it was just me driving around, playing Nelly really, really loudly. It is super-invigorating to be back in my hometown. I loved being in Denver and writing for the Denver sports fan, as you know. This sounds cheesy, but we had a special Twitter community of Denver sports fans, and I liked/like being a part of the gang. But of course, it's fun to be writing for St. Louis, because that's my hometown, and these are the teams I grew up watching. They love their Cardinals like you all love your Broncos.
On the other hand, how badly do you miss Denver? Please lie to us and say a lot! (Just kidding.)
I do miss Denver! I miss Coors Field as the sun sets. I miss Cherry Cricket burgers. I miss beers at Don's Club Tavern or Falling Rock Tap House or the Applebee's in Arvada. I even miss scaring off women at coffeeshops with my creepy stare from behind my laptop. But yeah, it was tough to leave because, I feel, we had done some good stuff at The Denver Post. Sports editor Scott Monserud gave me freedom to try things, and with his editing and leadership, we accomplished things we were proud of, notably our Nine Innings baseball series this summer.
Unfortunately (for us), you now get to cover one of the best teams in Major League Baseball. Not to disparage the Rockies, but what have you noticed being in a town with such a historic baseball tradition that’s different from Denver?
The easiest way to explain it: it's like the Broncos in Denver, but even more intense. I arrived in early September, and everywhere I went—eeeeeeeverywhere I went—I overheard people debating bullpen decisions and lineup orders and who should be on the playoff roster. Cardinals talk is just part of daily life. I always joke, Daniel Descalso could walk into a restaurant in St. Louis, and he'd get a bigger reaction than most Rams would.
You’re aware of the "Best Fans In Baseball" hate that the rest of the game has for St Louis’ fans—now that you see St. Louis fans every day, what do THEY think of the "BFIB" title? Do they defend it? Are they sarcastic about it, too? I guess, more pointedly: are Cards fans aware of their perception with the rest of the league?
Funny enough, the name of my podcast with writer Derrick Goold is "Best Podcast In Baseball." It's weird: St. Louis fans are cocky and passionate and they definitely feel like they're the best fans in fan history, but they definitely hate the "BFIB" thing, because it feels insulting, like, how do people have the audacity to poke fun at our awesomeness???
How’s the Best Podcast in Baseball coming? Also, is podcasting the medium for you, or what? (Insert joke about ugliness here, yadda, yadda, yadda.)
Perhaps I should've read all the questions first—I keep bringing stuff up in later questions. So, Best Podcast In Baseball is fun because Derrick just "gets" baseball so well. He could work in a front office. He basically drives the show with analysis, and then I respond to what he says with quirky quips and fun takes on the topics of the day. I love doing podcasts – it reminds me of the days of "The Podcastanza," which Nate Kreckman and I did during my days as the Nuggets beat writer. Though "The Podcastanza" was only 37 percent actual Nuggets talk!
Can we expect a St Louis-themed follow up to the Nine Innings series you did in Denver?
I'd like to do something ambitious this coming summer. I don't know if I want to just re-do Nine Innings. But I want to do something special and big and never done before by our newspaper.
How painful was the Royals’ World Series win for Cards fans? Like, Cards fans didn’t say "aw gee, this is so great for Missouri," right? Is it doubly painful for Cards fans considering they were baseball's best all year, only to see the cross-state team take the crown?
It was definitely off-putting to see the Royals win it all—and then consider that they also went to the World Series the previous year, too. St. Louis fans have wild pride, so it's weird to wonder if the Cardinals aren't even the best team in their own state!
It was a fascinating October, because first was the NLDS against the hated Cubs, who of course knocked out the Cardinals. Then the Royals won it all. Most fans blame me for jinxing the team, while Denver fans thank me for leaving, since the Broncos are really good. [Editor's note: Hochman and I spoke before Sunday's Broncos game!]
What’s the Cardinals’ outlook next year? Any feelings on Jason Heyward returning? Reaction to Lance Lynn going down for the year with Tommy John surgery? Will the Cardinals be just as good as ever?
The Cardinals need to make some sort of A-list offseason acquisition. That could include re-signing Heyward, but if they don't get him, they need something, be it trading for Carlos Gonzalez or signing David Price or something. The Cubs and Pirates are right there in the National League Central. The Cardinals won 100 games, but did it with historically good pitching and occasional offense (though our old friend Matt Holliday was out for much of the season).
And yeah, now with Lance Lynn out, there is a lack of depth in that same pitching staff. And their top pitching prospect, Alex Reyes, was busted for weed (his second offense, which is a 50-game ban). Obviously, we with Colorado connections can argue how stupid it is to penalize players for weed use—but we can also argue how stupid it was for Reyes to get busted a SECOND time, knowing it could mean 50 games.
So anyway, it should be interesting to see who the Cardinals nab. Maybe somebody like Ben Zobrist, too? But the storyline heading into the spring is the Cardinals, even after 100 games, aren't necessarily the best team in their division or even their state. How can they ascend to that status again?
What about your perspective on the Rockies—do you see the Rockies differently now that you don’t cover them?
I don't mean this to be insulting, but being around the Cardinals and the playoffs just cemented how far the Rockies are from being relevant. Think about it this way: we made a big deal about Jon Gray becoming a stud savior. But even if Jon Gray becomes Clayton F. Kershaw, what does that mean if Colorado's other pitchers aren't studs? I mean, Kershaw and Greinke's team didn't even get past the NLDS. He's never pitched in a World Series!
The Major Leagues is big boy stuff. The Rockies just come off as so hopeless. But the good news is recent trends with the Cubs and Astros show that new execs can invigorate a franchise and make it relevant perhaps faster than in a previous generation. Maybe Bridich is the actual savior Colorado needs. Or maybe the Rockies will just be the Rockies – a team that annually has a few slugging stars and annually finishes at the bottom of the West.
I hope the Rockies can turn it around, because there are many fans who deserve baseball bliss (and not just the baseball blip that was 2007).
My favorite thing you’ve ever done is the NBA burger series. In the spirit of that, tell us about Busch Stadium. What should Rockies fans know if they ever go to a game there? Any underrated places to sit at the park? Any good bars or restaurants to go to before/after a game? How does a visitor coming for the first time get the best Busch Stadium experience?
Well, right away, there's a bacon concession stand (Best Bacon In Baseball). It's fun to come to the games for batting practice, to see which sluggers can hit it up to Big Mac Land (which was created in the upper deck in the late 1990s when McGwire arrived, and is sponsored by McDonald's. One time, Holliday hit a ball INTO the B).
The Busch Stadium experience is cool because there's such a link to the past history. Just walking around, it's like those ESPN commercials in the ESPN offices – There's Ozzie Smith! There's Willie McGee! They have an organist at the games, which is just awesome. Yes, yes, they play top-40 and whatever, but the organist also gets some freedom to tickle the ivories (that's a phrase, right?).
Now for the truly important stuff … have you been evangelizing the anti-Dinger movement away from Denver? We need you to stay strong in your crusade against the purple dinosaur; can Purple Row expect you to continue to fight for a dino-free world?
I shall. I'm hoping to be the spiritual leader for those who valiantly fight against the absurdity that is the worst mascot in sports. I just don't get it – not only is Dinger an ugly, creepy, off-putting mascot, but he's ALSO Bush League, taunting the other team's pitchers from behind home plate.
I see the Cardinals have a mascot named, uh, Fredbird? Is he better than Dinger? (To be honest, he looks just as bad, but maybe I’m looking at older pictures.) Should we do away with mascots altogether? Would a mascot-free world be a world we want to live in?
FREDBIRD IS PERFECT IN EVERY WAY.
Oh. Ok, top five Seinfeld episodes. The best, for me:
1-George as a marine biologist. ("What is that, a Titleist?")
2-George with the Yankees, working with the Astros’ front office. ("You tell those sons-a-bitches that no Yankee will ever come down to Houston as long as you bastards are running things!")
3-The one where Kramer has the Merv Griffin set in his apartment.
5-Festivus. ("I got a lot of problems with you people!")
These are great choices. I think most Seinfeld-top fives have to have "The Contest" and "The Marine Biologist." Standards. Like Godfather and Caddyshack on a favorite movie list.
I suppose my No. 3 is "The Fire," because it has two of my favorite dialogue moments, first:
JERRY: So you feel "women and children first," in this day and age, is somewhat of an antiquated notion.
GEORGE: To some degree.
JERRY: So basically, it's every man, woman, child, and invalid for themselves.
GEORGE: In a manner of speaking.
JERRY: Well, it's honest.
GEORGE: Yeah. She should be commending me for treating everyone like equals.
JERRY: Well, perhaps when your girlfriend is released from the burn center, she'll see things differently.
RONNIE: I heard you went down to somebody's office and heckled them?
JERRY: Damn right! We've been lapdogs long enough!
RONNIE: How could you do that? I mean, everybody's talking about it.
JERRY: Well, it's about time one of us drew a line in the sand.
RONNIE: Jerry, you're like Rosa Parks. You opened the door for all of us.
I suppose the other two would be "The Junior Mint" (because it also was the Delores episode) and "The Cigar Store Indian" ("Because you're the mailman! You know the neighborhood!").
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To Ben: best of luck on continuing a phenomenal career in St. Louis, and thank you for being so open to all of us below you. Your accessibility, attitude, personality, and professionalism are some of the best things about sports journalism and I, for one, sincerely miss you covering Denver sports.
To the rest of you: If "The Marine Biologist" isn't in your top five list of Seinfeld episodes, you're wrong. (Just kidding. ... Sort of.)