For the love of Sports

dodgersbaseballThe year the Astros stole the World Series from us was the year I fell in love. He sat at the bartop of our local pub, taking a shot every time Cody Bellinger hit a home run. I was appalled and attracted at the same time.

“Bomb for bomb” he said, and the next thing I know I was chasing Jaeger with Guinness and Irish cream in unison.

We were animated. For the love of our team, for our boys in blue who were going to gives us a title since before we were born. He looked so good in his custom white jersey and his name embroidered on the back with the number 10. I’ll never forget. The Dodgers were hot and our rookie outfielder gave us reason to celebrate. Game after game, we met repeatedly at the bar and every time we went home with each other.

I always think of that one World Cup commercial where couples are shown in the delivery rooms of hospitals expecting their first child. Throwback to nine months earlier and it’s the same couple celebrating their country’s team winning the whole shebang.

I was living it. Sans baby. Sans title.

This post season was truly a special one, not because of Justin Turner’s walk-off homerun against the Cubs nor because of Puig’s bat lick; but because I finally met my match. Someone more theatrical, more exposed to any sport knowledge than I would ever know. The captain-MVP-all star-player to this team of two. The Dodgers became our bonding point.

“He’s so easy to talk to,” I thought and our series opened with a win thanks to our ace. Everything was going right.

His birthday fell on the second leg of the series and what better way to spend it other than in downtown? October is the best month for sports, and I say that as a borrowed statement from my whirlwind lover. We celebrated at the center of it all in LA Live and as fate would have it, the Lakers were tipping off right across the street. The Dodgers were up in the sixth inning and out of drunken confidence we left the restaurant we were at and bought tickets to the basketball game. 

All of Staples Center were watching the Astros come back from a two run deficit. You either saw the game from the televisions in the suites or on the apps of others’ phones. For a moment you almost forgot that you were at the Lakers game because the crowd was cheering for base hits during regular timeouts. Nothing was greater than seeing fellow Angelenos share the love for both teams and seeing my own love develop for this  fascinating man. As I sat beside him in the stadium, I felt my heart growing three sizes that day.

I blamed the Game 7 loss in the World Series on him. He is notoriously known for bringing bad luck to our teams every time he’s in attendance, and he was at Dodger Stadium that day.

Turns out, it was just the no good-dirty-rotten- sign-stealing Astros fault. I have since forgiven him.

The day that Lebron James became a Laker we playfully then aggressively bantered over LBJ and Kobe Bryant. Don’t get me wrong, I am loyal to the purple and gold but Lebron was my guy after he rebuked “shut up and dribble.” He bought me my own white jersey and took me back to downtown where it started.

With a last name like Figueroa, how can he not be attached to Staples Center?

I learnt of Kobe’s passing through him and we shared an unrecognizable grief together. Time stopped, traffic remained frozen, and the heart of the city was gone.

Soon enough we stopped arguing over who was the greatest of all time and started arguing over who was spending less time with who. I said to him, “you don’t care about me” and he said “that’s all that I do.”

At our best we were perfect, but at our worst we were a disease.

The last day I saw him I knew the relationship was over. I had gone to his house after a soul cleansing hike through Griffith Park. I needed air, my mind losing touch with reality. He stood there somber in his hallway and my gut already sank to the bottom of the floor.

I cried until the tears couldn’t pour out any longer as he painfully told me that he was unhappy. For the first time in two years we couldn’t look each other in the eye and somehow our match made accord wasn’t enough anymore.

It wasn’t a perfect relationship but he was easy to love. Together we never shared a winning season but had a good run. In retrospect, it was great while it lasted, but I hope the Dodgers and Lakers will see better days than us. For the love of the team.

Winters is Coming

lakers
Los Angeles Lakers Point Guard Lonzo Ball and Serena Winters/ Source: @serena_winters

The morning the Los Angeles Lakers were to return to Staples Center for one of the last preseason games, sports reporter Serena Winters sat in front of her Starbucks attired in gym clothes with a Robeks smoothie at hand.

“I’ll get [to Staples Center] at 4 p.m.,” said Winters. “When I get to the arena usually I’m around the court talking to people, watching what’s going on, seeing D’Angelo Russell shoot… We then do a pregame media availability for [Head Coach] Byron Scott [then] the game starts at 7 p.m.”

Winters, 27, is the lead field reporter for the sports writing blog, LakersNation.com. Her 24/7 schedule revolves around the team of purple and gold as she also contributes to Time Warner Cable’s SportsNet: Access Lakers and radio shows like The Beast 980 AM.

“Once the game ends around 10 something there is then head coach post game availability,” said Winters. “Once we finish that up, it’s past 11 p.m., we go back to the interview room, my camera guy and I, and get a post game story. We post videos around 12:30 a.m. Send video links to [our editor-in-chief]. Maybe we get lucky it’s around 1 a.m. but usually around 2 a.m. is when I get home. Then the next day I wake up and its practice at 11 a.m. so I drive to El Segundo to get more stories from players.”

At 5-foot-5 and 115-pounds, her petite toned frame can be contrasted against the 6-foot-6 athletes weighing well over 215 pounds; but her confidence in the sport equates to theirs. Winters, a Huntington Beach local, grew up in the world of sports where her niches were basketball, golf, and track. She also excelled in academics throughout high school and college, earing a 4.8 GPA at Huntington Beach High School and graduating Magna Cum Laude at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Winters was raised an only child. She was kept very active throughout her youth. Her parents put her in theatre classes when she was younger and her father would have her read to him aloud to discover new words. Alongside being a tri-varsity athlete in high school, Winters was also part of the Model United Nations where she and her club members would take on the role as economic leaders of a specific country and debate against other mock leaders of different clubs.

Chris Evans, Winters’s mother, said one facet in raising her was that she wanted her daughter to act appropriate for her age.

“A lot of things kids do in today’s world, I think that all needs to be very well watched,” said Evans.

Winters’s father passed away when she was 12 but both she and her mother credit him for her involvement in sports.

“When I was kid I think most of my pressure came from myself,” Winters said. “I felt pressure to get straight A’s and be the best athlete but my parents were really supportive. My dad always wanted me to be smart so everything was more to please my parents.”

Her piercing blue eyes and contagious smile broke into a laugh however when she spoke about her competitiveness, but her freckled skin and owl shaped glasses aren’t too threatening.

“The first thing that comes to mind about Serena is that she is always very hardworking,” said Jeff Payetta, 26, her boyfriend of four years and childhood friend. “She was always very good in school, which I can’t say the same for myself.”

Winters created an extensive portfolio during and after her college career. Her list of internships range from working at ESPN with the Jim Rome Is Burning show to working in the social media department on Fuel TV, to reporting color commentary for the men’s basketball team at UCSB, and eventually interning with the Lakers.

While she was commuting from Huntington Beach to Santa Barbara, Winters’s income came from valeting at the Hyatt in Newport Beach.

Always looking for her next move, she applied to Lakers Nation and was again, taken on as an unpaid intern. Her previous connection with the Lakers allowed for one-on-one interviews with the players while she attended practices. Winters eventually earned her spot as a full time reporter for Lakers Nation in October of 2012. She proved her worth over the next year to Lakers Public Relations and was given season credentials. This move gave the sports blogging website a major push into the media industry.

The website currently claims a following of 2.5 million on Facebook and a community of nearly 350,000 followers on Twitter.

However, there is a backlash for new media reporters from old media reporters. Winters says that coming from an online world there is still a divide in people who are stuck on traditional media.

“Even though they are friends of mine, like newspapers [reporters] … I feel like they are talking behind my back,” said Winters. “[I’m] still at the forefront with online media because a lot of people still ask me advice for video or YouTube. Whether or not you like it, media is clearly changing.”

Winters cracks a smile over the negative connotation of online media because it’s something she hears on a daily basis. But she says that despite the criticism, no one works harder than her.

Because of her role as a reporter, she does not consider herself a PR representative for the Lakers. She has yet to write something specifically the team has asked her to do but she chooses to avoid family issues. She reports on facts, gameplay and quotes said by the team to provide context for Lakers Nation.

In one post-game availability conference Winters took heat for asking a decisive question.

“I had a PR pull me aside and threaten to take my credential away … I was told that it wasn’t my place to ask that that question,” said Winters.

The question was when she asked Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant what he thought of his ESPN ranking of 40 out of top 500 players in the NBA last year. The five time NBA champion replied with “they’re a bunch of idiots”

The response generated a heavy news flow for sports media outlets and commentators. Winters held her ground for asking a fair question that produced a good answer. She writes what she knows based on certain things; commenting and critiquing players’ performances rather than coaching decisions.

Winters and her videographer Andrew Martinez, easily work over 40 hours in a five or six day work week to provide nonstop information for one of the country’s largest fan base. The two spend more time with each other than their own friends and family. Martinez has been working with Winters for the past two years and says he learned much from her.

“I’ve never been in sports media,” said Martinez, 28. “Serena is like a mentor to me… She helps me understand the journalism part of it all.”

Winters says being a woman in the sports industry faces its own obstacles in itself.

“As a female I feel like it takes so much more to build respect, especially in a male dominated industry,” said Winters. “A male in this industry can make one mistake and it’ll blow over. As a female you can work five to 10 years, but you make one mistake and your reputation is over.” Winters dresses, speaks, and works in a specific style to make herself professionally presentable.

In her experience in the sports industry she says one of the most difficult parts is managing other personalities. Winters labels herself as a perfectionist and when it comes to getting her job done correctly, it is her utmost priority. If someone else is not reciprocating the effort, characters begin to clash .

“In a male dominated industry it becomes more challenging to ask why does this get done improperly. There are no open conversations, they get defensive,” said Winters. “It’s personal. Men just want power… I’m not sure if that’s what it is, but men want power.”

Her stern belief is that she does not want others to out work her and while some may view this as unappealing, many respect her for it.

“There is this intimidation factor working with her because she knows what she is talking about,” said Martinez. “But once you start talking to her she’s laid back and funny and the intimidation factor goes away.

“What I like best about Serena is that she is very talkative… she makes it a point to make a person feel special,” said Payetta. “She also has an excellent choice in food.”

A medium rare steak filet or yellowtail sushi tops the list of Winters’s favorite food.

When Winters is not practicing Muy Thai or competing against her boyfriend in golf, she likes to relax with her English Bull Terrior, Bruno.


***This story was written in 2015 as a feature profile assignment for a college course. I worked briefly with Serena as a previous intern for LakersNation. She was kind enough to take time out of her schedule to give me a lengthy two-hour interview for my assignment.