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Of course, patience goes only so far when the team is in the tank. "If they're really struggling, it gets pretty slim, because frustration takes over," Renck says. "But in baseball, most people are very accountable. After a bad loss, you'll still see Todd Helton in the locker room." He's had players refuse to talk to him for a few days at a time because of things he's written, "but nothing with any type of permanence. No one's ever said,'I'll never talk to you again.''"
The same is true for hockey writer Adrian Dater, who's covered the Colorado Avalanche for the Post since 1995, but he's had a close call. After quoting an unnamed team source who called onetime Av Claude Lemieux "a (bleeping) jerk" in a May 1998 article, Lemieux hushed up for a lengthy stretch. However, Dater says, "we patched it up a long time ago. Claude's a tough guy."
Hockey is filled with such bruisers, but the icemen are generally thought to be more open to the press than their brethren in baseball, football or basketball. Dater agrees with this theory and understands that the Avalanche's consistent success has smoothed his way. Still, he says access is shrinking in hockey, too.
"Teams are shielding players a little more," Dater contends. "You used to be able to walk into the locker room and that's where the players would be, because that's where they dressed. But now, in all the new buildings [including the Pepsi Center], they have a main locker room and a back dressing room. All they do in the main locker room is take off their equipment, and then they go back into the other room to shower and everything else, and they get there as quickly as they can. There's a rule where the locker room isn't opened until ten minutes after the game, and by the time the press gets there, most players are in the back. And even though that room's open, if you go in there, you'll be the only reporter, and the players look at you like, 'What are you doing in here?' I've gone back there when I really needed to, but you basically make yourself look like a pain in the ass."
The territory comes with other limitations as well. "Reporters have less of a personal relationship with players because of a lot of factors," Dater says. "We used to travel with the team on the same flights, because the teams flew commercially. Now they don't; they all have chartered jets. So we can't spend time with them in the airport and on planes. And more and more, the teams are looking at the media as something they have to manage. They watch every word they say and have these league meetings before the year to learn the best way to handle things. Basically, they're told, 'Don't tell them anything that will get you into trouble.' It's very scripted."
True enough -- and in columnist Kiszla's opinion, Walker's decision to go off-message in regard to the Rockies' plight was the real motivation behind the franchise's anger at the Post. "Dan O'Dowd has a great deal of sensitivity about a great number of issues, not the least of which is his future as an employee of the Rockies," Kiszla says. "The team has taken great care in presenting a universally positive front this season, despite another difficult year on the field, and I believe in this case, O'Dowd thought Walker broke ranks with the policy of 'Don't worry; be happy.' What they want to do is draw a smiley face on a bad season. I can't blame them for that, but I'm not sure any intelligent fan buys it."
The Rockies probably won't like this assessment, but Kiszla isn't worried that he'll be frozen out permanently. "I fully expect I will talk to Larry Walker again. He's been upset with me before, and he'll be upset with me again. But throughout the time he's been here, he's always talked to me, because I don't hit and run.
"If you're man enough to show up after you write something, there's some respect to be gained from that," he says. "It's a little schoolyard, but that's kind of the unofficial law of the sports-journalism landscape."