Matt’s Bats Chat with Meggie Zahneis

Today’s Matt’s Bats Chat is with the incredible 16-year old Meggie Zahneis, MLB’s Youth Correspondent and winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest sponsored by Major League Baseball and Scholastic. She writes a column for MLB, which you can read HEREMeggie is a huge Cincinnati Reds fan.  She has met lots of players and other celebrities and has reported for MLB from the World Series and the All Star Game. 

Off the field Meggie is really remarkable too.  As she explains in the interview, she was born with a extremely rare medical condition that only 50 people in the world have.  She showed that even when you are thrown a curveball, with a lot of natural talent, hard work and good luck you can still smack it out of the park.  Meggie has been a good friend to me and supporter of MattsBats.com, so I am happy to introduce her to Nats Town.  Make sure you read her columns on www.MLB.com/meggie and follow her on Twitter @MeggieZahneis.

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Matt’s Bats:  Hi Meggie.  Thanks for doing the interview.  Can you tell us about being the official Youth Correspondent for Major League Baseball? 
Meggie Zahneis:  Well, exactly what the Youth Correspondent does is sort of uncharted waters – I am the first one they have had. Essentially, I report on baseball as a columnist – mainly about the Reds, since I’m based in Cincinnati. I try to bring a kid’s perspective to things and help people to get to know their favorite players off of the field.   I’m also a representative of the Breaking Barriers program. 
MB:  How did you become the Youth Correspondent? 
MZ: When I was in 8th grade, I entered MLB and Scholastic’s Breaking Barriers essay contest. It’s inspired by the late, great Jackie Robinson, who of course broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. I ended up winning the contest out of about 10,000 entries by writing about my life with HSAN II. From there, I won a trip to the 2011 All-Star Game in Phoenix, Arizona. After that, Sharon Robinson, daughter of Jackie, invited me back to the World Series (Game 3) that year to meet Commissioner Bud Selig. That day, Albert Pujols hit three home runs and I spent an inning watching the game with the Commissioner in his suite! He called me a few weeks later to offer me a job as Baseball’s first Youth Correspondent.  That’s when I was a freshman in high school.  Now I’m 16.  I will be the Youth Correspondent until 2015, when I graduate from high school.
MB: You mentioned HSAN II.  What is that?
MZ:  HSAN II (Hereditary Sensory and Autonomic Neuropathy, type 2) is a very rare neuropathic disorder that I was born with.  I don’t expect you to understand what that means – I don’t understand it all, either! But basically, I don’t feel pain, temperature and touch to the same degree that everyone else does. I’m also deaf without my cochlear implants (like hearing aids). For example, when I was little I scraped my foot on the bottom of a kiddie pool while swimming and had no idea until my mom saw blood in the water and took me out. Gross, I know! Only about 50 people in the entire world have HSAN II.  
MB: That’s very fascinating.  But it sure hasn’t stopped you from getting to the top and doing some really cool things.  What are some of the best experiences you have had as MLB Youth Correspondent.
MZ: Every experience I have as Youth Correspondent is a cool one! Getting to go to the All-Star Game and World Series last year “on the job” were definitely highlights. And I love going to Spring Training! I’ve gotten to meet many baseball players, like Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce here in Cincinnati, plus guys like Chipper Jones, David Wright, David Ortiz, Lance Berkman, R.A. Dickey, Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Ryan Braun, Buster Posey, Barry Zito, and C.J. Wilson, to name a few!  I interviewed Gio Gonzalez once.  Not counting baseball players, I’ve also met Josh Hutcherson (Peeta in The Hunger Games), Zooey Deschanel (I loved her in Elf), Matthew Perryfrom Friends, Jon Hamm from Mad Men and Paul DiMeo from Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.
Meggie with 2012 Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey

MB: What kinds of questions do you ask the players when you meet them?

MZ: First of all, it’s hard not to be starstruck.  But my job is to be professional and not seem biased.  I try to ask them questions that other reporters wouldn’t ask.  I ask them about what they do off the field and what goes through their head in certain situations.  I ask them things that other kids– and adults–would be interested in and what other people are probably wondering about.

MB: Do you want to be a journalist when you grow up?

MZ: I do.  I would like to be a sports journalist.  But I am also interested in psychology.  Whatever I do, I want to do something involving writing.

MB: Do any of the famous people you’ve met follow you on Twitter?

MZ: One of the first people was Brandon Phillips.  He’s big on Twitter.

MB: I follow him!

MZ: A few others famous people follow me too.  A bunch of the players tweet to me when I post an interview with them.  I have a couple of broadcasters following me too, like John Kruk.

MB: Lots of Nats fans follow me, including a few of the Nats players.  I bet if they read this, they’ll follow you too!

I also bet you have an amazing collection of baseball memorabilia if you get to meet all those players!  What’s the highlight of your collection?

MZ: I have a pretty decent collection from collecting almost 10 years.  I really can’t pick one.  I have a picture signed by the members of The Big Red Machine and a collection of bats and autographed baseballs.  One of my favorite items is one of the jerseys the Reds wore on Jackie Robinson Day that is signed by all the members of the 2012 Reds.  It’s significant to me because I got the Youth Correspondent job because of my Jackie Robinson essay.

Also, I have 2 seats from the old Yankees Stadium.  That was a Christmas present from Bud Selig.

MB: I have a small collection too.  The highlights of my collection is a Stephen Strasburg autograph, a Bryce Harper autograph, a game-used bat that former Nat Willie Harris gave to me, and a picture signed by Mickey Mantle that is really my dad’s.  You’ll also be interested in this– I have a ball signed by Johnny Bench.  That’s also from my dad’s collection when he was younger.

MZ: Cool.  I have one of those too.  Tell your dad he’s the best catcher in baseball history.

MB: You may be right, but I also like Pudge Rodriguez.
 
If you could interview anyone in the world, who would you want to interview?  It can be baseball-related or not, and anyone living or dead.

MZ: If I could interview Jackie Robinson, I would.  I know his daughter Sharon, and I appreciate his legacy.  

If I could pick someone from history not baseball-related, I would pick Mahatma Ghandi.  Both Mahatma Ghandi and Jackie Robinson are similar because they led whole groups of people to stand up against bullying and discrimination.  Lots of naysayers did not think they could do what they did.  They both made significant accomplishments in history without fighting back.  Ghandi led a peace movement without shooting a gun or punching anyone.  Same with Jackie Robinson.  I really admire both of them.  The only thing that would be tough is that I don’t know if Mahatma Ghandi spoke English.
 

MB:  I know you’ve gotten to meet a lot of celebrities, but how many ballparks have you been to? Any favorites?

MZ: I’ve been to Great American Ball Park, Progressive Field, old and new Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium and Citi Field, PNC Park, Busch Stadium, Chase Field, Wrigley Field, Comerica Park, Citizens Bank Park, U.S. Cellular Field, and Rangers Ballpark. That’s 14 in all. I have also been to a few Spring Training parks in Arizona. I guess one of my favorites is Great American, since I practically live there every summer! The history at the old Yankee Stadium was phenomenal. Same at Wrigley Field. I hope to make it to Fenway – I really want to see the Green Monster in person!
Meggie interviewing Joey Votto

 MB: Talking baseball, how do you think your hometown Reds will do this year?  What about my hometown Nationals?  Who do you think is going to the World Series, and who will win?

MZ: The Reds and Nationals both look great for this year. With the Reds adding Shin-Soo Choo this winter and converting Aroldis Chapman to a starter (I like him in the bullpen, but having him start could reap huge benefits), I wouldn’t expect anything less of the Reds than a playoff run. I’m hoping the World Series is partially held right here in town – that way I can go to more games and miss less school. And I think everyone in the D.C. area certainly has a right to have some Natitude (or Mattitude)!
MB:  I know you just got back from Arizona for Spring Training.  I am going to Florida for Spring Training next week.  What are some highlights of the Spring Training experience?
MZ: You’re going to love Spring Training! Everything there is so much more low-key than it is in the regular season. The players are extra-friendly and are usually willing to stop and chat or sign autographs. It’s easy to watch workouts in the mornings. Things are so relaxed that players will run laps in the outfield during the game! I also like Spring Training because you get a glimpse of a lot of the players that will eventually be the future of your team, but are currently in the farm system.
MB: Who is the star player (or players) of your baseball dream team?  It can be current or historical players, but if you say a Reds player, I’m going to make you give another one.
MZ: Jackie Robinson, for sure. He was chosen to be the guy to break the color barrier for a reason! He was a five-tool player and I wish I could’ve seen him steal home.
A close second would probably be Lou Gehrig, another one of my idols. I’d probably also play Frank Robinson, Stan Musial, Johnny Bench…I could go on and on.

MB: There is interleague play every month now.  Do you think this will affect the standings or how do you think fans will like it?

Meggie with 2011 Cy Young winner and MVP Justin Verlander

MZ:  I think fans will love it. I know I do. It’s neat to see teams and players you wouldn’t normally. I think the players like it, too. I remember talking to Justin Verlander last season when the Tigers came to Cincinnati and he was trying to get his first big league hit, since he never gets to bat in the American League.

MB: OK, if you had to give a title to the 2012 season, what would you call it?

MZ:  I wrote a column for MLB about the Reds season right after they lost the NLDS.  That was painful.

MB:  Oh I know about painful!  The Nats’ loss in the NLDS against the Cardinals was really painful!  It was the first time the Nats franchise was in the playoffs and we were so close!

MZ:  I know.  I called my Reds column “Year That Begins With Promise Ends With Disappointment.”  (You can read it HERE).


MB: Do you have any hobbies other than baseball?
MZ: Well, I obviously like to write! I’m also an amateur photographer. I have a “fancy camera” that I’m learning how to use and like to play around with.
I am a technology nerd and designed my own website when I was 7 or 8 and now I love playing on my iPad mini.

MB: Here’s a question for you: the Nats players have songs they play when they walk up to bat.  What would your walk-up song be?

MZ: Wow!  That’s a great question.  I never thought about that.  I guess my favorite song now is Daylight by Maroon 5.  So that’s what I’d pick.

MB: Thanks, Meggie!  I really enjoyed talking to you.  I hope to see you in DC soon– like when you’re here covering the Nats in the 2013 World Series!

Meggie with Nationals ace and 2012 Cy Young contender, Gio Gonzalez

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Let other baseball fans know about my blog (www.mattsbats.com) and Twitter (@MattsBats).  I love getting new followers and RTs from people with #Mattitude.  If you want to receive an email whenever there is a new post you can SUBSCRIBE HERE.

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