By IAN WILSON
When it comes to baseball, Steve Hofstetter has more jokes about the sport than Pete Rose has hits. That includes a few quips about Charlie Hustle, as well.
As prolific in the realm of sports comedy as the former Cincinnati Red was at the plate, Hofstetter isn’t the type to rest a bat on his shoulder. Swinging away – whether it’s on stage as a standup comic or as a panelist on MLB Network – has allowed the 39-year-old to amass a huge following.
His YouTube channel has generated over 115 million views and over 400,000 subscribers, and his resume includes bylines for Maxim, ESPN and Sports Illustrated.
During a recent phone interview from California, Hofstetter told Alberta Dugout Stories why he loves baseball, hates the Dodgers, believes in preparing for ceremonial first pitches and he laid out his reasons for calling Roger Clemens a jerk.
Here’s our Q&A with the popular comic, who will perform at Yuk Yuk’s in Calgary on Feb. 22nd and 23rd.
Q: When did you first become interested in baseball?
A: I played baseball as a kid … poorly.
It’s such a dumb story. I started out in Little League and I was at the age where the coaches are still pitching to you, so no one is trying to strike you out. So, my first five at bats I get hits and the sixth at bat is when I got hit. The first five at bats I’m killing it and then during my sixth at bat, it hits me in the face and I was a little kid and I was just terrified from then on out. And I didn’t get a hit again until my last game of the season.
I played a little after that. I played a little JV (junior varsity) in high school, but that stuff shapes you. I wish I had someone in my life to give me good advice about that, because later on I had a chance to interview Marty Appel, the PR guy for the Yankees, and he said he was talking to Graig Nettles about being scared of getting hit and Nettles said: “All you’ve got to know is that by the time you get to first base you won’t feel it anymore.” That advice would’ve changed me.
So, instead, I just became a fan.
What kept you engaged in the sport and what did you like about it as a fan?
I grew up a Mets fan in Queens. My dad was a Brooklyn Dodger fan, a real Brooklyn Dodger fan – he didn’t jump to the Yankees when the Dodgers left. He just kind of waited and the Mets came along five years later and he’s been a Mets fan since ’62 and raised my brother and I to be the same.
We ditched school on Opening Day. That was the only day we were allowed to cut school. Aside from the fact that it’s family, it’s like hereditary for me, the thing that I love about baseball – there’s a couple things – one, there’s no clock.
All (MLB Commissioner) Rob Manfred is trying to do is make the game shorter and shorter and shorter, but to me it’s kind of amazing that if you do better than the other team, it doesn’t matter how close to the end of the game you are, you will still win. You always have an opportunity to win. I think that’s just awesome.
And there are just so many amazing stories. Basketball and football and hockey, I like them but they’re about plays. Baseball is about the sport. One man versus one man at a time. It’s about the history. It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball.
What age did you notice that you had comedic skill and how did you put that to good use?
I started being recognized for being funny toward the end of high school and in college. I always had more of an adult sense of humour. When I was younger, that didn’t fly … 12-year-olds don’t like punks. I didn’t really know my audience. I’ll put it that way.
My sense of humour came to me from comedy albums my dad played for me as a kid, but also having a brother who was four years older and who skipped a grade so was basically five years older than me, so I was always playing to an older crowd.
I actually intended to be a sports writer. When I was 20 years old I was the youngest baseball beat writer in America. I was in the locker room for the champagne celebration when the Yankees won the 2000 World Series against my Mets, which hurt me a lot. It was still cool to be there for a champagne celebration though.
How did those interviews go with Yankee players following that World Series?
I learned a very valuable lesson that year.
Players don’t truly have rivalries. Why do we? Why are we so sensitive on a player’s behalf, when the player doesn’t care? Think about how many times you see players go to a rival team or how many times you see a player during batting practice go over and talk to friends on the other team.
Do they believe in their team? Do they want to win? Do the Red Sox play harder against the Yankees and vice versa? Yeah, maybe a little, but at the same time you’ve got guys like Johnny Damon who played for both teams, so I realized that year that, you know what, would I liked to have seen the Mets win? Absolutely. Am I a die-hard Mets fan? Absolutely. Did I learn to respect the Yankees and what’s good about them? Absolutely.
After that experience, are you still a big Mets fan?
I’ve been living in L.A. for six years … but I was raised to hate the Dodgers and I still do. I actually got turned down for, I’ve done a bunch of ceremonial first pitches, and I got turned down by the Dodgers because they said I was too big of a Mets fan. That’s a bit of a notch on the belt. I was proud of that.
Let’s talk about the ceremonial first pitches. You’ve done a lot of YouTube videos on that topic. Tell us about the art of the ceremonial first pitch. What kind of preparation has to go into it?
You only have one shot at it. If I’m throwing 10 pitches, more than half of them are going to be strikes, but any given one can get away and that’s the one you’re throwing. So, you do need to practice.
Also, if you’re going to not have a glove that day then practice without a glove. That counter balance that you’re used to can throw you a little bit when you suddenly don’t have it.
Do your best to find out if you’re going to throw off the mound or not because that is a big difference. Not only is it a few feet further, it’s about a foot further up, so that changes things. When you’re throwing off a mound you will have a tendency to throw low. My advice is to err on the side of high. If it goes high, the player stands up and catches it. If it goes low, it can go in the dirt and go by him and it looks way worse.
But no matter what you’re doing, enjoy the moment because it will go by so quickly. And whatever happens, make it look like you wanted it to happen. Own the moment.
What do you think makes baseball funny and do you talk a lot of baseball in your standup comedy?
I don’t talk a lot of baseball in my standup because a lot of people won’t get the references, but I do make references here and there.
I grew up really enjoying Elayne Boosler’s comedy. I had no idea that she was a huge Mets fan and the first time I ever got to work with her was at the Laugh Factory. I was doing the eight o’clock show, she was doing the ten, and I wanted to stick around and watch her set and I thought maybe I’ll get to say hello after.
She made a reference to watching the Mets game and Curtis Granderson and I was like, wait, what?
I went over to her after the show and talked to her about it and it turns out she’s a huge Mets fan. We bonded over it instantly and we ended up watching the 2015 World Series (between the Royals and Mets) over at her place. Baseball absolutely brings people together.
One thing that comedy and baseball have in common is the heckling that can take place. You have a reputation for putting hecklers in their place. Do you have any advice for baseball players on that topic?
With sports, you really just have to tune it out. With comedy, you have to address it head on. With baseball, it’s best that you don’t, unless you have something killer.
Did you ever see the one where the outfielder basically made his glove talk? I forget which player it was but there was a guy who was yelling at a player all game, so finally the player – he’s standing in the outfield – he puts his glove behind his butt and every time he talks he moves his glove like it’s a mouth, which is so defeating for the guy. So, everyone else in the crowd starts laughing at the heckler. That’s the way to beat a sports heckler.
The real key is you can’t get angry.
Another thing is how similar it is to be an up-and-coming comic and to be a minor league baseball player.
Constantly being in different towns, sleeping in unfamiliar places, not making that much money in the hopes that one day you will, tonnes of sacrifice. A couple people around you get promoted real quick and you can’t let that deter your confidence in yourself. There’s a lot of that stuff.
I used to have a podcast where I interviewed former players and that subject came up a lot. Those connections were pretty fun.
Were there any players that you’ve interacted with that you really didn’t like at all?
So, Roger Clemens is a bad person. I was the Yankees beat writer for a season. He is such a jerk that he won’t talk to any hitters on his team on the off chance that he becomes friends with one and then later one of them is traded and they have to face each other years later. He doesn’t want to become friends with them and lose his competitive edge.
There’s that rivalry aspect we were discussing earlier.
Yeah, he’s got a rivalry with his own team.
He wouldn’t talk to the press the day before or the day he pitched, so you only had him three out of five days.
The only time I ever saw him smile the entire year was when I asked him about golf. He’s just an unhappy person.
Also, I had a very fun moment with Albert Belle where it was right after one of his various “I’m not going to talk to the media” moments that he had. So, he’s sitting there in the Orioles locker room, he’s just wearing a jock strap and nothing else and eating a yogurt. That was bizarre enough. This was the first game I ever covered, by the way, and some reporter knowing full well that Belle wasn’t talking to the media just as a joke said, “Hey, Albert, can I get a quote about the game?” And Belle, in one motion, spoons some of the yogurt, lifts it up to his mouth, and gives the guy the finger. It was impressive.
What about baseball players or personalities that you like and get along with?
In terms of players that I like, C.J. Nitkowski – I’ve worked with him at Fox Sports and still keep in touch – is a total sweetheart of a guy.
Gregg Jefferies, who was my favourite player as a kid, is now a buddy of mine, which is crazy to me. He was teasing me, saying, “you never really liked me that much as a kid.” I found my Little League baseball card where it listed favourite player on the back and it said Gregg Jefferies. I said, “you need more proof?”
He was 19 years old when Sports Illustrated called him the next Mickey Mantle. What a detrimental thing to do to a human being.
He basically said he had no shot of making friends on his team. He came in to replace Wally Backman, who was a fan favourite and a team favourite. Here’s this choir boy from north California and he had no chance.
A lot of that was Sports Illustrated’s fault. When you heap expectations like that onto a child – and make no mistake, these men are children … when you meet the average 19 year old, do you think they’re mature? Now add a few million dollars to that and see if they can handle expectations.
I actually have a theory – I think the league should pay rookies in real estate. Give them half their salary in real estate. The money might not last and they don’t all know that.
You are coming to Yuk Yuk’s in Calgary on Feb. 22-23. Have you been to Calgary before and, if so, what was your experience here like?
Calgary was actually the first Canadian city I ever played in 2005.
One of the things I’m looking forward to is Alberta beef is some of the best beef in the world. I remember the first time I was there I had a hamburger at a pub and I was going on and on about how good it was and one of the other comics was like, “this is garbage, you have no idea.” Whenever I’m there I try to go out and get a good steak.
It’s off-season so I won’t be able to go to a game but I’m really fascinated by baseball outside of the United States. I love seeing baseball from around the world. I love the idea that you have a show and a website about baseball in Alberta.