Editor's Note: The following piece from Saint Louis FC midfielder and Pennsylvania native Austin Martz outlines his unlikely connection with teammate and San Diego product Jake Fenlason. Their upcoming collaboration, the "Outside the Box" podcast, is scheduled to debut as part of the From the Pitch series during Week 9 of the USL campaign.
They say once graduating from university, as an athlete, you’ll most likely never want to write again.
Despite the status quo, professional athletes quickly realize that once the morning training is over, an abundance of valuable time awaits.
To squander this opportunity would turn to regret in years to come, unless the time became a companion to be earnestly explored.
Some explore by reading, like my friend Jake Fenlason who has already read 65 books since January 1, 2018. Some, like myself, Austin Martz, explore by writing; keeping a journal everyday and frequently sending letters to friends and family.
With the combination of our affinity for reading and writing, Jake and I decided blogging would be the most effective way to share our interests as friends in addition to connecting with family, friends, and fans.
Plenty to Say, our blog, started when two guys who played for two consecutive teams together, became two great friends. Jake and I met last year in Orlando, Fla., sometime in February.
We’ve only known each other for a little more than a year; hard to believe, we know. Yet, what’s even harder to believe is that our blog had not manifested as an idea until roughly one month ago.
In Orlando, we frequently talked about podcasts discussing specific topics sparking our interests. For example, Radiolab talked about autonomous cars, plants that can be conditioned, even without a brain, and the dilemma of triage. Furthermore, Austin had started a blog in Malta, piecing together a few stories before returning to the states.
Unable to spend a lot of time together outside of soccer in Orlando, the idea for a blog was simply just that, a mere concept. Although, it’s important to admit, we weren’t necessarily convinced about each other.
Jake, originating from San Diego, Calif., tended to be a bit more introverted, not in terms of drawing into himself, but just choosing to be more observant. Jake would prefer to listen rather than speak. I, on the other hand, hail from Pennsylvania and have been told that I can come across as fast-paced off the field as I try to be on it. I know I speak frequently, although with decent insight (most times, interjects Jake), and often assume the role of planner, because I always need an itinerary for the day.
Outer appearances and personalities alone portray us as polar opposites! But that wouldn’t stop us from intentionally wanting to know one another. Nonetheless, Orlando was more about surviving ridiculously hot temperatures, while Austin was also planning for his wedding in the offseason. However, after realizing we shared many interests after all, we didn’t want the idea of a blog, or podcast, to lose breath or hope.
We always believed an audio version would promote the authenticity of our personalities because it’s unedited and raw, where as with a blog we can reflect and then write. Neither is “write” or wrong, both are preferred. Jake’s humor is short and sarcastic which plays well with a pod, and establishes the already noted dichotomy. Jake being from the west coast, demonstrates a relaxed chill vibe and I, being a Northeastern dweller, am always buzzing about, never sitting still.
Upon learning we’d be in another city together, the blog became a no brainer. St. Louis, surprised us as an upcoming, eclectic city full of tremendous culture, and offers a plethora of activities for us to delve into.
We were thrilled to receive a call from the USL about wanting us to lead a podcast that would aim to promote stories about players and their journeys beyond the pitch.
Yes would be the only acceptable and reasonable answer!
This theme of athlete blogging and podcasting has been growing in recent years, so we’d be bummed to miss the movement.
In the last few years, we’ve noticed the rise of The Players’ Tribune and LeBron’s Uninterrupted. Lesser known, The Athlete Story was started by former MLS and USL player, and current analyst, Bobby Warshaw, we believe just slightly before The Players’ Tribune (yes we’re still a bit bitter, maybe).
Being from the same hometown as Bobby and growing up as good friends, I became an advocate for Warshaw’s project and often offered a story of my own to try to provoke relatable conversations.
Because here’s the truth; more than being professional athletes who are gifted in sport, we desire relatability and connection to each other and those who engage with us on social media or through off-field interactions.
We’re people too, who long for outsiders to understand our circumstances through small moments of vulnerability. This is why The Players’ Tribune and Uninterrupted are vital to the promotion of this ability to relate. Narratives from primary sources are allowing other professionals, family, friends, and fans to feel encouraged, motivated, and inspired. Those going through a storm, a physical ailment, or a drought in their season can be reminded that other players experience struggle too.
Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, explored the concepts of shame, guilt, vulnerability and empathy in her TED talk. During her speech, Brown states that the two most powerful words when we’re in a struggle are “Me Too.”
We all need this, and we all need a platform to let our voices and personal anecdotes be exposed. It’s beneficial for everyone involved!
As mentioned above, in contributing to this idea of exposure, we created the blog!
The blog allows us to relate to our followers through our discussion of local coffee shops, breweries, books we are reading, and our road trip scenes. However, we find it imperative to see outside of ourselves. Introducing the podcast allows us to hear unique stories about other players around the league. In researching their backgrounds and asking questions, we will naturally grow in our care for other people around the league! The podcast will allow us to mediate a conversation, while putting others’ interests first, and thinking of ourselves less often. We see this as an opportunity to give back to those who give us so much of their time and commitment, supporting our seasons through thick and thin.
This isn’t for us individually, it’s for all of us, and we are thrilled at the opportunity to bring this to you, the fans. Don’t hesitate, come alongside us so we can all learn collectively.