Archive for October, 2007

Floor your readers with amazing stories

October 30, 2007

Columnists are reporters with an opinion. The best columnists are also keen observers, precise writers, and excellent storytellers. Frequently, we forget that readers love stories. But that is difficult to do in 13 inches or 400 words. We need to expand columns on days when a writer finds a terrific story.

Columnists frequently write opinion pieces, offer notes, or playfully address an issue, but how frequently do columnists tell stories to get their points across? Not enough. That’s why reading pieces by a great writer like Bill Plaschke is a treat. Plaschke’s piece — “Floored” — is among the best column I’ve read in some time.

“Floored” is an amazing story, a column that might have fallen through the cracks had Plaschke not also been a curious observer and a diligent reporter. Ultimately, the column succeeds because Plaschke is an excellent storyteller. Readers love a good mystery, something he clearly understands. Consider the opening:

The name is in giant cardinal letters, stripped across two sides of the new basketball court in this city’s new basketball treasure, the signature on USC’s signature arena.

It will be stepped upon by generations of Trojans basketball players.

It will be seen by millions of Galen Center fans.

Yet it is cloaked in mystery.

Jim Sterkel Court.

“Are you sure?” asks his wife, Joanne Sterkel. “His name is on what?”

Plaschke starts with a simple detail and then pulls us in with the idea of a mystery before adding an intriguing detail — that Sterkel’s wife is shocked. Hmmm. How does his wife not know something major like this? What else doesn’t she know? Tell me more.

Plaschke keeps the story rolling by focusing on conflict at several points. There is the sad moment when Sterkel finds out he has cancer. Then, readers learn that the anonymous donor’s son is also dying. The reader, of course, will want to read further to learn the outcome in both situations

When Sterkel first noticed a lump in his testicles, he told Anonymous, who immediately drove him to the doctor for the beginning of his long and fatal relationship with cancer.

While Sterkel was dying, Anonymous’ young son also contracted cancer. Sterkel wrote Anonymous a poem, sealed it, and ordered it only to be read if Anonymous’ son died.

Plaschke also writes wonderfully, varying sentences as needed. He uses short, staccato sentences to re-emphasize points in longer sentences. He then counters with longer sentences that pack a lot of information within them.

After their senior years, the roommates set upon vastly different courses of life, but never strayed too far.

There’s also this nice passage that summarizes the opening scene:

Anonymous became a business tycoon, while Sterkel became a suburban salesman and church leader, yet they still met for family dinners, fishing trips and pep talks on the phone.

Sterkel was the kind of guy who didn’t smoke, didn’t swear, and would lead his church in services and on its basketball courts.

He was the kind of guy neighbors phoned if they needed a television fixed or pipe unclogged. Giant and bespectacled and always smiling, he was the kind of guy who hugged everyone.

He also says much in the following sentence, a 22-word line of poetry. (Notice, also, how the second shorter sentence leaps out in comparison to its lengthier neighbor.)

A most amazing story in this city of stars, a sports centerpiece decorated in average, laced in ordinary, painted in a nobody.

Or was he?

Plaschke is also a tenacious reporter. He uncovers the name of the anonymous donor but does not reveal it to readers, knowing that detail is unnecessary to the telling of the tale. Just because we know something does not mean we should publish it. Consider how your words impact others. Plaschke speaks with many sources, everybody from Jim Sterkel’s wife and daughter to a former teammate to USC’s athletic director to Anonymous. He digs in to learn as many details about this story as possible from these people.

After so much work, Plaschke then tells an amazing story of friendship, dedication, and selflessness. It’s a lovely story, one that sticks in one’s mind (and heart) for a long time — and one worth emulating.

-30-

Satire can result in a swing and a miss

October 29, 2007


Part of my mission is to try and educate. Part of my job is to model activity — in this case writing a column with a strong opinion. Perhaps, I failed in that mission. At least that’s how it appears if you read the comments to my previous blog (below). Nearly every single writer said they did not get the satire, which either means that readers failed to understand it, or that I failed to present it properly. Since no one is defending the post, I can only assume I struck out.

I had thought the reasons I offered in the column would clearly shine through as ridiculous. But I guess there are many ridiculous notions presented on the Internet. I had assumed everybody thought like me — that binge drinking in college is stupid, that missing class is a losing proposition, that athletes should be held accountable, and that drinking and driving is as deadly and stupid as it gets. That’s why, for example, I made the statement below. Who else but the student would be to blame?

After all, it wasn’t the player’s fault that he had inadvertently been arrested twice for driving under the influence of intoxicants.

Based upon comments, though, I found most readers do agree with me on this, thus the comments. What happened is they did not connect with me, a relationship that requires more time. The regular readers of this blog understood what I wrote; first-timers did not. Part of a columnist’s success is this connection with readers. Those who know me understand that I believe in accountability and that drunk drivers should be sentenced harshly. They appreciated the posting. Many others, though, did not. That, of course, is not always the reader’s fault.

I also assumed readers would see through the rather shallow argument below, where I cited alcohol stats to reveal how deadly DUII can be. I had hoped people would understand that driving while intoxicated is a deadly, stupid thing. That’s why I did the research.

It’s not like Luke was one of the 16,885 people who died in alcohol-related driving fatalities in 2005. He had not slammed into anyone, thus he had not added to the 254,000 people who get injured from crashes involving alcohol. One person may be injured every two minutes, and killed another 31, but that’s not Luke’s fault. He would have arrived home safely. So why would a columnist, a person who is supposed to comfort the afflicted, attack this young man? A person with a blood alcohol level of .08 is 11 times more likely to get in an accident than someone who is sober, but that number can’t possibly include athletes with lightning-quick reflexes like Luke. Give this kid a friggin’ break.

Again, this must have been a swing and a whiff.

Finally, I believe the media’s role is to vigilantly watch public institutions, not allow them to blindly do as they please.

I can’t imagine why journalists go to the trouble of writing about misappropriation of funds, illegal defense contracts, rapes that go unreported, and alcohol infractions from young men. It’s not like it will make a difference. People will only get angry.

A columnist’s role is also to get people to react to an issue so some change of mind or policy or action will take place. In this case, I wrote to change perceptions about two things — a tacit approval for drinking while intoxicated and continued attacks on journalists who are trying to reveal illegal, unethical behavior. I had thought satire would be the best manner in which to do this. Apparently, I was incorrect. I had sent a note to John Canzano last night, linking to this story, and to thank him for his excellent work. He understood my column (even seemed to appreciate it), so I felt good about posting it here.

I learned a great deal from writing this column, something I can use to help teach others. One lesson: we can all swing and miss once in a while.

The other lesson: Decorum is gone when one can post comments anonymously. Forget about decorum and forget about disclosure. Instead, many people prefer to call names, wish for the worst, and offer other mean-spirited suggestions without citing their names. It’s easy to attack when nobody knows your name. I appreciated the comments where someone offered more reasoned, careful explanations, pointing out where I had failed. That’s something I can learn from. But I guess this vitriol is something sports columnists face every day. This is yet another reason why I appreciate and respect those that carry on each day despite such attacks. That’s another reason I respect John Canzano.
-30-

Let’s protect players from selfish columnists

October 29, 2007

John Canzano is a selfish journalist, a man who is more concerned about good copy than in doing what is right.

He’d rather publicly embarrass a young kid in order to get a great column than let the University of Oregon deal with the situation. Canzano also rips into this poor player’s mother for running to his defense. Is that how a columnist is supposed to act, betraying a school he is charged to cover and, subsequently, causing intense scrutiny for a family?

After all, it wasn’t the player’s fault that he had inadvertently been arrested twice for driving under the influence of intoxicants. It happens. It’s college. Kids drink. They drive. They miss classes with hangovers. Remember? Good times.

Plus, universities know how to deal with this. A month ago, Oregon suspended a receiver indefinitely for what it called a ‘violation of team rules.’ The university has also suspended two basketball players over the past two seasons. Even the mascot, a duck, could not escape punishment after a fight with a Houston Cougars mascot. Oregon is not afraid to do what’s right.

Canzano should have known the university would have suspended Luke Bellotti had this been a major violation. That he is the coach’s son is irrelevant. Sure, the team may have altered the truth (with fingers crossed) when it said Luke missed fall football for a ‘digestive illness,’ which probably was not entirely incorrect. How else would you expect this young man to feel with a second DUII case pending? Agida city, baby.

Let’s re-set the situation here:

Luke Bellotti, a part-time kicker for Oregon’s football team, pleaded guilty earlier this month to driving under the influence of intoxicants. Luke, whose dad is Ducks’ head coach Mike Bellotti, had been arrested in February. This was Luke’s second conviction, something the team kept quiet, knowing it is better to protect these young kids from an evil media contingent. (You can now see what happens when journalists learn about a slight lapse in judgment. Kids will be kids, you know. Let them learn – privately – from their mistakes.)

It’s not like Luke was one of the 16,885 people who died in alcohol-related driving fatalities in 2005. He had not slammed into anyone, thus he had not added to the 254,000 people who get injured from crashes involving alcohol. One person may be injured every two minutes, and killed another 31, but that’s not Luke’s fault. He would have arrived home safely. So why would a columnist, a person who is supposed to comfort the afflicted, attack this young man? A person with a blood alcohol level of .08 is 11 times more likely to get in an accident than someone who is sober, but that number can’t possibly include athletes with lightning-quick reflexes like Luke. Give this kid a friggin’ break.

So Luke’s mom rushes to her son’s defense by chastising Canzano, tapping him on the shoulder during a game last Saturday and mustering just enough strength to explain how his column had hurt her family. Apparently, she had been so intimidated by Mr. Canzano that she needed to take a drink or two before entering the press box. And you can imagine how hard that must have been after her son’s embarrassing misadventures. She managed to blurt out: “You’ve dragged our family through so much hurt and pain…” That’s the kind of courage one expects from a devoted mother.

So what does this columnist do? Oh, he couldn’t resist. Canzano decided to be the story, smugly recounting this private exchange and characterizing her comments as a hissy fit, which, of course, tarnished one of the biggest victories Oregon has had in decades. Now all the attention is on John, Luke, and his mom. (Did I mention she was so shaken that she even brought her children into the press box where Canzano was supposed to write about the Ducks’ win over Southern Cal?) Instead, he wrote the following post on a blog that has circulated across the country, from the New York Times to Deadspin.

She leaned in, grabbed by my suit lapel, and lit into me with a string of expletives, asking me if I have children, and telling me, “This is going to come back on you tenfold.” And she threatened to slap me, which I thought was not such a nice example to set in front of the kiddies.
I told her that it played especially poorly to me that she would approach me in the press box, with a strong smell of alcohol on her breath, hissing and spitting mad, talking to me about alcohol abuse.

Canzano is clearly a callous man. You can tell this by reading another story where he ‘outs’ a family that has trouble making ends meet. Dad just can’t cut it.

“His name is Jason Taylor. He’s 29. He has three perfect children – a boy and two girls, ages 5 to 11. Six months ago, he was laid off from his job manufacturing airplane parts. After that, he was forced to sell his house to avoid a foreclosure.”

We also find out the kids have to pick out ants from cereal, are forced to ride along late at night while Jason delivers newspapers, and that the family was on food stamps. This dad even hides in the closet to cry. Talk about public embarrassment. But Canzano did not give a damn. It was good copy, not social commentary on spoiled, selfish Blazers fans.

I can’t imagine why journalists go to the trouble of writing about misappropriation of funds, illegal defense contracts, rapes that go unreported, and alcohol infractions from young men. It’s not like it will make a difference. People will only get angry. Commentors on Canzano’s blog, like RushDuck, are trying to correct him: “This is National Enquirer material here! The great head football coach conspiracy of trying to keep private matters private.” Duck99pdx wonders: “If nobody got killed when Luke Bellotti was drinking and driving, I don’t see what the big deal is. No harm, no foul.” We all know it’s columnists who really cause problems, not the people they write about, something that is clear to Bbroich: “Are you nuts? It’s attitudes like yours that gets countless people killed every year. You need to grow up.”

We all need to act more maturely. Let’s let government do its job without any interference from columnists, reporters, or citizen advocates. Let’s let universities decide how to deal with unruly kids who rape or attack one another. Let’s let athletic departments decide what’s best for their players. I’m sure none of these institutions would ever abuse this power. Wouldn’t you agree? Let journalists investigate more important matters like Paris Hilton’s driving adventures and whether Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have split (or reconciled?) That’s what we need for a more informed citizenry, not some story about an alcohol-related arrest or a cover-up at a state university. Where’s the fun in that?

-30-

Broadcaster offers ways to improve radio (and print) coverage

October 28, 2007

Listeners hate it when announcers fail to offer the score during radio broadcasts. They also hate when announcers predict plays, act like homers, and forget to offer the time left in a game. That’s what veteran broadcaster Warren Kozireski told college students at a national college journalism conference in Washington, D.C., on Saturday.

That was clear to me this afternoon as I listened to a Bears-Lions game. The Bears announcers told me the game was a shut out (but not who was being shut out) and that the Lions were trying to get three points before the end of the half. Five minutes passed before I heard a score – and a full minute after Jason Hanson kicked a field goal to put the Lions ahead 13-0. I thought I would have to sit in a car at the Arthur Pumpkin Patch while my daughters trampled fields filled with gourds. Fortunately, that catastrophe was averted when the Bears announcers finally ceded that the Lions were winning.

As a print journalist, I have rarely given sports broadcasters their due. Through the years, though, I have gained more respect for radio broadcasting. After Saturday, I admire the work of hard-working radio broadcasters even more. Kozireski revealed the challenges to broadcasting a sporting event. He outlined several areas where sports broadcasters can improve. As I listened, I realized these tips are just as relevant for print reporters. Check out his main suggestions below:

Offer time and score frequently. “That is the number one complaint,” said Kozireski, who is also the general manager for a radio station in Brockport, N.Y. “The time and score’s always there on TV. Then you go over to radio and what happens? You hope somebody slips in the score once in a while.” The key is to have a system, some way that reminds announcers to add these key elements. There is no single way to do this. In baseball and softball, for example, some announcers offer the score after every batter, while others offer it after the second out in the inning. Some offer it every three minutes, using an egg timer. “I still witness them in booths all the time,” Kozireski said. Announcers also need to reveal who is leading and the exact time left in a game. For example, announcers should not just say that 5:18 is left in a game; rather they should also give the reference point to those just checking in (saying the 5:18 is left in the second quarter or first half, for example.)

Know the team rosters. Make sure you know the names and numbers of key players. Saying that a pass has been completed to No. 48 (even if you add the name after a brief glimpse at the roster) reveals you did not do your homework. “The moment 48 catches the ball, you need to know the name,” Kozireski said. You should study the key players first. In football, that means the quarterback, running backs, and receivers. In hockey or basketball, that may mean studying the leading scorers. These are the players who will touch the ball, or puck, most frequently. Always make sure the numbers are correct by asking team managers and assistant coaches to verify them.

Don’t predict. That means saying what has happened, not what is going to happen (even if it appears obvious.) Don’t say that a quarterback is going to pass or that a running back is going to get a first down as he runs. Instead, say that a quarterback is in the pocket and that a running back got a first down. Says Kozireski: “Your job is to report.”

Don’t be a homer. Some broadcasters still argue that outwardly rooting for the home team is a good thing. One student in Saturday’s session claimed 90 percent of his listeners rooted for the college team. But not all fans are rooting for the home town, and many want a more evenly balanced report, regardless. That’s why I watch White Sox games with the sound off because I cannot stand Hawk Harrelson’s blatant one-sided view of the game: “C’mon Big Daddy!” “He gone!” (I wish he were.) If a player from the home team makes a mistake, announcers must describe the play correctly, even if they believe some viewers will get upset. “In one game, I said a player muffed a punt,” Kozireski said. “His mom called to complain. I asked, ‘How would you like me to describe it?'” It went through his arms and bounced away. But she is clearly biased.” Being a homer can also hinder one’s career. Networks are not interested in biased announcers on national broadcasts where there are no home teams. Be more like Gus Johnson, who is excited about key plays, regardless which basketball team makes them.

Read books on sports broadcasting. Read Josh Lewin’s Getting In The Game, Marv Albert’s Yesss, and Dan Patrick’s The Big Show — all of which offer tips, suggestions, and insights into the profession.

Drink lots of water. Not Red Bull, Gatorade, or vitamin water. Milk is the worst thing because it coats the throat. “By the third period of a hockey game, your throat is rough,” Kozireski said. “If the games goes into overtime, you can be in trouble.” For sore throats on game day, drink hot tea with lemon.

If you are an analyst, shut up! Give the play-by-play announcer time to do his job. The game is not about you. Also, analysts need to do their homework so they know as much as possible about the teams and players. Plus, analysts should not follow the ball. That’s the play-by-play announcer’s job. Instead, look at other parts of the field or rink. And do not be a Monday morning quarterback, saying what a player or coach should have done; instead, offer your suggestions before plays.

Here are a few other brief suggestions:

■ Don’t pigeonhole yourself to a single sport.
■ Avoid jargon, translating a sport’s terminology.
■ Sit down and talk with coaches to learn the game better.
■ Dress the part. Keep those worn jeans and torn t-shirts in the dresser. Dress professionally to be treated as such.

-30-

Online skills are essential

October 23, 2007

No matter where you’re working or taking classes, I hope you’re working on some online skills as well. There continues to be great debate whether print publications are doomed. A former writer for the New York Times argues that print publications will fade away like parchment, typewriters and, perhaps, CDs. Digital is the future, this writer claims. Even books and magazines will die off in time, Adam Penenberg writes, eventually turning into artifacts that are either sold on eBay or tossed into land fills.

I’m not so sure that newspapers will suffer such a swift burial, but print publications are definitely hurting so much that online readership will be counted in the next Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) reports, which should be announced in the next few weeks. The Audit Bureau, which is the primary circulation audit group in the United States, will not just publish paid print circulation in its biannual reports. Instead, the ABC will combine print and online numbers, probably in order to soften a steady drop in print circulation. No surprise: More and more readers are headed online. But, many are headed to newspapers’ online editions. Newspapers remain the most credible news sources.

Sports readers are probably even more active than the average reader, constantly looking for scores, results, and commentary about their favorite teams. Fans will even follow games online through blogs. Sports readers also love to react to one another, something that is clear when you check comments below stories. Tonight, nearly 400 readers posted comments on a brief NFL story at Deadspin. That number of responses would make any newspaper editor envious.

So what does this mean for sports journalism, where online sites like CBSsportsline, ESPN, and Deadspin already publish scores, commentary and news independent of a print publication? That means more opportunities for writers who have learned how to write for this new audience, for readers who expect quick takes, concise writing, strong opinions, and interactive content. That means you better learn how to link to related content, how to add video and audio, and how to file quickly. Clearly, those with strong journalism skills (reporting, interviewing, observing) will do much better than most bloggers, although there will always be room for witty, engaging writers like Bill Simmons and Will Leitch.

Don’t abandon your print publications just yet, though. There is much to be learned from this experience — and print publications remain the most significant sources of news. (Even Leitch, the founder and key editor for Deadspin, said writing his regular column for the New York Times gives him an extra thrill.) Just don’t limit yourself to writing for print editions. Collect some audio, find related stories so you can link to them off your online stories, and write glogs (live game blogs) for live events on days when you do not print. And, of course, read as much as you can, whether that is picking up the Best Sportswriting series, reading excellent sports journalists, or checking out sports blogs and websites.

You can start slowly, perhaps by writing a weekly sports blog for your school’s online publication, something that is especially helpful for weekly newspapers where sports news can age rapidly. You might even want to start your own sports blog on a local sports team if you do not write for a school publication. Keep evaluating your own work, and ask others to offer criticism. Learn the basics, hone your skills and take some chances. And, most of all, have some fun along the way. After all, this is sports we’re writing about.

-30-

ESPN has bias for ratings, not East Coast

October 21, 2007

Last night someone told me, “I’m sick of the Yankees and Red Sox. They’re always on TV.” He then pulled out the East Coast bias card, saying the Midwest and West Coast do not get their proper respect.

We talked primarily about baseball, this being playoffs season and he being a disgruntled Cubs fan. He said all he sees are Yankees and Red Sox games. I said that’s because ESPN is more worried about ratings than judiciously spreading its Sunday Night Baseball Games among all 30 teams. “That’s not fair,” he said. But that’s just smart business for a company trying to make money. Newspapers make these decisions all the time, which is why regional newspapers cover their local teams more than national teams. That sells papers.

Don’t mistake entertainment for journalism. Like other networks, ESPN wants to make money. Networks spend a great deal of money to get broadcast rights, so they want to earn that money back. That’s why you did not see the small-market Devil Rays and Royals play. Ratings would be abysmal, something advertisers would not like.

There’s not doubt there is a certain degree of East Coast bias in some coverage, in part because a higher percentage of people live there and in part because of the time difference. East Coast viewers are not as willing to stay up late to watch 10 p.m. baseball, football, and basketball games. But, clearly, teams like Southern Cal (in football) and the Los Angeles Dodgers get respect when they succeed (although not as much, perhaps, as if they played East.)

But let’s look at one small aspect of this bias argument. I decided to check ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball schedule from this past season to see if these claims are true. Not surprisingly, the Yankees, Mets and Red Sox were among the teams who appeared the most. But they trailed the Cardinals, who appeared six times. The Tigers and Braves, though, matched the five appearances by the Yankees and Mets. The Red Sox appeared just as frequently as the Cubs (four times), followed by the Angels and Phillies at three apiece. The Dodgers, Twins, Indians and Rangers each appeared twice, while the Padres, Giants and Astros appeared once.

West Coast teams like the Mariners and A’s never appeared, but nor did the Orioles, Devil Rays or Nationals. The Rockies and Diamondbacks were also shut out from Sunday Night Baseball, but so were the Pirates, White Sox, Reds, and Marlins. In most instances, this is because the teams played poorly. But you can also see that many of these teams play in smaller markets, something that affects Major League Baseball teams that do not have the resources to compete with big-market teams. Major League Baseball does not share revenue, unlike the National Football League, where the tiny market Packers can compete much easier with the Giants, Bears and Cowboys.

I’m not sure whether ESPN, or any other sports media, has a bias toward a coast. You can bet Duke-North Carolina basketball games will always be shown nationally, as will Southern Cal-UCLA in football, and the Yankees-Red Sox in baseball. These teams have national profiles and storied histories, meaning viewers are more inclined to watch them play. That’s not journalism; that’s just smart business.

-30-

‘Scoring from Second’ shows baseball is more than a game

October 18, 2007

This review was originally published in the Charleston Times-Courier.

Summer is already a distant memory. Days are shorter. Scraps of corn and soy are scattered across harvested fields. And baseball season has just ended.

For most of us, baseball really ended decades ago when we learned we were not talented enough to play at the college or professional levels. That’s tough to accept after so much time spent tossing wicked curves to our friends, ripping mammoth homers, and diving for line drives Brooks Robinson would have been envious to catch.

Sure, we knew better, but we loved the game — the smell of worn, leather gloves pressed against our faces, the sweet smell of newly mown outfield grass, and the rough feel of a wooden bat, knowing it possessed all kinds of magical possibilities.

More than 30 accomplished writers explore their own relationship with the sport in “Scoring from Second: Writers on Baseball,” a book edited by Phil Deaver, a man who once shagged balls and snared line drives as a kid in Tuscola.

These writers reveal that baseball does not enchant everybody. Instead, it taunts overweight, uncoordinated kids and pressures talented kids to the brink of suicide. Baseball also helps one deal with heartache, despair and death.

No sport affects us like baseball — at least, lyrically. Football may be about war and punishment, and basketball may be about power and style. But they lack the familial intimacy of baseball, a sports that connects fathers, mothers, sons, daughters and grandparents. “Scoring from Second” explores the reasons for this.

For example, baseball taught Jocelyn Bartkevicus to deal with life, and it taught her stepson to deal with death. Cancer, which had already ravaged the writer’s family, poised to attack a tiny 5-year-old boy who was more interested in chasing ice creak trucks than fly balls.

“Chris played right field, where we used to put the deaf girl when I coached my sister’s softball team,” she writes. “Out there, a kid gets bored. Chris stared up at the clouds, down at blades of grass, over at his elementary school. He put his hat on sideways, then backward. He threw it up in the air.”

Jocelyn and her son relied on baseball to help endure the roughest times.

Baseball taught Susan Perabo that baseball is not only for boys. Like several other writers, Susan refused to yield to this macho attitude. Instead, she fought to play baseball years before Title IX attempted to even the playing field for young women.

Eventually, she earned a chance to play a season for Webster University in St. Louis.

“There was a little bit of sun left in the sky and we had nowhere better to be,” she writes. “The thing is — the thing I see so clearly now — was that on that cool evening there simply was nowhere better to be, nowhere better than a baseball field, shagging flies in the outfield with my teammates, my friends and I playing simply for the love of it.”

This is a book even non-baseball fans can appreciate. Sure, the book has its share of lyricism — “baseball is as beautiful and irresistible and as irreversible as a first kiss.” But this book is not an ode to baseball as much as it is an exploration into the lives of people who happened to play the game wherever they could — in sandlots, back yards and on organized teams.

In the end, these writers realize baseball is just a game, like life, where the rules may seem a little clearer but the final score is never certain.

-30-

‘Scoring from Second’ shows baseball is more than a game

October 18, 2007

Summer is already a distant memory. Days are shorter. Scraps of corn and soy are scattered across harvested fields. And baseball season has just ended.

For most of us, baseball really ended decades ago when we learned we were not talented enough to play at the college or professional levels. That’s tough to accept after so much time spent tossing wicked curves to our friends, ripping mammoth homers, and diving for line drives Brooks Robinson would have been envious to catch.

Sure, we knew better, but we loved the game — the smell of worn, leather gloves pressed against our faces, the sweet smell of newly mown outfield grass, and the rough feel of a wooden bat, knowing it possessed all kinds of magical possibilities.

More than 30 accomplished writers explore their own relationship with the sport in “Scoring from Second: Writers on Baseball,” a book edited by Phil Deaver, a man who once shagged balls and snared line drives as a kid in Tuscola.

These writers reveal that baseball does not enchant everybody. Instead, it taunts overweight, uncoordinated kids and pressures talented kids to the brink of suicide. Baseball also helps one deal with heartache, despair and death.

No sport affects us like baseball — at least, lyrically. Football may be about war and punishment, and basketball may be about power and style. But they lack the familial intimacy of baseball, a sports that connects fathers, mothers, sons, daughters and grandparents. “Scoring from Second” explores the reasons for this.

For example, baseball taught Jocelyn Bartkevicus to deal with life, and it taught her stepson to deal with death. Cancer, which had already ravaged the writer’s family, poised to attack a tiny 5-year-old boy who was more interested in chasing ice creak trucks than fly balls.

“Chris played right field, where we used to put the deaf girl when I coached my sister’s softball team,” she writes. “Out there, a kid gets bored. Chris stared up at the clouds, down at blades of grass, over at his elementary school. He put his hat on sideways, then backward. He threw it up in the air.”

Jocelyn and her son relied on baseball to help endure the roughest times.

Baseball taught Susan Perabo that baseball is not only for boys. Like several other writers, Susan refused to yield to this macho attitude. Instead, she fought to play baseball years before Title IX attempted to even the playing field for young women.

Eventually, she earned a chance to play a season for Webster University in St. Louis.

“There was a little bit of sun left in the sky and we had nowhere better to be,” she writes. “The thing is — the thing I see so clearly now — was that on that cool evening there simply was nowhere better to be, nowhere better than a baseball field, shagging flies in the outfield with my teammates, my friends and I playing simply for the love of it.”

This is a book even non-baseball fans can appreciate. Sure, the book has its share of lyricism — “baseball is as beautiful and irresistible and as irreversible as a first kiss.” But this book is not an ode to baseball as much as it is an exploration into the lives of people who happened to play the game wherever they could — in sandlots, back yards and on organized teams.

In the end, these writers realize baseball is just a game, like life, where the rules may seem a little clearer but the final score is never certain.

This review was originally published in the Charleston Times-Courier.
-30-

Let’s show some restraint

October 16, 2007

I’m always embarrassed when I read stories like this:

Along with the groundswell of support from his players and opponents alike, attention paid to Torre has seemed suffocating. Newspaper photographers and TV camera people have been a persistent presence on Torre’s front lawn and driveway this week.

“In the postgame Monday, Joe said there’s always a vigil on his front lawn every year and he asked this year if they could respect his privacy,” Jason Zillo, the Yankees’ director of media relations, said.

The media are camped outside yet another person’s home in order to get the ‘big story.’ And that is? Joe Torre, or someone else, walking to their car? The family dog relieving himself on the lawn? Perhaps, these reporters expect to get Torre to reveal secrets to the people pestering him.

Reporters need to be persistent, enterprising and thorough. This is neither. Instead, these ‘journalists’ are being rude, cliche and superficial. If reporters want to know whether Torre has been fired, they can do several things — wait for the press conference or wait for a call from Torre, his agent, or the Yankees management. The work to get this story started many months (and years) ago, when the team’s beat reporters arrived for spring training. The reporters who have diligently covered the team the past several seasons are going to get this story first, not the unimaginative, pesky reporters on Torre’s lawn. (Besides, the municipal market has proven that Torre will return.) Show some restraint and go back to the office. I’m sure this time can be spent doing more thorough reporting than sitting outside someone’s house. Sheesh.
-30-

Send in your most hated sports phrases

October 15, 2007

I am putting together a list of sports phrases, words and terms that need to be deleted in sports reporting and could use your help, especially if you are an editor, writer or teacher. So far, I have a slew of cliches (giving it their all), unnecessary phrases (The Wildcats found the end zone again), and unnecessary repetitions (a 23-0 shutout). Send me the words, phrases and terms you typically cross out, delete or that cause you to scream. You can post them below or email them to me at jgisondi@gmail.com. Thanks.

-30-