Catching Curveballs: My Crash Courses in Sports Writing

Hey look at me I'm in a press box even though I don't actually work in press boxes.
Hey look at me I’m in a press box even though I don’t actually work in press boxes.

When I wasn’t making movie recommendations working behind the popcorn stand and fishbowl box office at the movie theater in my “start” as an entertainment journalist, I was getting some actual experience in sports writing and reporting for my high school newspaper. I loved going to games and getting some insights and perspectives from players and coaches. However, sports writing never crossed my mind again until I was forced to choose a journalism elective for my final semester of college. Sports Writing was the only doable option on the list. I can’t remember if I hated all the other options, if they couldn’t fit into my schedule, or if it was truly the only option available. But what fun that class was: Our instructor was some cool old guy named Bruce, who I think used to be a beat writer for the Oakland A’s. He brought in a bunch of guest speakers including Howard Bryant. I got to cover a high school soccer game and an SFSU girls’ basketball game, and one of our homework assignments was to write a column after the San Francisco Giants’ World Series win.

(Now that I think of it, it’s a miracle that I ever graduated college with a B average with the kind of curriculum I had. Why did I decide to write this introduction? So many terrible memories of all-nighters and crappy work coming back to me now!)

Truth be told, growing up, my favorite sections of the newspaper were the front page, local pages, and the Datebook. I looked at the Sporting Green and issues of Sports Illustrated once in a while, but never actually read them. And even though I watched and went to Giants games and events since ’04 (My most memorable one was Barry Bonds‘ last game), I will have to admit that it took them winning the World Series for me to actually follow Giants news—and even then, following it regularly didn’t happen till about the midway point of the 2011 season. How and why at that point and not at the very beginning of that season? I can’t even recall. But my social media feeds and Web and newspaper reading habits changed, and I started to notice the fine work the team’s beat writers were doing. It also implanted another bad career path idea in my head: What if I wanted to become a baseball writer?

Well, the idea is still running through my head but I highly doubt that I could ever be—mainly, because I enjoy the relaxation of being a fan of the sport and at least for now, I would rather read the stuff about it than be the one digging up all that info. I had the wonderful opportunity (Thanks to a Tweet I read from @themayorpete) on November 29 to see a few of our Giants beat writers (From Northwestern) at a panel presented by the Northwestern Club of the San Francisco Bay Area: Andrew Baggarly of Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, Tim Kawakami, and Mark Purdy—both of the San Jose Mercury News. In addition to talking about their times at Northwestern and gushing about fellow Northwestern alum George Kontos being on the World Championship team, they were in attendance to talk about the Golden State Warriors’ planned new stadium and discuss territorial rights to San Jose.

I guess they were there to talk about the Giants too.

Besides learning some fascinating tidbits about this magical season, I took away a couple of other things about covering baseball in general:

THE NO-DUH: Baggs said a sports journalist is not really supposed to root for or against the team they’re covering. Just cover compelling stories and don’t be a part of them. It makes perfect sense, and that’s definitely one reason why I could never realistically be on the Giants beat even though it seems like a dream job to travel with the team. I would probably be shattered on the floor if I had to write the story about the Melky Cabrera suspension. The danger of being biased or too emotionally attached has made me more convinced that I should have just applied for that PR position with the A’s last year. But maybe I’d be most well off if I just moved to Texas and covered the Houston Astros.

SOCIAL MEDIA CAN BITE YOU IN THE ASS: Speaking of Melky, if you followed the Giants beat, you may remember that Baggs was the first to report (via his Twitter) a positive drug test by Melky–a few weeks before he was officially suspended on August 15. Baggs revealed that he had originally heard about the result from a colleague with a connection to another connection (Yeah, sounds like one of those “he said, she said”‘s) outside of baseball. He had asked Melky about the test, but of course, to protect himself, he denied any wrongdoing. Though Baggs publicly apologized after the Tweet, he reiterated during the panel that he shouldn’t have Tweeted about it in the first place.

It’s an unfortunate incident (Although Baggs turned out to be right about it in the end), but it’s actually an excellent example of how journalism is changing. With social media apps at our fingertips, we can say just about anything and even if one person believes it, it will get around fast. The lesson learned is to avoid impulses, and always check all the facts first.

The “learning” part is actually over; now, for some fun stuff!

  • Kawakami said one of his favorite stories to cover during the postseason was Game 1 of the World Series, where Barry Zito bested Justin Verlander and was backed up Tim Lincecum in the reliever role. He said that the two had a great dynamic all season long, seen together a lot at spring training and during practices, and Lincecum was at his happiest in post-game interviews when talking about how well the two worked together.
  • When asked about which of the team members was seen as a leader (Besides obvious choices Buster Posey and Matt Cain), Baggs pointed out Ryan Theriot, who he compared to Pat Burrell in terms of the 2010 clubhouse presence. Hearing that made me even more sad that Theriot couldn’t be at the victory parade (He was not present due to a family emergency). Another name that came up was Marco Scutaro, which may or may not be an obvious choice with his incredible on-field contributions, but it was interesting because Baggs said that Scutaro would pick up Hunter Pence‘s pre-game speeches when he came to a stopping point. Kawakami even added his opinion that Pence’s speeches may not have had the effect they had without Scutaro’s presence.

I enjoyed hearing bits about the beat writer life from some of the folks who know and do it best, as well as more of the stories about the 2012 San Francisco Giants. I can’t say I’m quite swayed towards being a sports journalist yet, but I love how these kinds of talks enrich my mind. I will continue to explore the possibilities.

Photo credit: Me, 2008
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