"Baseball, gentlemen, baseball"

The title for this entry comes from the late great New York sports columnist Jimmy Cannon. He was admonishing a group of sportswriters in a major league press box on a late-season Saturday afternoon for checking out the college football scores.

Cannon was right. Baseball demands your attention, which is why I enjoy covering it each summer for The Charlotte Observer and other papers. Every game is different and it’s never hard to find a story.

(Someone once asked another great sports writer, Pulitzer-Prize winner Red Smith, if all the games ever started looking alike to him. “They’re only alike to small minds,” he replied.)

As someone who tends to be a creature of habit, I also like the rhythm and pace of the sport. I cover the Charlotte Knights (http://www.charlotteknights.com), a Class AAA affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, and the season is 144 games. Another notable quote, this one from former Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver: “This ain’t football. We do this every day.”

So while baseball players don’t like to lose any more than other athletes, a loss — or even a win — isn’t as big a self-contained event. There’s another game coming at you tomorrow.

Some folks who cover major league baseball say that the daily interaction this set up between the reporter and the players/managers creates a “familiarity breeds contempt” sort of situation, but I guess I’ve been lucky.

On the best days, I can take advantage of opportunties to learn more about the sport itself. And I have more opportunities than in other sports I cover to ask questions that aren’t about the game that just ended.

An example of this that didn’t make it into my story about the Knights game with the Ottawa Lynx on Friday night (http://www.charlotte.com/456/story/136216.html). I talked with Knights outfielder Ryan Sweeney about what he learned from a recent 15-game stay with the Chicago White Sox. I’m always interested in how players take being “sent down” and have seen lots of different reactions to demotion. Sweeney is a personable young man who seems to have a good perspective on it.

He told me he’s having to learn to adjust his swing, which led to the question of exactly what that meant. Sweeney is what is known in baseball as a “contact hitter” — one who usually concentrates on putting the ball in the play rather than going for home runs. He made the interesting point that coaches in Charlotte are working with him to “miss more” and take more risks with his swings.

“That means I might get fewer hits, but they’ll be bigger ones,” Sweeney said. “And to stay in the major leagues, you have to get big hits.”

It’s an insight that gives me something to write about in future games.

Other encounters can just educate me on some basic assumptions and ways of looking at the game. I asked Knights manager Marc Bombard about something baseball folks call situational hitting — what’s supposed to happen in specific scenarios like runners on first and third, two out. Do certain situations inherently have more pressure than others? (May seem like a dumb question, but like an attorney, sometimes you ask a question you think you know the answer to…)

“When you have runners on, it’s the other guy who has the pressure,” Bombard said. “The pitcher’s the one in trouble, not you.”

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About theoldperfessor

I'm a college professor, teaching journalism and public relations classes at a small private university, and a freelance writer.
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