The lawn on the Academic Quad on campus is starting to look like the fairways at Augusta National, a sure sign that graduation time is drawing near.
And as the school year ends, baseball season is cranking up. Every other spring there’s a brief intersection of these two worlds as I teach the Sports Reporting class at Wingate — I referenced this group of young people in my last post.
Just about all 19 of them have attended a Charlotte Knights minor league baseball game in the last week, each with an assignment to interview someone associated with the team, from the front office to a player or manager Chris Chambliss.
I hope they’ve absorbed at least one lesson from this experience, and that’s something I’ve long thought was important for sports reporters to remember. We’ve talked about how to cover big events — the NFL Panthers, NBA Bobcats or this week’s Quail Hollow PGA event here in Charlotte for example. But more often a sports journalist’s assignment is to make the routine or ordinary understandable and entertaining.
And Friday night’s game was as challenging as they come in that respect, at least for the first four innings, after which Norfolk led 2-0. Then the game reverted to a more typical Knights Stadium game, with home runs flying out of the park with rapidity.
Charlotte catcher Tyler Flowers hit the biggest one, a towering three-run shot to right field in the sixth, but the Tides made up for it with a wave of three bases-empty homers and eventually walked away with a 5-3 victory.
We went down to Chambliss’ office following the game. I wasn’t writing for The Charlotte Observer on this night, but I wanted the students to get a feel for what the give-and-take between manager and reporter is in a post-game situation. So I asked him a few questions about the game.
Then I turned it over to the class for their questions, and to their credit they took advantage of the opportunity.
“Can we ask you about something besides the game?” one asked, and Chambliss said that was OK with him.
They asked some insightful questions. One student had done his homework, and asked the former New York Yankees’ slugger what it was like to play for manager Billy Martin, as he had in the late 1970s.
Chambliss said that he had enjoyed that experience and — in answer to another question — had borrowed some elements of the feisty and volatile Martin’s style in his own managerial career.
“I don’t have that same kind of personality and I have to be me,” he said. “But one of the things I did take away was to treat people fairly but differently. You have to know who needs a kick in the butt and who needs a pat on the back.”
Another student asked a question that captured the minor league manager’s daily balancing act: “Is it more important to win games or develop players?”
Chambliss said that it was important to instill a winning attitude in players but the bottom line was that he was in the business of preparing players to play in the major leagues.
Being in the skill development business myself, I was pleased with the evening’s outcome. The students seemed to gain a little confidence in asking questions to total strangers in an unfamiliar environment, and as far as I could tell, they managed to take the encounters beyond the very superficial level at which most interviews are conducted.
It all reminded me of what I like best about being a college professor. On the good days — and most of them are good days — my students teach me just as much as I teach them, as long as I pay attention.
It was nice having them along.