Yesterday, as I sat down to watch the Red Sox and Pirates play at City of Palms, I discovered I had lost this ability almost completely. I would gasp at what turned out to be a fly-out, moan gullibly, "Oh, no," only to be surprised by an infielder easily gloving a line drive hit right to them.
Gradually, though, things began to warm up for me as I watched a profusely sweating Tim Wakefield build a lead of 7-0 in the first seven or so (Why does he wear that long-sleeved Under Armour tunic under his jersey even when it's mercilessly hot and humid outside? And is he allergic to sunscreen? Why does no one ask these important questions?) My eyes began to be able to follow a pitch's route, and I began to make my own judgements as to the home plate umpire's pitch calls (arguing vociferously, of course, whenever I felt he went against the Red Sox).
Realizations like this make me sometimes daydream about being a "real" sportswriter, like, say Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated, who spent a few weeks as a Toronto Blue Jay and wrote a lovely piece about it later.
Can I tell you? It is not enough for me to simply enjoy such a piece and say, "Good for Tom Verducci." I seethe with jealousy when I see someone being able to have such an experience, and then get paid to write about it. This is my dream. One I often feel frustrated about achieving.
I daydream sometimes about having the kind of access "real" sportswriters do; of being able to witness the players and the action of the game up close, at field level, in the clubhouse, at a press conference. When I read things like this:
I immediately realize the utter inadequacy of television to capture the power of a major league pitch. Halladay's fastball is angry, announcing its indignation with an audible hum that grows frighteningly loud as it approaches. His slider is even more evil because it presents itself in the clothing of a fastball but then, like a ball rolling down the street and falling into an open manhole, drops out of sight, down and away. His curveball bends more than an election-year politician.
I feel like I'm missing out on something vital, no matter how intensely I may follow the Sox as a fan.
And yet having been inside journalism, at least to some extent, for the past five or so years beginning in college, I know that these plum stories, these treasured experiences, come no more frequently for a sportswriter than they do for an insurance adjuster or a secretary or a freelance correspondent working on local news stories at night (not that I know anyone like that, of course)--that every career is marked with a few high points and otherwise fraught with the mundane.
I have also seen the very real way in which familiarity with a writer's beat--be it the East Overshoe Planning Board or a major sports team--breeds contempt. Want a good example of this? Just look at Ron Borges with the Patriots or Dan Shaughnessy with the Sox.
A little while ago, someone posted a job listing on the SGMB about a job for the summer doing scores for the PawSox. My first thought was, "that would be so much fun!" and my second thought was, "what would I then do for escape?"
It's like my history with music. I entered college as a music major and hightailed it, screaming, over to the English Department after my first semester. I was in love with music and performing in high school--and yet I was the most miserable music major you've ever seen. That semester made me realize the difference between a vocation and an avocation, and that some things you enjoy precisely because you do them as a vacation, an escape, an outlet. When they become your work, everything changes. Sometimes I think sportswriting would be like that.
Besides, how close do I really want to get? Do I really want to know that this or that guy slaps his wife around, this or that guy uses women on the road, or just that one of my potential heroes on the field is a useless asshole off of it?
Some things are an avocation. Sometimes a little ignorance is nice.
At the very end of the game, with a one-run cushion between the Sox and the Pirates, the dreaded Byung-Hyun Kim had the ball. Two men were on base, and there were two outs. He earned two strikes on his hitter (another refreshing aspect of not being a professional is that I have no obligation to tell you who exactly that hitter was) and the crowd grew noisy, attempting to urge Kim not to screw it up, just this once.
Kim promptly reared back and drilled said hitter in the back.
"CHRIST HE HIT HIM" my dad and I were yelling in that breathless, punctuation-less way we have, not so much hollering, really, as speaking very loudly and urgently about what is happening. "JESUS CHRIST HE HAD HIM AND THEN HE HIT HIM AND NOW THE BASES ARE LOADED AND OH JESUS"
It was exhilarating, an orgy of self-righteous contempt aimed toward the hapless figure of defeat Kim made on our screen, as Dave Wallace and Kelly Shoppach corralled him back onto the mound, attempting to salvage what they could of the team's efforts by calming him.
"THAT IS THE WORST POSSIBLE THING HE COULD HAVE DONE I DON'T BELIEVE IT GOD EVEN IF HE'D WALKED HIM IT WOULD'VE BEEN MORE DIGNIFIED THAN THAT I CANNOT FRIGGIN BELIEVE HE HIT THE FREAKIN GUY"
Calming ourselves was deliciously unnecessary. We were free at this moment to heap all our lives' frustrations onto B.K. Kim and his ineptitude, his inability to come through even in a spring-training game, I MEAN WHAT THE HELL!
Not something Tom Verducci gets to do very much anymore, I can promise you that.