DigBoston sent me to TD Garden Monday night to cover the Beanpot, Boston’s 60-year-old hockey tournament between BU, BC, Harvard and Northeastern. The premise seemed similar to the Futures at Fenway event I covered for WEEI over the summer – lower-tier athletes (minor leaguers/college hockey players) competing at their sport’s professional-level stage in Boston.
I loved my Fenway Park experience, feeling strong camaraderie with the other reporters there, so I figured my TD Garden experience would be equally positive. But from the moment I grabbed my press pass at the check-in table, I realized something was amiss.
I wasn’t a sports journalist in the same way NESN’s Tom Caron (who walked into the press room right behind me) was. For one, most of them were getting paid (so far, DigBoston pays me in bar tabs).
I also wasn’t writing for a student paper, nor was I part of a school’s sports information department. My story wouldn’t be one of the one-sided, positives-only features that appear on every team’s website.
I was something unique, and it showed in several ways:
1) Most of the men wore suits and ties; most of the women wore skirts or pants and heels. Everyone looked sharp and professional.
I wore jeans and a sweater.
2) The other reporters brought laptops, huddling over them to write as much copy during the game as possible so that they only had to insert a few quotes from post-game conferences to finish their stories. Those doing multimedia brought expensive-looking cameras and video-recorders.
My equipment Monday: a notebook and an iPhone. I jotted down occasional play-by-play notes, interspersed with general observations about the game (my usual approach to hockey writing) and the fans. I took a few still photos on my iPhone to intersperse with game photos I’d inevitably take off other sites, zooming in from the upper decks of the Garden. I sincerely doubt I’ll use any of them.
3) Everyone else came to write about the games. Every “52 Games” column has two focuses: the game and the viewing experience. But in a city over-saturated with sports writes, only the latter angle makes this column stand out. Knowing that, I get my quotes from an oft-forgotten corner of the sports square: the fans (along with the players, the league/owners and the media itself).
Though many criticize the fans (especially in Boston) for too quickly turning their backs on once-great players, for placing ever-increasing demands on teams, for evaluation a season only by the presence or absence of a championship, many forget that without fans, sports would crumble. Athletes can only make millions of dollars as long as fans keep buying tickets and watching games on TV (and thus seeing the ads).
Fans matter, but they’ve been largely forgotten beyond stock expressions of gratitude (every city, it seems, has “the best fans in the world”) from players, sports radio (where the small contingent of uber-loud fans drowns out the rational majority) and occasional puff-pieces from local media. My column shifts a small portion of the attention back to a group whose opinions have been largely ignored.
Every other reporter wanted to talk to the players, so there was an express elevator from the ninth-floor press box to the third-floor lockers and press conferences. I didn’t give a rat’s ass about the players, but to get just two floors down to the balcony and the fans, I had to jog down two flights stairs, then use alternate elevators to get back up.
Of course, my clothes, my lack of tech (beyond a digital recorder), my demeanor, it all made me appear less menacing than your average reporter. Most fans had no problems talking to me at length, even when my questions turned from the team to the fans themselves.
As I walked around the balcony, I noticed no other reporter was doing what I was. On the one hand, that validated my belief that my column has a truly singular angle, which is damn-near impossible in this market. But on the other hand, it made me feel isolated from everyone else in the press box, all of whom were in theory my colleagues.
I plan to one day be back at the Garden or another major arena, covering sports as other reporters do. And I’m sure on that day I’ll stand together with my fellow journalists, both in proximity and in spirit.
But Monday night, I definitely stood alone.