Not much to report on this past week. I wrote a bunch of stories, remembered to put most of them online, and even managed a Saturday that didn’t require 12+ hours of work and allowed me to actually do something social Saturday night.
One of my coworkers told me many of our readers view getting into the newspaper as a milestone. The McAlester News-Capital, as much as it is a newspaper, it’s also an achievement, and many people read it just to know who’s done something noteworthy in the community.
This idea assuaged some of the concerns I’ve had about game stories not publishing until two to three days after they actually happened. It also backed up my rationale for trying to write a profile on every senior playing football for McAlester High School. They’ve worked hard, so why not give each player 750 words or so?
A lot of parents have come up to me at games to thank me for what I’ve been doing, so I think this was a good idea. And hey, it makes filling a week’s worth of sports section that much easier.
After a horrific season in which the Boston Red Sox started bad, continued to be bad and then finished the season… bad … Bobby Valentine had a chance to walk away with some slight measure of dignity. He could’ve simply taken his firing like a man, then gone back to his gig on TV, which allows him to do what he does best: yell impotently analyze baseball.
Instead, Valentine chose to take one last pot-shot at the Red Sox. One last try at blaming the failures of his team on anybody but a manager hated by basically the entire state of Massachusetts, not to mention every one of his players and every Boston sports writer (though that last group tends to hate everybody).
It was a cowardly, baseless attack by a weak-willed snake-oil salesman of a “manager.” Red Sox fans would do well to ignore the criticism, anything else Valentine has said or might still say, and probably Valentine’s existence in general.
Would the Red Sox Re-Sign a Quitter?
Baseball, as the cliche goes, is a business. As such, looking at the deals a team makes, the money it spends, is the best way to understand said team’s true feelings.
If the Red Sox ownership really believed Ortiz quit on his team, then why are they trying to sign him to a new, two-year deal? Sure, “closing in” and “signed” can mean vastly different things in baseball language, but if the Red Sox really thought Ortiz bailed on an otherwise-promising season, why would they even bother with negotiations?
At the very least, they’d first test the DH market, then try to lowball Ortiz later.
Ortiz, after all, is a 36-year-old with bad knees, a clicking wrist, an already injured Achilles tendon and almost no fielding ability. Other teams wouldn’t exactly blow up his agent’s phone with new deals if the Red Sox chose to wait and see.
But instead, management went after him before the World Series even began. With $100 million in bad contracts handed over to the Dodgers (easily the best move of the year), John Henry & Co. decided to take care of Ortiz first.
If that doesn’t show loyalty and support, what does?
Youkilis Cut for Character Reasons?
As a stark contrast to Ortiz’s treatment by management, consider the fate of Kevin Youkilis. Youkilis also got hurt and missed considerable time last season, but instead of the Red Sox sticking with him, they traded him, and for not much in return.
So why did the Red Sox stick with Ortiz and not Youkilis? One possibility: Youkilis had become an issue in the clubhouse.
Many writers think Youkilis snitched to Bob Hohler about the drama behind the 2011 collapse. Neither Hohler nor anyone else has ever confirmed or dis-confirmed that speculation, so concluding definitively that the trade happened because Youkilis couldn’t be trusted is impossible.
Nevertheless, Youkils is three years younger than Ortiz, and when healthy, Youkilis brought more to the table (plays defense, can get on base, can hit from multiple spots on the lineup). So if the Red Sox didn’t nix Youkilis because of talent, perhaps they did so because of character.
Both Youkilis and Ortiz have had their characters questioned over the last year. But where Youkilis was traded, Ortiz looks to be coming back, and quickly.
Blame for 2012 lies elsewhere
Injuries notwithstanding, something absolutely derailed the 2012 Red Sox, and it’s named Bobby Valentine. Whereas Terry Francona got through to his players immediately, Valentine utterly failed to get his players on board.
A good skipper inspires loyalty in his players, even when fans and the press are screaming for the manager’s head. The 2005 White Sox defended Ozzie Guillen — another Billy Martin-esque blowhard whose mouth far exceeds his talent — because they loved playing for him.
Meanwhile, how many times during the media’s season-long barrage of criticism did any Red Sox players come to Valentine’s defense? Twice? Once? Never?
To be sure, such moments were few and far between. The rest of the time the Red Sox — Ortiz included — stayed silent because deep down, they hated Valentine as much the fans.
Ortiz didn’t quit on the Red Sox, Bobby V. He quit on you. And so did everyone else.
Another reporter came to McAlester’s home football game Friday night against Bishop Kelley, a school from Tulsa. I don’t know who he wrote for, but he seemed to have no interest in interviewing McAlester’s head coach.
I always interview the away team’s personnel first because they tend to leave the stadium sooner, so this guy and I tag-teamed Bishop Kelley’s coach.
I’ve done group interviews like this before, and I know I’ll have to do more of them as I begin to writer about higher-level and higher-profile teams. But or this particular interview, I found the other reporter’s questions to be very broad and not particularly good — maybe one level above “what does this win mean to you?”
Normally when that happens, I ask better questions, then use the quotes the coach gives me and ignore the rest. But when I wrote up the game Saturday, I found the answers I used all came from the other guy’s questions, not mine.
I try to always arrive at away games an hour early. That gives me plenty of time to grab something to eat, use the bathroom, stop by the press box, chat with the coaches, etc.
So I get to Paul Laird Field in Durant, get all the info I need and head to the concessions stand. While I’m eating a quick dinner, a parent of a McAlester player comes up and greets me.
I’ve spoken with this guy on several other occasions, and he’s always been very friendly towards me. This particular encounter was no different, but it came with a request: the MHS booster club wants me to start doing more stories on the seniors, whose football careers will end next month.
He didn’t ask me rudely, and it wasn’t an unreasonable request. A similar thought had occurred to me recently, and I just hadn’t spent enough time mapping out how to do it to put the idea into action. But considering how many stories I devote to McAlester football each week (three or more out of around 10-12), I was a little shocked that anyone could be dissatisfied with my coverage so far.
No matter the teams, I always try to catch the last game of a championship series like the World Series or NBA Finals. I’ll even watch a team I hate, like the Heat or basically every team from New York.
Basically, I just like watching people celebrate. It’s been my experience that winning teams tend to celebrate the same way and to the same degree no matter the sport or level of competition. That says something about human nature, though I’m not sure what.
And because of the kick I get out of other people’s victories, I’ve always wanted to cover a championship. Doesn’t matter if it’s the Super Bowl, the USA Ultimate national tournament finals or just a state high school championship. And I got my wish Saturday night, when I drove up to Oklahoma City to cover Savanna softball’s state championship game.
Only problem… Savanna didn’t win. A team celebrated, and I enjoyed that, but it wasn’t the team I’d written about many times before, the team’s whose pitching phenom I profiled earlier in the season.
Instead, it was a bunch of kids my readers wouldn’t know or care about. So while I got to report on a championship game, I didn’t get the post-game interviews I wanted because the team Iknew about didn’t win.
So call the experience a half-win for me. My next goal: cover a team that wins a championship.
While I wait for that opportunity to present itself, here’s some more stuff I wrote for the News-Cap.
The Red Sox have the Yankees. The Celtics have the Lakers. The Bruins have the Canadiens.
And Tom Brady and the Patriots have Peyton Manning and the Colts Broncos. While the first three rivalries sometimes fail to live up to expectations, the Brady-Manning rivalry consistently delivers excitement and suspense.
Brady vs. Manning, Round 13, went to the Patriots, 31-21 Sunday at Gillette Stadium. So before Manning shakes his head with disgust and re-injures his neck, let’s dole out the grades.
Brady completed just under 75 percent of his passes for 223 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. He also rushed for a touchdown. Solid numbers, sure, but anyone who watched Sunday’s game knows that for once, the Patriots’ running game, and not their passing game, carried the day.
Manning out-dueled Brady, throwing for 345 yards and three touchdowns, but the Patriots still won. That means Brady doesn’t get top marks, but I have a hunch he doesn’t care as long as his team wins.
Running backs: A+
The Patriots rushed for 251 yards and three touchdowns. Stevan Ridley rushed for a career-best 151 yards, crossing the 100-yard mark for the third time this season, and added a rushing touchdown (as did Shane Vereen).
Brandon Bolden chipped in 54 yards of his own, while Danny Woodhead rushed for 47 yards overall and 6.7 per carry. Woodhead also converted two third-and-very-long situations, making a 25-yard catch on third-and-14 in the second and rushing for 19 on third-and-17 in the third.
The Patriots controlled the pace of the game for all four quarters, and the running backs made it happen. Perfect score for this group (even with Ridley’s fumble).
Not quite as many stories as the week before. One reason: I wasted most of Thursday driving to a playoff softball game, only to discover it had been rained out.
Now before you say, “Matt, you dolt, why didn’t you call ahead of time?,” consider this: the game I planned to cover started at 3:00 p.m. As the playing location — Maud, Okla. — was about 95 miles from McAlester, I left at 1:00 so I’d have plenty of time to find the field, meet the coaches and get set up.
I didn’t call before leaving, but it didn’t start raining until about 1:45. And when I called the school after arriving, they said they’d started their noon game, then suspended it in the bottom of the sixth.
Six innings of softball translates to about two hours of playing time, meaning the game stopped about 2:00 p.m. By the time the rains came, it was too late to turn back.
Needing a story, I drove back to McAlester and followed up a tip I’d heard on the radio about a new hosting “Magic: The Gathering” tournaments. I wound up writing about that and McAlester’s blossoming gaming community.
The owners were overjoyed at the coverage, and a fellow reporter told me later she’d wanted to write about these guys, but they’d refused. So I successfully turned nothing into a story possibly more valuable than a postseason softball recap.
I just wish I hadn’t had to waste four hours driving in the rain in the process.