Tuesday, February 23, 2010

It Happens Every February

This week we are experiencing a Boston sports journalism custom that I did not understand when I was a Boston sports journalist myself, and understand even less now that I am a mere journalism consumer. It's spring training coverage.

Spring training lasts about six weeks. By far the most coverage occurs in the very first week, starting BEFORE the reporting date for pitchers and catchers. That's when TV reporters go down and do live shots and tape features. That's when talk radio shows do, or used to do, live remotes. That is the most coveted assignment for sportswriters. You could cut off Dan Shaughnessy's or Steve Buckley's left ear before they'd miss it. It's true love.

And yet, even by the standards of spring training, in which not much ever happens, and hasn't since Cap Anson invented it, the first week of the ritual is the period when the very least happens. I'm not talking news here, I mean simple physical activity by the participants. Pitchers and catchers week primarily equals a) men playing catch; b) men doing stretching exercises, and c) other players hitting off pitching machines in the batting cages. For raw excitement, there's also men running/jogging sprints in the outfield. Then the other players report, and they have covering first base drills. That raises everyone's blood pressure to dangerous levels.

No matter how much one loves baseball, and covering baseball as an occupation, why is an attractive assignment? The only real thing to write are boilerplate interviews with each Red Sox. Research reveals players in 2010 have exactly the same sentiments as players at Sox spring training in 1910, allowing for changes in the cliches used to express them. And, you know, those boilerplate interviews could have been conducted by telephone anytime between the end of the 2009 season and this month without a word being altered.

I don't like candy, and other kids in my neighborhood loved me on Halloween. Closeness to me meant more candy for them. My Herald colleagues felt the same way about me in February. I hated spring training, and so that meant more first-base drill candy for everyone else. As far as I was concerned, better a state high school wrestling championship, or even indoor track, then being forced to write yet another essay on the theme "Player X hit ball well in batting practice, expresses confidence."

The sports media members' love for spring training's dullest time frame baffles me. But then, so much does. It's one of those mysteries that reminds me why even though I loved my former trade with all my being, I was never really part of it in the deepest cultural sense.

I like writing about competition. When it comes to writing about practice, I stand with Allen Iverson.


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