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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Le Cause de Zuckerman

Pardon my French - congratulations to Mark Zuckerman, who has crushed his goal of raising money through donations to cover spring training for his new blog, He did it quickly and he's raised enough that he won't have to cut corners. No tent and KOA, he can stay in a real hotel. No Golden Corral buffet, he can eat at Outback. Good work by all who contributed.

Mark's quest has drawn lots of support and commentary in the blogosphere and elsewhere., a site populated mostly by, well, sports journalists, has a thread on it. The quest has been getting some mainstream love, too, and some of Mark's unofficial publicists (who, me?) are pushing for more. This is a fairly unique idea that speaks to a broader issue about the modern media today. It deserves coverage.

The big question some seem to have is whether it is worth it to hit spring training. How about using the money on the regular season instead? Go to some games that count? Too much sameness in spring coverage anyway.

Valid points all. Ideally, money will continue to come in or someone will step up and pay Mark for some in-season coverage. But despite some of the sameness, spring training coverage is required for any journalist who wants to be taken seriously as the long, long, LONG regular season progresses.

I never did full season baseball, though I did cover short stretches of the spring a couple of times. I did plenty of college football, where preseason is about as long and about the same from a coverage standpoint minus all those exhibitions.

First, it's a place to get acquainted or re-acquainted. You haven't seen or talked to most of these people in ages. It's a new year, no one hates you yet because you haven't written anything (lately) to hack them off. Smiles all around. Firm handshake, how was your winter? Heard you got a 10-point buck! Congrats on the new baby. Family well?

It's called building relationships and it is vital to success as a reporter. You don't become friends with the people but you better be comfortable small talking with them.

Yeah, there's some sameness to the coverage. I assure you we will see plenty of stories, even from Mark, that fit into several categories.

*I'm in the best shape of my life. I'd find some tubby lineman who'd lost 50 pounds and write about it. We'd later learn he still couldn't play but it made for a good preseason story. Top candidates to utter those words for the Nats are Elijah Dukes, Scott Olsen, Cristian Guzman and Pudge Rodriguez. Guzman has never seemed too media friendly but I bet we see a little different side this spring as he tries to spread the word that he can still be a viable shortstop.

*Overcoming tragedy. I'm dedicating this season to (fill in the blank) after death, injury, major illness. I'm not trying to be flip or make light of that, just trying to point out that it happens to every team in every sport every year. There's always one story like that. This year with the Nats, the obvious is Dukes after the death of his father.

*Position transition. Bigger in football where guys are moved here and there all the time. You'd find some guy who would say, "I should have been a cornerback the whole time instead of wasting three years at receiver." Probably true. Instead of being a fifth-string WR, he becomes a third-string CB. Another great preseason idea because you won't do it during the season. I can definitely see this lead coming out of the Nats camp: "It worked for Tyler Clippard. He gave up his dream of being a 20-game winner and saved his career by moving to the bullpen. Now (Mock/Martis/Stammen/Balester/Detwiler/Martin/any one of a number of others) are hoping they can sing the same tune."

*It's a fresh start. A brand new leader and it sure is a different atmosphere. We'll get a quote, probably from Zimmerman given his stature and tenure, that goes something like, "No offense to Manny. We all loved Manny. But there's a different feel this year. Things are more serious. We're better organized and more of a unit." Book that one. You'll probably read the same story out of Cleveland, where Manny is the new face. "You can tell he learned a lot from his time in D.C. and he's come in focused. We have a plan. This is going to be a great spring," some Indian will say.

I'm sure we'll also get a dozen or so variations of the Jim Riggleman life story, maybe as a setup to camp. He's jacked about getting another chance, with lots of quotes from people who knew him in the seventh grade. That's the type of story you can work on all winter.

This year's Nats also provide a lot of unique story lines, another reason why it is important for Mark (or anyone covering the team) to be there. Among them but certainly not all of them:

*Nyjer, was last year some fluke or can he really keep that up over a full season?
*The remade bullpen and how does Drew Storen figure in there?
*The remade rotation.
*I seem to recall a lot of fuss being made over a pitcher on draft day and then again in August. Name escapes me now *** oh, yeah. Strasburg. How's he factor into all this?
*Dunn, the extension and the work at first base.
*The Desmond thing. A utility role? Really?

I'm also convinced something major is going to happen this spring, a trade or signing of some sort that changes the lineup projections we've all been making. If that happens, Mike Rizzo is going to be plenty busy and media wanting a chunk of his time had best be on site.

Spring training goes by quickly. If a reporter has done his/her job, they're ready for the season just like the players.

I hope Mark keeps pulling in the cash and makes enough to cover everything AND get some actual pay out of the deal. But it has to start in the spring.


JayB said...

Man that is nailed those stores like you can tell the future. It does matter what tone this team sets. I talked with Dunn at Natsfest and he said he was gone for much of camp....not good for our vocal leader.

Anonymous said...

As Mark nears doubling his budget of $5 grand he owes those of us that contributed an explaination of how he plans to spend the extra cash. I'd suggest he puts it toward travel to a select number of road trips. Certainly Philly and Pittsburgh can be done for under a grand per three game road trip.

JayB said...

Mark should pay himself a salary first before anything else!

An Briosca Mor said...

Having Zuckerman down there at spring training or even having him cover the team during the season is not going to make one iota of difference in how the team performs, either on the field or off. Nor will it tell us anything more about the team than if he's not there. Why would it? This same set of eyes has been down there already for the last five years on the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's dime (hey, did you know he once met Frank Costanza?) and what difference did that make? Mark Zuckerman, as good a reporter as he is, is not going to tell us anything more than MASN will, or even the Post's intern du jour. Banal sound bites from Riggleman's pressers. (Or maybe he'll go all Dan Steinberg on us and give us transcriptions of every banal word of them.) Accounts of coaches working with players on their defense and pronouncing everything hunky-dory. Strasburg throws a bullpen session and hits Mach 2, but he'll still be starting the season in Potomac. The riveting saga of the battle for that all-important 25th man spot. (Would they dare cut Wil Nieves? Who? Wil Nieves!)

That's all we're going to get, no more no less, whether Zuckerman is there or not. Can't wait for the inevitable explosion from JayB once he finds out that the bucks he put in to get the right to submit a question for Riggleman are getting him nothing but the same old canned answers everyone else is getting. That should be entertaining. But guess what? You don't even have to contribute to Mark's account to enjoy that.

MikeHarris said...

Oh, I think Mark will get us more than that - and hopefully sooner than the others have it.

As to anon's question: Knowing Mark as I do, I have no doubt he'll be able to provide a full accounting. I hope he enjoys a decent meal now and then but I have full confidence the money will be well spent.

An Briosca Mor said...

So what do you think Zuckerman will be able to provide over and above what he's done in past seasons now that he's out from under the control of the Rev Moon? Was he really a difference maker with his coverage before? Seems like all that's really happened here is the replacement of his funding source from the Moonie paper to a group of highly expectant fans - many of whom I fear will be greatly disappointed. Not because Zuckerman will fail to deliver, but because their expectations of what their money is buying are totally unrealistic.

MikeHarris said...

Well, the full answer would be too long. I'll save it for a post one day.
The short answer: Time.

When we went Web heavy, I was all over my staff: Update your blogs, frequently. Give me a pregame post. A halftime update. A short something right after it was over.

They'd ask, legitmately: When are we supposed to get stuff for the paper?

Without the "burden" of worrying about what you're going to print the next day and devoting time to that, you're free to report more. No deadline. No rush.

As I noted in the post, there will be a lot of sameness in the coverage. Mark is good enough to separate himself and the no-paper-the-next-day thing should help there.

People clearly liked reading Mark over the years. That's why he was able to raise the money so quickly. I don't think anybody donated out of just plain charity. If they're doing that, they can send some MY way.

JayB said...

Sorry Mike,

Anywhere and anything I post ABM feels it is his duty to post the opposite. Time is a great point but given the lack of historical perspective and experience everyone else (and Ladson being Ladson), I think Mark just reporting as he has in past is a benefit too.

MikeHarris said...

No worries, no apologies needed.

I don't think anyone is expecting miracle coverage. I think people enjoy good, solid Mark Zuckerman coverage and that's what they'll get.

Still nosing around trying to figure out what's going on at the Post. Eight days out from pitchers and catchers.

James Bjork said...

As a Zuckerman donor, I am under no delusion that Mark's reporting is going to uncover otherwise unreported bombshells, like some player's wife having a love child by a different player on the team.

The spring stories trotted out every year are as predictable as the buds on the trees, as you note. However, I believe predictable events are still of interest if you LIKE the subject. I was interested in reading about how Dmitri Young rose from the minor league ballfields that Spring of 2007, complete with the clogged toilets and other sketchy amenities. Yes, when you watch that Ty Pennington home improvement show, you know there's going to be a bus moved at the end and stunned blubbering of grateful recipients. Just different people blubbering, each episode. But people watch anyway.

I think Mark Z will add more fleshing out-- more color, more flavor-- to the stock storylines, and this is worth a few bucks to me because I am interested in the team.

Similarly, I spent more to see Avatar in 3D than in 2D, even though I'd get the same story either way.

As for predictable gamer audios from a manager, again, I'm not suspecting huge Ozzie Guillen-like outbursts, or stunning revelations either, just some additional color.