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, www.natsinsider.blogspot.com. 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. SportsJournalists.com, 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.