Wednesday, June 26, 2019

It's OK to Love a Sports Writer


I couldn't find a relevant banner photo, so I'm using this one because we look happy.
I had a cool experience recently. My sports fan alter ego on Twitter (@RallyLamb) has been slowly picking up traction. I set up the account because I wanted to interact with local sports fans, but I didn't want those of you who follow me for my writing on parenting to suddenly get hit with 100 hot takes per game for 162 baseball games. On a summer evening last year, I got an alert that made my heart jump a bit. My favorite sports writer, Susan Slusser followed me. Look, it’s a small thing, but it’s one of the reasons I do any of this. I don’t make much money from writing. I started because I just needed to do it, it’s my heritage. Later, as I gained a small audience I was motivated by the opportunities I had to meet cool people and do cool stuff. Being followed by a writer I’ve been reading for over twenty years, less than four months into creating this account, was pretty cool. Then I saw that I had a DM, “Hi there, I’m looking for people to talk to for a story on the new ticket strategy and liked your response - would you be ok with a quick interview by phone?”

Dude! Susan Slusser wanted to talk to me for a story! I was in the driveway at the time and my wife came out to the front porch like, “Hey, why are you dancing?” Uh, because I’m going to get to talk to Susan Slusser, that’s why. (I had also gotten an RT from Dan Szymborski at the same moment so I was definitely winning Twitter that day.)

I forget how long it was until we did the interview. I know I spent the whole time rehearsing and editing my fan boy speech. I wanted to let her know how much her writing had meant to me over the years. How much I appreciated her work during the Twitter era, during most of which I was an out of market fan and relied on her reporting as my lifeline to the team. Once the interview was done, I half asked/half warned her that I was going to geek out for second. I told her about how much I respected her work and her career, she had also been president of the Baseball Writers Association of America (the people who vote on the Hall of Fame). I worry now that maybe I was being presumptuous of her experience, because I talked about how part of my admiration was due to my mom having been a journalist and knowing what she went through and how much harder I thought that might be in sports. I talked about how I thought it was super cool that my home team had four women covering them regularly (shout out Ann Killion, Melissa Lockard and Jane Lee). Maybe I over did it on the rah-rah women in sports feminism, but I was feeling it and I didn’t know if I’d ever have another chance to let her know how cool she is.

I guess I did OK as an interview subject. Susan (I call her that because according to my son, we are now close personal friends) sent me a message to let me know I’d be featured in the article. I was happy, but didn’t expect the first sentence to read, “As a sign-language interpreter and teacher with three children, Roberto Santiago figured season tickets for a sports team would be out of his reach.” So yeah, that was really cool.

Over the course of the season we tried to find a time to meet in person, but it never worked out. After all, when she’s at the game, she’s at work. It’s hard to visit anyone at work and I never wanted to be a bother. We were finally able to make it happen this season. Again, I didn’t want to bother her, or act like she owed me her time so I waited until I had a copy of her recent book so that when I reached out, I could at least show that I was supporting the cause. Yes, it’s still asking for her time while she’s working, but at least it’s a conversation starter.

She came down to the concourse to meet Buddy and I between innings. She was gracious and just as cool as she seems. I grew up around notable people, mostly writers and musicians, but I still get a little giddy meeting someone for the first time after reading them for so long. It was after this meeting that my son went on a routine about how we were all now totes BFFs and we should expect Susan at pizza night. He’s hilarious that way.

One thing that stands out for me in this experience is how we see sports writers and how they see themselves. Along with the book, I asked Susan to sign a baseball. She said she doesn’t like signing balls, that it seems weird because she doesn’t play. She agreed to sign for me because I’d also had the book. (See, I knew having the book as an opener was a good call). Throughout this whole experience, I kept thinking about the Seinfeld episode where George is asked who he reads.

  
Mr. Lippman: Who do you read?
George: I like Mike Lupica.
Mr. Lippman: Mike Lupica?
George: He’s a sports writer for the Daily News. I find him very insightful…
 Mr. Lippman: No, no, no. I mean authors.



I always loved this scene because of how it depicts the difference between what “literary” people consider writing, and what people who read consider writing. My favorite “authors” are mostly academics. Have you read any Dorothy Smith or William Labov? They rule. But if you ask me who I like to read, it’s a lot of sports writers. I’m super into Bill Barnwell. I really like reading Zach Lowe’s breakdowns of specific plays. I am dependent on Susan Slusser to keep me connected to the A’s. This was especially true when I lived in D.C. The A’s don’t get a ton of national attention even when they’re good, so it was Slusser and SFGate.com that kept me up on my home team. Most years I’d send a tweet to her at the end of the season thanking her for helping us transplanted fans stay abreast.

So right, she doesn’t play. She’s never taken a swing or recorded an out for the team. But to us fans, she’s as much the face or voice of the team as any player or manager. Really, she’s been even more a part of our experience of the team than any of the PsTBNL or managers who are hired to be fired. Slusser has been with us for twenty years. Can we say that about anyone associated with team other than Ken Korach or Billy Beane? Sure, the reporter isn’t the story. It’s only recently that journalists have become personalities, and even then that’s mostly screamers on TV. So no, we don’t know Susan Slusser outside of the glimpses we get through social media. We know a hell of a lot about the A’s because of her reporting, and I think it’s folly to try to completely separate the story form the story teller. In many ways, Susan Slusser is the A’s for us because she’s the source of most of our information about what’s happening with the team. So for me, meeting her was just as exciting as meeting any player past or present.

Susan Slusser is one of my favorite writers, and that’s as legit as anything else.



Friday, June 14, 2019

Dignity in Defeat: Beyond Sports Hot Takes

Graphic courtesy of People's Choice Printing
9.6 Seconds
That’s how much time was left on the clock when the Warriors called their last time out. Somehow, someway they had managed to force a turnover down just one point with the season on the line. As they huddled up to discuss what might be the game’s final play, I looked at my son and thought about what I wanted him to know in that moment.
It had been a tough series for the Warriors. Kevin Durant, one of the best players in the game had played only 12 minutes in 5 games and was out again, this time for good. Klay Thompson, the cool hand Splash Brother who had put up 30 points was out with a serious knee injury. Gritty big man Kevon Looney had played three games with torn cartilage in his ribs. But here they were, with a chance to win or go home and the best shooter in the world at the ready.
On the broadcast they put up a graphic showing that Curry was 0 for his life on game winning shots in the last :20 of regulation. Winning this game was less than certain. If they lost, how could I soften the blow for my son?
He looked panic stricken. “Hey, Bud.” I said, “Isn’t this cool?” I was channeling Joe Montana during the last time out of the 1981 NFC Championship game. He looked unsure. “I mean look, no matter what happens on the next play, we’ve seen an amazing series. And this is what sports fandom is about. It’s not just about the plays or the wins and losses, it’s about right now. It’s the anticipation of this moment, not knowing what will happen. It’s about possibly seeing something amazing, and hoping for a miracle. Think about how you feel right now, the tingle. We might be about to see an amazing shot that sends us to game 7. Or we might see the season end with a clank. But whichever it is, we get this moment right now.”
And it’s true. Being a fan means experiencing more disappointment then elation over a lifetime. Your team can’t win a championship every year. In every season there’s 29 to 31 fan bases that don’t get what they hoped for. But winning really isn’t everything. The chance to see something inspiring is what makes even the losses worth watching. Sports isn’t just Twitter hot takes and bragging rights. It’s about having 9.6 seconds to dream of the impossible.

IDL and Lou at a Warriors game in November 2018

Thursday, January 17, 2019

GIVEAWAY: Win a Free Registration to Dad 2.0 in San Antonio!


Four years ago, you probably weren't reading what I write. This is not because I wasn't writing. If you care look back all the way in the archives in that right hand sidebar, you'll see that I started this blog back in 2003. Back then I was lucky if I got 50 views on any post. If a post got 100 views I knew I'd written something really good. This was before social media, and even before search engines as we know them today. It was harder to find things back then. So shout out to social media, thanks for the assist. But the thing is, four years ago you may have already had a Facebook account for eight or nine years. You'd been on Twitter for five years or more. Four years ago you were IG, and I was not.

So what happened? Four years ago I was added to a group for Dad Bloggers on Facebook. Through that group I met other writers who helped advise each other on how to build an audience, how to improve as writers and how to be better men and better fathers. The group was also a place to share your writing. The feedback was invaluable. People also started sharing my writing more, and I shared theirs. There was no quid pro quo like you hear about in some blogging cabals. People share what moves them.

In 2016 the Dad 2.0 Summit came to Washington D.C. The Summit is an annual conference for Dad Bloggers and influencers. They host workshops and keynotes on everything from building a brand and SEO optimization, to parenting around issues of race and masculinity. I decided to attend, mostly so I could meet some of these guys I'd been interacting with online for the previous year. Then I was chosen as a Spotlight reader, which was an honor. I made a ton of great connections both personal and professional. Going to the first two conferences led to writing opportunities, and gave me friends in most of America's major cities. Two years later, I hosted on panel on raising children with special needs. Every year I attended, I left with new friends and new connections. And that's probably why you're reading this right now. Attending Dad 2.0 helped me learn how to build my audience. Sure, I'm not a huge blogger with a million readers. But I know you're out there. I know how you are. I see you reading what I write, and I appreciate you.

If you're a writer and a dad, I highly recommend attending.

Which brings us to the giveaway. I cannot attend the conference this year. Housing uncertainty and not yet having a job that affords vacation time have conspired to keep me home. I'm super bummed. The swag alone is worth the trip. I haven't had to buy soap or toothpaste in three years.

So I want you to go! I want you to have the experience. I am giving away my ticket, maybe to you. You'll need to cover your own flight, hotel and everything else, but hopefully this entices another writer to get out to Texas, see the Alamo, meet some great people and improve as both a blogger and as a dad. If you've been before, go again. If you've never gone, go.

Check out the conference web page here: Dad 2.0 Summit 2019

This giveaway is not being run by Dad 2.0. I just don't want my ticket to go to waste.


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Thursday, January 10, 2019

I Was a 20-Year-Old Republican (An Immigration Post)


OK, I wasn't really a 20-year-old Republican. I was conservative enough on some issues that my hippie, Berkeley mom used to sometimes call me a Republican, but by the standards of most of the country I was still pretty liberal. One issue where I converged somewhat with modern day Republicans was on US intervention around the world, and immigration.

To sum it up, I was an isolationist.

I leaned toward the idea that breaking the isolationist seal with US involvement in WWI was a mistake. I resented the Marshall Plan. I pretty much despised US military deployment around the globe. The main reason I didn't join the military out of high school was that I didn't like how they were used. I wanted NATO and the rest of our allies to do more to pitch in where intervention was deemed necessary. I was also strongly in favor of closing the borders, building a wall and a fence and a moat and anything else that would keep people from sneaking into the country. I was 100% in favor of legal immigration and asylum, but I didn't want people coming undocumented.

My reasons for these convictions would sound familiar to anyone who has heard Republican talking points on immigration over the last couple years. We had too many problems to address here at home. Where I diverged from Republicans is that I wanted stronger social programs to help poor people. I had just read Rachel and Her Children, Jonathan Kozol's excellent book on homelessness. I was inspired by the story of the WPA. I figured that we could divert the money spent on the military to jobs programs and public education.

To sum it up, I was naive.

Like many young, half-educated people, I did not hesitate to talk about these ideas. I'm sure I sounded like an idiot to folks on both sides of the aisle. Unlike many young people I had my beliefs put to the test.

In 2004 I was going through a divorce. I was 27 and in my last semester of graduate school. My wife had left me for another man. She had denied that she was seeing anyone during our "trial separation," but I had come back to the apartment one morning before work and found him there hiding behind the bedroom door. I was hurt and angry. I wanted to lash out. I wanted to hurt them. Not physically, I wanted to hurt them in a way that made them feel the way I was feeling. At the time the issue of her boyfriend's immigration status was a bit of an open question. I had strong reason to believe that he was here illegally. If I'm remembering correctly 15 years later, it was the overstayed visa variety, not the snuck-over-in-the-dark-of-night act that the president puts forth to scare red state voters. Some people were worried about an immigrant taking their job, this guy had taken my wife. I knew I could get another job, but I wasn't sure I was lovable enough to get another wife. I figured that reporting him would get him deported and then they wouldn't be together, just like she and I weren't going to be together. Even if he was here legally, an investigation would be a major disruption. If I couldn't be happy, no one would be happy. So I did what any angry young Republican would do in that situation, I called the newly formed Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to report the location of a suspected illegal immigrant.

In fact, I called several times because I kept hanging up before completing the process. The first time I called, I hung up while it was ringing. The second time, I hung up during the phone tree. The third time was the charm. I told the woman who answered that I wanted to report an illegal immigrant. She asked me to hold while she transferred me to an agent who would take my report.

I hung up.

To sum it up, I grew up.

It's not easy to admit that it took me going to the brink of doing something so incredibly harmful to another person before I realized who I was. In those few moments of being on hold I was forced to face what I was doing and why I was doing it. I had to analyze everything I thought about immigration and about who I was as a partner to my wife. It was in that moment that I came to terms with being astoundingly wrong on both counts. Immigrants, legal or otherwise are running from and to things that are much deeper and more complicated than I could fathom. They weren't just looking for a better life, they were often looking to hold on to life itself. My ex-wife was unrepentantly liberal, yet she somehow stuck by me and all my political nonsense for four years. And that was just one of many areas where I had been a terrible husband. An immigrant hadn't stolen my wife, I had pushed her away by being a surprisingly bad partner to her. I realized all of that in the 30 to 90 seconds I was on hold. Before I spoke to anyone else, I hung up for the last time.

My views on immigration have continued to evolve in the 15 years since that day. I have slowly become more liberal in my beliefs. I started by looking to people like my ex-wife, whose views I respected and tried to craft my votes and my views to parallel theirs. I'm not all the way there. I would still prefer that we had a robust program for accepting and processing asylum seekers. I do strongly believe that once people are here, they're here and we should take care of them just like we'd take care of anyone born within our borders. I believe in DACA and Dreamers and in sheltering unaccompanied minors. I am against the idea of a wall.

I was a 20-year-old Republican, because I had ideas about the world without an understanding of it. I saw a problem, but didn't see the root cause. I was smart enough to be dangerous, but not smart enough to know how little I knew.

I was a 20-year-old Republican, but I'm getting better.