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.



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