Yes, I am a student, but I am also a rarity in the academic genre: I am a working journalist, which means editors pay me to do things I absolutely love -- reporting on sporting events, sports teams, and individuals involved in sports. That includes coaches, managers, fans -- even peanut and soft drink vendors at baseball games.
Of course my repertoire also includes interviewing outstanding athletes as well as those who struggle mightily but on that one day when they do reach their nirvana, it becomes a priceless, magical moment in their lives.
Am I an expert? Technically, to answer that question you would have to ask those who read my stories or the editors I provide copy to. But actually I am very sure of myself and certain of my skills; to wit, I know the ethics and logistics of sports reporting, so I will claim expertise based on my resume and my scrapbook of competent, well-received stories I have published.
I have even served as a young reporter at two Super Bowls -- with NFL credentials from a local radio station and a weekly paper in our community -- and have interviewed football icons who return to the game after retirement. I have interviewed Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and James Lofton along with broadcasters like Brent Musburger, Dick Enberg, Chris Berman and John Madden.
Proudly without hesitation I worked my way up into the field of journalism -- by the seat of my pants. With very little formal training, I have been writing and selling articles since my junior year in high school. It all started when I took a photo of our high school homecoming queen as her crown slipped down over her eyes.
The local paper jumped at that and paid me $5. The editor later invited me to take more photos and along with the images I began providing copy for the paper. He liked the stories and I became a freelancer simply because I had the initiative -- and the passion -- to do it.
Meanwhile among my fondest sporting events to report on is the local high school baseball team. It's a small school, and these boys put on their uniforms and lace up their spikes like they were real professional ballplayers. They do try hard to make things happen on the ball field albeit a good share of them wouldn't have enough talent make the team in bigger schools.
Still, it's a joy to see them out there trying hard. Watching these kids warm up is like viewing a Normal Rockwell painting on the throw-back cover of the Saturday Evening Post that turns into video -- like those paintings do in the Harry Potter movies.
Indulge me as I reflect a recent Friday afternoon in April, at the baseball field where these high school boys ply their trade. Dutifully and punctually the reporter arrives at 3:10 P.M. For a 3:30 P.M. game, to get the lineups and check out the condition of the field (which is notoriously pock-marked with gopher holes).
The only sound besides the wind rustling the leaves of the stately eucalyptus trees is the nattering echo of a lawn mower in the distance. And the only other soul nearby is the head coach, Brian, who is raking the mound into a sandy smoothness for the high school pitchers who will soon arrive.
High above a few mares' tails and other wispy cirrus clouds dance against a baby blue backdrop as the coach puts the finishing touches on the shimmering green field. It's just another golden spring day perfectly aligned with the cosmos for the boys of summer, who happen to also play America's game in the spring here in this small California town.
On this very day way back east in that other land called Washington D.C., grown men and women, elected officials whose job it is to keep Americans secure and safe, wrangle and rage over the contentious issue of legislating more thorough background checks for individuals -- some of whom may be misfits, murderers and/or mentally unbalanced -- that wish to purchase weapons and ammo.
While many politicians are weighing their vote based on campaign money they received -- and the subsequent seriously coercive pressure they are experiencing vis-a-vis high-salaried lobbyists -- from the gun industry, the only weapons at the baseball field are the aluminum bats the coach has placed in the bat rack at the south end of the west dugout.
Someone has tossed today's San Francisco Chronicle into a trash can; the reporter pulls it out and scans a story that points to lies that are being spread by the gun lobby. The false story put out is that if Congress passes more complete background checks for gun purchasers, those buying guns will be "criminalized" on some government database.
It's my dream one day to be reporting for the big papers in big cities and maybe I'll get an assignment that is hard news and not sports, and that will be okay, I am thinking -- but will I be objective about issues I care deeply about? On second thought, of course I will; it is journalism and I thrive on honest, competent reporting.
The local team, the Broncos, are playing catch and stretching, and it's time for the reporter to get the lineups from both coaches.
The head coach for the visiting team, the Bears -- a squad that turns out to be, apologies for the brutally obvious reference, the bad news bears -- brings his lineup to the reporter with a smile as his players loosen up following their 2-hour, 114-mile trek from a rural high school.
By scoring 11 runs in the bottom half of the first inning, the Broncos have sealed the fate of the Bears, who don't appear to have the athletic skills necessary, or are perhaps too inexperienced to be competitive at this level of baseball.
Example #1: The Broncos have men on first and second and a ground ball is hit to the 3rd baseman. It's an easy play if he fields it and steps on 3rd base for a force out. But instead he flings the ball wildly in the direction of the first baseman, who can't possibly catch it and instead of an easy out a run scores.
Example #2: The same situation occurs later in the first inning -- two Broncos on and a soft, easy grounder hit right to the 3rd baseman -- but this time the third baseman's ineptitude allows the ball to scoot cleanly under his glove into left field for another error and another Bronco run.
Example #3: Late in the game, with the Broncos leading by a dozen runs, the Bears' pitcher hits a Bronco batter in the back with a curve ball, and the hitter takes first. With such a huge deficit, the Bears' first baseman should move off the bag and guard against a ground ball sneaking through the right side of the infield for a base hit. But instead the Bears' first sacker tries to hold the runner on, and sure enough, the Bronco batter hits a gentle grounder just out of the reach of the first baseman for a hit to right field. Had the first baseman been playing where he should have, he might have completed a double play and gotten out of the inning.
The home team adds 7 runs in subsequent innings to dominate, 18-0, but this reporter is not cheering. He never does, actually, because reporters are supposed to be objective and neutral. Certainly, a win is a blessing in most contexts. But in the reporter's heart of hearts this is a day for empathy, not rejoicing, even though he secretly roots for the home team. As multiple-Oscar-winning actress Meryl Streep notes, "The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy."
In fact I found myself pulling for the Bears and trying to wipe the image of the "bad news bears" out of my mind. I had researched the Bears before the game online and found that they had just ten players on the team. Baseball involves nine players, so the Bears didn't have much of a bench, to say the least. One boy -- a diminutive lad of about 4 feet, 10 or so inches -- was in effect the bat boy, although he was a high school student and in uniform as a player.
How sad it was to read about this school in online articles: when the country went into the terrible economic slump in 2008, the Bears' school district laid off teachers, counselors, and other staff. Parents have been serving as volunteers in study hall, and retired people in the neighborhood were handling some of the maintenance duties for the school -- mowing lawns, collecting trash after the kids' lunch period, and helping out in shop class too.
And here was their motley little baseball squad, the little engine…