The shortstop paces through the warm-ups ready to start the top half of the first on Opening Day. Back and forth, the first baseman has to anticipate where the shortstop will be before he throws and twice the ball ends up in left field. This new kid, this nobody, is the lynchpin for the entire season. In game 58, he will rattle a lights-out pitcher from a divisional rival. It’s the sixth inning when no-name becomes somebody worth knowing on that diamond. Will you know to pay attention?
Baseball is here—and it’s become a regional sport. We don’t have the modern-day mythology around the game as we did in the past. Blame interleague play, steroids and star power, but I think the ability to care about the purity of the game is still there. It’s up to our mythmakers to elevate the sport to levels of NBA and NFL reverence. We need good stories in baseball.
The culture of sports is built around stories. You’re seeing this mythology develop around the Golden State Warriors right now. They have become the Camelot of basketball. Yes, what they’re doing is incredible, but everyone buys into the hype. Between their selfless teammates and unbelievable stars, the Warriors enamor even the people covering them.
These moments of interest exist in every sport. You see smaller versions of these “Warrior” moments pop up based on storylines throughout seasons. You see it in rivalries. You see it in traditions, like the Florida Panthers throwing rats on the ice or an authentic nickname. Fans create their own culture through their chants and signals.
However, sometimes these moments are not as obvious and that’s where the sportswriter has an advantage. With teams using media access as a carrot or a marketing tool and beat writers competing with bloggers, the writer is becoming an endangered species. However, the good ones fight back and seek out their own stories. They build their own legends.
Sportswriters hold a dual role of discovering myths and then drawing them out into the light for the rest of us. Imagine the power of creating a nickname or penning a moment frozen in time. What if every time a rival team rolls into town, you bring out a bit of hostility to the fans reading your work.
Sportswriters create epic stories. They hold the power to build interest. It’s not an easy job; you have to constantly look for new ways to tell stories and create narratives.
It can’t be forced. This is where the hyperbole of the blogosphere can derail sports writing. Don’t make up storylines. Don’t create rumors and don’t assign arbitrary nicknames. Justify your work.
There are many great writers today, but we need more people to assume this role. Sportswriters hold the keys to our sports world so we need them create our myths. I know it’s hard to make a Colorado kid living in Chicago care about the Cleveland Indians, but you’re my only hope. Give me a reason to care about baseball teams outside of my own. Build that story for me.