#BuckFiftyADay Since March, 2014

#BuckFiftyADay Since March, 2014

Monday, January 28, 2013

Textbook Sportswriting? Someone thought so

I remember writing about a young Derek Jeter
Looking for a job as a writer these days is interesting. I'm old enough to remember keeping a "clip file" of what I thought were my best stories. It was a black binder with a lot of those clear plastic sleeves. From 1989-1995, when I'd write a story for Sports Illustrated or the Daily News that I thought was a "keeper" I'd diligently clip it and slip it into one of those sleeves.

When I applied for jobs, I'd remove what I thought were my two or three best stories, make copies at a copy story, and mail them along with a resume to the prospective employer.

These days, with internet archives, the process is quite different. A writer now can usually just cut and paste the links to his best work into an email. If you look over to the left side of this blog site, you'll see that I've chronicled a sampling of what I think are some of my best stories from 13 years at ESPN The Magazine. So, these days, I'm sending along two or three links, but also let folks know if they want to see more, they can access a bunch of stories on Jeff-Bradley.com.

Of course, there can be glitches. For example, one of the first stories I ever wrote for The Mag was a story on a young Derek Jeter. It was always one of my favorite pieces, but the Mag's on-line archives do not go back as far as 1998 and I never clipped and filed that one. It's like it doesn't exist.

I remember writing the story so well because the assignment came out of nowhere. I was in a pub in Manhattan watching some soccer -- cool lunch break -- with some colleagues, including Steve Rushin from Sports Illustrated, when my Flip Phone rang.

"We want you to write a feature on Derek Jeter," said my editor Steve Wulf. "For the next issue."

I don't expect any newspapermen to feel sorry for me, but in the Magazine world, this is considered writing on deadline. I had to book a flight to Detroit, where the Yankees were playing, immediately and have a feature on Jeter turned in about 48 hours later.

I remember pulling a college-style all-nighter in the Dearborn Inn to get the story done in time. I remember pacing around when it didn't seem the words were coming together. And, ultimately, remember waiting for word from the staff, and expecting the worst. And I remember Wulf (not only my editor, by my friend and mentor) telling me "I'm not changing a word." There's no higher praise a writer can get from an editor. And it doesn't happen very often.

But, dammit, how was I ever going to find the story? I rifled through a bunch of old copies of the Mag that I keep in bins in my basement. No luck. As a last resort, I figured I could get in touch with someone at the Mag and if they could hunt it down for me. But there was one last thing to try.

I remembered a few of the words to the lead. I remembered I led with a story about the scout who discovered and signed Jeter. So I started to type some words into google.

Someone liked my lead, I guess
I typed, "It's a life of mid-size cars..."

Bam! It came up in, of all places, a text book on sportswriting, called "Sportswriting: The Lively Game." In the chapter on writing a profile. The author of the text book, Conrad C. Fink, writes "Above all, the profile gives you the opportunity to write your way into the sports pages - and readers' hearts. Note this colorful, engaging writing:"

It's a life of mid-size cars, mid-level hotels and drive-thru dinners just off the interstate

Your best friends are talk radio and the USA Today box scores. Your worst enemies are a full bladder and a sign that reads "Next Service Area 56 Miles." You work a territory, usually three or four states, and you have to be prepared for all of nature's elements. You learn quickly never to leave home without long johns, a rain slicker and sunscreen.

The life of an area scout for a major league baseball baseball team is a lonely one. High school game one day. College game the next. Juco game. American Legion game. Babe Ruth game. Pull up your folding lawn chair, point your radar gun, click your stop watch. Hundreds of games. Thousands of players.

Then it happens. As quickly as a coach can spank a fungo across a choppy infield in Flint, Mich., you remember why you got into this business. The ball takes a high bounce, then a low one. It begins to roll then pops up again like bacon grease off a frying pan. A tall, reed-thin shortstop somehow calms the ball. He glides in, reaches forward to glove it, makes the transfer and then fires a smooth, firm throw to first. You are left breathless. The kid is a high school sophomore. 

"I see an electric body," Yankee scout Dick Groch recalls. "Thin, but with lithe, sinewy muscle. Classic infielder's body type.  Fluid and graceful." At this moment the scout gathers himself. Time to find out more about this boy, beginning with the basics.

Jeff Bradley, ESPN Magazine

 I still don't know how to get the whole clip, but I don't really care anymore.


Ben P said...

Found the rest of it. The dateline's totally wrong, and you're right, the excerpt is the best part, but the rest of the piece is pretty damn good. The Mattingly story is classic, and I love the image of Jeter and Posada as rookies, tooling around Fort Lee in a rented Dodge Neon.

Great piece. Here's the link: http://m.espn.go.com/wireless/story?storyId=8148411&lang=ES&wjb=

Jeff Bradley said...

Thanks Ben!

EKE said...

That is high praise. And well-deserved - what a great lead.