Friday, February 25, 2011

The Nightly Note(s)

Part One

So I was driving home from the gym this evening when it occurred to me that I'm a really boring writer. Ok, maybe it didn't just occur to me, it's actually something that I've known and written about quite recently. Still, it's become a predominant and unshakable theme in my thoughts about writing.

"I'm a bad writer." 

While writing the Nightly Note serves as a nice outlet for me to have a running stream of consciousness, it's not necessarily a practical application of my hopes to grow as a writer. Think about what you read here. I'm confident (arrogant?) enough to say that that anyone (ok, maybe not everyone) who reads my blog will grow in their understanding of the teams that I cover. My knowledge of the subject matter is pretty damned strong after all. But generally speaking, the pieces you read are going to be formulaic repetitions of previous posts. That's not a bad thing necessarily. Formulaic writing provides a convenient method that allows me to produce a significant quantity of writing, which is a necessity when you're the one man trying to cover five teams. But it does leave the flavor of the blog relatively dry. Tomorrow however I'm going to actually try and do something completely new for me.

Tomorrow I'm going to start writing a piece that will attempt to tell the story of one man - an ordinary man. The man is a baseball player, yes, and given that this is a blog about baseball, that's probably a good thing. But something we forget - or at least something I know I forget - is that the players who we devote so much time to studying, number crunching, and analyzing, are actually human beings. Shocking, I know. They came from somewhere and have interesting life experiences that don't get told by even the most advanced stat lines. Like you or me they have people they love, wives, and children, and passions of their own.

You know, now that I've written that, I think I finally remembered exactly what I wanted this post to be about.

I had intended for tonight's Nightly Note to be a reminder to myself, and hopefully to everyone else about what first drew us into the game of baseball. I have no intentions to get overly poetic about this (I'm not a good enough writer to do so even I wanted to) but I know that when I first started following baseball, it wasn't because of sabermetrics. It wasn't scouting profiles, and it wasn't pouring over mountains of payroll data trying to figure out how to make the financial puzzle pieces fit together when trying to build a team. Though admittedly, I have grown to love all of those things.

No, what first drew me, and probably a lot of others into the game, was a player. In my case it was Ken Griffey Jr. I loved everything about him, the swing, the backwards hat, the way he ran down a ball in the alley, the million mega-watt smile... I could go on. As a child I would spend hour after hour trying to emulate his swing from the right side. I made my mother go out and buy me his glove... and his shoes. And somewhere around that time I began to fall in love with everything else. The smell of a glove, the way the seams felt on your finger tips as you spun a ball in your hand, and the way a perfectly struck ball came off the bat almost effortlessly.

It was at that point that a love for a player became a love for the game. That love for a game turned into a love of the study of the game. Years passed and life brought about the changes that it always does. The shoes are lost and gone forever, but I still have the glove. It wouldn't fit right anymore. It's worn and the leather inside is frayed and coming apart, but I hope I never lose it. It smells right. It feels right. And more than anything else, it's a reminder of where I came from. Someday I'll show it to my daughter and explain to her why it's important to me. And like all kids, she'll quietly tell herself that her father is insane.

As James Earl Jones' character noted in the movie Field of Dreams, "baseball has marked the times."

It truly has.

So tomorrow sometime during mid-day I'm going to do something new. Something that will be difficult and well beyond the realm of my normal writing life. Tomorrow I will begin trying to tell one man's story. I can't promise you that I'll do it well. But if you'll join me for the ride, I promise I'll try and keep it as smooth as possible.

Who knows. Maybe, just maybe, I'll be able to remind myself and others that the people who play the game we love to follow aren't really that terribly different from you or I. And if I can remind people of something so incredibly simple with nothing more than a story of another mans life, maybe, just maybe, I'll manage to prove to myself for one night that I'm not such a bad writer after all.

Part Two

I'd also like to take a minute to wish my step-dad Bill Spaniol a very happy birthday. I'm a couple days late in doing so, and for that I apologize. Bill and I didn't always see eye-to-eye when I was younger, and I was certainly a pain in the ass at times. We also had pretty much nothing in common. Bill loved cars and engines - anything mechanical, technical - fishing, hunting and other various assorted manly activities. I've always been a sports nerd who to this day couldn't begin to tell you what the hell a carburetor does or which sort of bait to use to catch a Walleye.

That lack of commonality made it difficult for us to connect I think. Still, I learned a lot from him, and I owe him a lot of thanks for those important life lessons. Over the past few years as I've gotten older and we've managed to put some distance between our past, I think we've come to accept one another a bit more.

The fact that Bill and I have never been overwhelmingly close made it all the more awkward when, upon finding out that he had read the blog and had found it impressive, I was taken aback. For some reason his acknowledgment of my work struck me as hard anything in recent memory, perhaps because it was just completely unexpected. Since learning of that about a week ago, we got to spend a little time together on my recent vacation and we talked about my writing a little bit. He certainly seemed to understand, as I have understood for a long time, that my life should always be in my passion, and that's baseball.

Anyways, he's been enormously supportive of me and the work I've been doing here and if he should ever read this, I hope he understands that I appreciate that a lot. I should probably just tell him that, but I suck at actually talking to people, and hopefully I've made that clear in our conversations. 

Corey Ettinger is a Senior Writer for Baseball Digest as well as a proud contributor to both,, and He also provides extensive analysis of the American League Central Division at his own blog, AL Central In Focus. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @Coreyettinger for the latest updates, random thoughts and general tomfoolery. 

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