Athlete blogs bring good, bad qualities

By
Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but the internet has become kind of a big deal. And along with MLB.tv, live-updates and endless fantasy empires, another curious phenomenon has seeped in: sports blogging.

At first, I was skeptical of the blog. It seemed to me a way of reporting without the editing, in a way that was accessible to everyone. I’m all for accessibility, but it did make me a bit uneasy that the same outlet through which adolescent girls anonymously embellish their teenage traumas was also being used to produce serious journalism. After reading some of ESPN.com columnist Eric Karabell’s fantasy baseball analysis, however, I began to think differently about it.

But recently, the blog has reached a new stage in its evolution: the professional athlete. At first, it was Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, who pioneered the way with his frequently updated site, 38 Pitches. As anyone who knows him is well aware, Curt likes to talk. In fact, one might go so far as to call him a blowhard. But despite his oft-publicized and frequently unsolicited tirades into his social and political agendas, Schilling is very informative. He’ll break down his strategy for his last start and honestly identify and critique some of his mistakes. He even uses his site to try and garner support for his charity that funds research for ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Perhaps inspired by his fellow Curt, Detroit Tigers centerfielder Curtis Granderson has spawned a blog of his own this year for ESPN.com. He might not have a catchy title, but Granderson provides a similar view into the life of a major league baseball player that other media don’t. He discusses the difficulties of hitting a lefty slider and the strain of completing one’s bachelor’s degree while playing in the minor leagues. He also provides an image of the clubhouse that the postgame shows just can’t capture. For instance, before reading Granderson’s blog, I had no idea that Ivan Rodriguez plays with the bats in the dugout to try and “wake them up” so that the team will get more hits.

Nor did I know of a particular end-of-the-season hazing ritual in Detroit. Granderson writes, “Normally right after the game the rookies will come in and all their clothes will be gone except for a nice small Halloween outfit to wear while we travel to the next city. During my rookie year, I was Pocahontas.”

As comforting as it is to know that the Boys of October celebrate in drag, I wonder if perhaps there is such a thing as too much information. Gazing at the baseball cards in my basement, I remember the wonder and excitement of watching reruns of Carlton Fisk waving his walk-off home run in that hallowed Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. Would my memory of Fisk be any different if I had known that he too, dressed up like Pocahontas during the postgame festivities later that night?

Who knows, maybe Schilling and Granderson will one day be legends just like Fisk. It’s very possible. This year, Granderson became the first player since Willie Mays to hit 20 doubles, 20 triples, 20 home runs and steal 20 bases in a season. That’s pretty epic. But then I read that he likes to “mess around on my computer and phone. Lots of text messages. Eat, sleep and enjoy TV re-runs,” that he felt giddy excitement when he hit his first home run, and that “the next exciting thing I did was Sunday after our game: I headed to Wal-Mart to buy a few basic things for my apartment and a few snacks.” Or maybe I’ll peruse Schilling’s musings to find that he is gloating about how “(Philadelphia Eagles’ Brian) Westbrooks’s Monday night sealed the first of what should be 14 straight wins over John Meter Madden” in his fantasy football league. It’s kind of deflating to realize these lauded individuals do the same mundane things everybody else does, only they have a different job.

Part of what makes Fisk and professional athletes such iconic and idolized figures is that they aren’t like us. Sure, we know they’re human, and as has been made painstakingly clear in recent years, they lie and cheat and make mistakes just like the rest of us. But when I go to a ballpark, I go in part to suspend my sense of reality and buy into the idea that these are not regular people just like us. They are, for three to four hours, stoic, mythical figures capable of physical feats I can only dream of. So as nice and informative as it may be to have endless insight into the minutia of the lives of professional athletes, in doing so the barrier between us and them is broken. The pedestal we put them upon is leveled. Just remember, sport isn’t about reality, and when the two merge, some of the magic is lost.

Ben Singer ’09 will go to Wal-Mart and buy a Pocahontas costume if the Red Sox lose the division.