Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Blogging Baseball once again...

On the eve of the much anticipated congressional hearings scheduled tomorrow morning regarding steroid use in baseball-- and once again feeling low about the game we will always love anyway...

And with even fewer reasons to feel good about the profession of journalism-- something else we continue to also love anyway...

Along comes New York Times sportswriter Jack Curry to somehow make us feel good about baseball and journalism for a few moments both at once.

Sportswriters often do not get the credit they deserve from their fellow journalists. Often times, however, they are the best writers and reporters on their paper. At a place like the Times, appreciation for the prose of someone like Curry is even more likely to go unnoticed.

A profile by Curry of new New York Mets first baseman Doug Minetkiewicz is a journalistic gem. Curry explains how Minetkiewicz' failed career as a catcher lead him to become one of the best defensive first basemen in the game today:

"Doug Mientkiewicz never wanted to be a first baseman. Not first. Not there. He
always believed he was too deft an athlete and too much a competitor to be wasted at a position he consider.

"Mientkiewicz was a catcher, a grubby, gritty, get-your-uniform-filthy-by-the-second-inning catcher. He loved being immersed in every pitch while barking orders."

Curry purposefully waits until half-way through his story to exhibit his journalistic moneyshot, explaining why the beating heart of a catcher in the body of a first base man makes Mientkiewicz a Golden Glover:

"Watching Mientkiewicz at first is akin to watching someone who still thinks he is calling the signals for each pitch. If a right-handed batter is slow on a pitch, Mientkiewicz will inch to his left on the next pitch. If the batter has pitches timed, Mientkiewicz might back up a step."

"To Mientkiewicz, the hidden sign of a savy first baseman is not playing in the same spot on every pitch. If he makes cleat marks in two places for a whole inning, Mientkiewicz knows he is daydreaming about his next at-bat. In the field, Minetkiewicz is always moving or thinking about moving."

In one relatively short piece of journalism, Curry (1) profiles Mientkiewicz; (2) explains why first base is a far more important defensive position than most baseball fans think; (3) previews the Mets' season; and... (4) even reminds of something us that transcends sports, namely that determination, will, and hard work still make all the difference in the world.

Mientkiewicz, as Curry points out, is not a very good offensive player, and is only going to be afforded the opportunity to play at all because of his glove and work ethic:

"Before a series in a new ball park, Mientkiewicz has a coach whack low one-hoppers to him so he can practice scoops. He will field about 15 off the grass and 15 off the dirt." As Mientkiewicz himself explains to Curry: "I got to catch the ball. Otherwise, I'll be parking cars."