A few days ago, I tweeted a video of ESPN The Magazine’s Wright Thompson discussing the Cleveland Indians on SportsCenter. As the Tribe’s streak rolled along, reporter after reporter, writer after writer would parachute in to the city of Cleveland to witness the magic in person. Thompson discussed how the team was paying such little attention to the streak itself, and how manager Terry Francona would only address it out of respect to whichever reporter happened to ask about it before or after each game, looking for a quote to fill their respective story on the very topic. My tweet, however, would be about the other part of the city which Clevelanders hold so dear: The Food
Wright Thompson on Cleveland: "This place is a diet killer… Cut me open and I'd bleed Slyman's corned beef." pic.twitter.com/VoxskhvyDw
— Scott @ WFNY (@WFNYScott) September 15, 2017
While his quip about the city’s variety of delectable options drew a laugh, my true excitement was what Thompson being in Cleveland in that very moment signaled. He’s their must-read scribe, the person whom you stop what you’re doing and read his most recently published story regardless of topic be it The Masters, Michael Jordan, Olympic Wrestling. With the MLB Playoffs rolling near, it was clear that Thompson was in Cleveland to not just cover the Indians’ streak, but to spin together a story that was so much bigger than 22 baseball games.
He didn’t disappoint.
In a story called “There Is No Tomorrow“, Thompson takes readers inside the bowels of the Cleveland Indians’ clubhouse, painting picture upon picture of what can oftentimes be lost throughout the course of a 162-game regular season. The entire premise of the story is the team’s clubhouse, the part we as fans do not get to see, but the place in which many seasons can either be propelled into the autumn months or derailed mid-summer, regardless of talent or tenure.
Take, for instance, the lede:
The Cleveland Indians return home in the middle of the night, winners of 15 straight and counting, and the feeling on the plane is something like an army or a rock band marching across a continent, exhausted but connected on a soul level: brothers in arms. The next day, the players head back into work. A light breeze blows across the stadium’s empty concourses, which smell like popcorn and butter. They haven’t lost in two weeks, pounding down the season’s backstretch, playoff-bound. Their manager, Terry Francona, makes the two-block trip from home on his scooter, waving at cops and other working men. In the clubhouse, he swims to help the circulation in his injury-ravaged legs. He had heart surgery two months ago and missed only six games, the son of a pro ballplayer and the father of a combat-hardened Marine. …
Nothing in pro sports is quite like a baseball clubhouse. Not merely a place for dressing and undressing, it’s a shadow opponent — more akin to a golf course than a football locker room. Individual games might be won or lost on the field, but seasons are won or lost in the endless hours between, 162 games in 183 days, the grind itself as difficult as any other physical aspect of the sport. Ballplayers are famous for superstitions and hardwired routines, for talking to bats and pissing on their hands, for destroying coolers and screaming at reporters and at each other. All those things are outward reflections of the inner anxiety that grows day by day, series by series. They often publicly mock their fragile attempts to impose order on chaos, whistling past the graveyard of broken baseball dreams.
Littered with extremely granular, reported details and anecdotes, Thompson takes fans inside that very clubhouse, describing the corner which houses the team’s Jobu statue, how the team laughed in the face of superstitious items like the fear of change, how Greg Allen didn’t know where to park his car upon being called up to the bigs, how Andrew Miller and Craig Breslow worried about their Florida-bound families during the Hurricane, how they each kill time in a variety of ways ranging from playing cards to competing in games of Mario Kart, and how they’re strategically housed within the locker room itself.
Kluber has a reputation as a baseball robot, but in the clubhouse, the hilarious Tomlin makes Kluber laugh, which might be why their lockers are side by side.
They consolidate two half-full Copenhagen cans into one. They try on shoes.
They drink lots and lots of Muscle Milk.
Inside their underground home, on the lower level of the stadium — LL on the elevator button — they argue and encourage each other. At one point, closer Cody Allen leans over to congratulate starter Trevor Bauer. They’ve lived shoulder to shoulder for months. Bauer loves physics and advanced analytics, and Allen loves belt buckles and rodeo bulls. They couldn’t be more different, but in this room they understand the most important things about each other. That’s a clubhouse.
There’s an entire section dedicated to Terry Francona—the nights he spends in the clubhouse, what the game of baseball has done to his marriage and health, and the one superstition he is willing to admit. The piece then closes with how the streak itself will mean nothing once the MLB Playoffs start as every team gets their record reset to zeros, and it’s the first to eleven non-Wild Card wins to determine a champion. There’s variance and randomness, there are heroes and disappointments, there are hugs and high fives and circumstances.
When you take into account the quality of the topic and the quality of the words describing them, there’s little surprise that this story earned the cover of the magazine in which it will reside.
— Scott @ WFNY (@WFNYScott) September 19, 2017
This Week in #ActualSportswriting:
- “Deep Six: Jemele Hill and the Fight for the Future of ESPN” by Bryan Curtis (The Ringer)
- “USC-Texas revisited: LenDale White and what happened after fourth-and-two” by Zach Helfand (LA Times)
- “Why Ric Flair’s Greatest Legacy is his Daughter” by Dave Schilling (B/R Magazine)
This Week in #ActualNonsportswriting:
- “This Private Investigator Was The Original Most Interesting Man In The World” by Eamon Javers (BuzzFeed)
- “Jon Hamm’s Second Act” by Jim Windolf (New York Times)
- “How a Hit Happens Now” by Craig Marks (Vulture)
This Week in #Picks:
So for the week, I did well, winning eight of the games I selected. In my Sunday tweet, I went 3-2. The bad news is that, of the three I shared here, I went 1-2 thanks to Green Bay losing two-thirds of their receiving corps and Dallas unable to stop Trevor Siemian, CJ Anderson, and the vaunted Denver Broncos offense. Good news is, New England’s thumping of the New Orleans Saints got me on the board and we have a better idea of where some of these teams stack up.
If there’s any silver lining, it’s that Fantasy and FanDuel have been glorious through both weeks. Here’s hoping three road teams in Week 3 gets me heading more in the right direction.
Houston (+14.5) vs. NEW ENGLAND
Kansas City (-3) vs. LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
Atlanta (-3) vs. DETROIT
YTD ATS: 1-5