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critique of baseball gamer

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by fremont, May 18, 2008.

  1. fremont

    fremont Member

    The thread about people working with you to improve your writing had me thinking that nobody has really gone over what I've produced lately as a stringer, and the day that I want to stop getting better at writing is the day I want to stop writing altogether. And that day hasn't come yet.

    So....this is a high school baseball playoff gamer from last spring, published in a twice-weekly. Just chosen somewhat randomly (without consciously trying to pick out something I was either proud or ashamed of) out of all I've done as a stringer in the last year and a half or so.


    By James Fremont

    TEXAS CITY - Chris Narvaez must have forgot the Texas City Stingarees were all about small ball, or even that he wasn't a power hitter.
    Maybe he was just seeing Montgomery pitcher Bobby Stone's pitches that well.
    Narvaez hit his first two homers of the season, and a Cory Blair sacrifice fly scored Blake Apffel in the seventh inning to send the Stings to a 1-0 victory in Game 1 of the Region III final series at Robinson Stadium on Thursday.
    Texas City (25-10) is one game from its first state tournament appearance since 1954.
    Narvaez's first shot was solo and came in the first inning. Montgomery left fielder Taylor Ulkie went to the wall but had no chance as the ball landed well beyond the fence.
    Narvaez came up again in the third inning after a leadoff Cory Blair single. With the runner on first, Narvaez got the signal to do what the Stings normally do in such a situation - bunt.
    "We got (the baserunner on first) and we stuck to normal baseball strategy," Texas City head coach Mike Schwager said. "We get on base, we move the runner over, we manufacture runs. We don't have a lot of power hitters."
    But on Thursday, Narvaez was one. After moving ahead in the count, Narvaez swung freely on another Stone pitch and sent it over the head of Ulkie, who scaled the left field fence in an attempt to rob Narvaez of his second homer.
    At that point, the Stings had built a 3-0 lead the same way they had throughout the playoffs - timely offense, reliable fielding and impervious pitching. Texas City hurler Chase Campbell was perfect through the first three innings.
    In the top of the fourth, Campbell's control faltered and Montgomery's first two baserunners reached on walks. They moved into scoring position on a wild pitch to Michael Ghutzman, after Campbell struck out Stone. Ghutzmann then connected for the Bears' first hit, scoring Davis Schroeder and Seth Hill. But Campbell coaxed a slow grounder out of Chance Eggleston and struck out Ulkie to end the inning with the Stings still ahead.
    Texas City's lead evaporated due to a pair of errors in the fifth inning. Chip Rogers led off with Montgomery's second hit, and Narvaez misplayed the ball in left field to allow Rogers to reach second base. He took third on a Matt Johnston sacrifice bunt, and scored as Texas City third baseman Trey Strickland couldn't get a hold on a hard-hit ball from Schroeder.
    Campbell and the Texas City defense bent but didn't break for the next two frames. Stone and Ghutzmann started off the sixth with two singles, and Eggleston bunted the runners into scoring position with one out after a sacrifice.
    Then the Stings caught two big breaks - Ulkie laid down a squeeze play bunt but sent it toward a charging Campbell, who flipped to catcher Apffel to put out Stone. Ulkie reached first base. Then, with Rogers at the plate, Campbell fired a wild pitch that Apffel recovered from the backstop without Ghutzmann coming in to score; Apffel relayed throw to second base via Campbell to put out Ulkie, who had run about 50 feet toward third base.
    Schwager knew this game was going to be like a rollercoaster ride.
    "We knew it was going to be exactly this kind of game," the second-year head coach aid. "It's a matter of making all the plays."
    The Stings wiggled their way out of another jam in the seventh, as Rogers - who didn't get to finish his at-bat in the sixth - led off with a single and moved to second on a Johnson sacrifice. Campbell was then called for a balk, sending Rogers to third with one out. But Campbell got a weak dribbler back to the mound from Hayden Moore, keeping Rogers on third, and a groundout from Schroeder to end the frame.
    The Stings took the victory in walk-off fashion in the seventh as Apffel singled and advanced to second on an Ulkie error in left field to lead off. Kyle Myers singled and Apffel moved to third; he scored on Blair's fly ball to right fielder Moore, whose throw ended well wide of the plate.


    Shoot. I've got thick skin.
  2. TyWebb

    TyWebb Well-Known Member

    Hey James, thanks for posting. I had a few of thoughts.

    -First off, I think you got the final score wrong in the nut graph. You say Navarez had two home runs, but the score was 1-0. This was pretty tough for me to get past, but I read on.
    -I think you had the right idea for the lead, but I was really interested in the part about the kid receiving the bunt signal but eventually hitting a home run. I probably would have used that as my lede antecdote. Maybe something like:
    "With one home run on his scorecard already, Chris Navarez received the bunt single for his second at-bat. He went ahead and hit a home run anyway"
    -With each home run, you describe how the outfielder didn't get to catch the ball. This kind of goes without saying and you could use this space to be more descriptive. What type of pitch was it? What was the count? How did his teammates react?
    -Don't call innings "frames". Think about the novice baseball reader. What if they have never heard this term before? You would lose them here. Just use innings. I know you feel like you need to mix up the language a little bit. I used to do the same thing, but keep it simple for the readers.
    -I'm not sure what kind of time you had after the game, but you HAVE to talk to the kid that hit two home runs and quote him in the story, IMHO. If you use him as your lead, you have to have at least one quote from him. After reading, I'm left wondering what he though about the game and his performance.
    -Avoid the play-by-play in the middle. I usually use this space to include how other players did, preview the next game of the series, etc. It kind of drags at this point.

    It looks like you have a good structure for the story here, it just needs some work and a little more time.
  3. fremont

    fremont Member

    This was straight out of the raw copy I have saved to my hard drive, not what went into the paper. Since this was some time ago I forgot what the score actually was, but looking it up it was 4-3. I probably meant to say that the winning team took a 1-0 best-of-3 series lead and got crossed up somehow.

    This has long been a tendency of mine. I feel boring, almost robotic, when I don't do it. I guess it's just something I'm gonna have to accept.

    I do try to interview the kids when time allows - don't recall really the circumstances behind this particular story - but I'll only allot so much time an effort to get something that's not guaranteed to be anything better than "Yeah, uh-huh, it felt great."

    Concerning interviewing kids - I'd say no fewer than 40 percent of such interview attempts in my time with high school kids yield something brief and meaningless (we know it felt great to hit a walk-off homer, sonny, but how's that rate among the greatest moments of your life?). How much is "It felt great" coming from the kid's mouth directly add to the story, do you say? My touch with interviewing kids is hit-and-miss. Some kids just aren't talkers, or they just freeze up at the thought that they're being interviewed and they don't "want to sound stupid" or something. Any tips, maybe ideas on how to put a nervous kid at ease so he might be able to add something to the story?

    When I've worked enough of many teams' games, I find they tend to have an unofficial "player spokesperson" or this may be a small group of two or three kids (often seniors). I stay wary of appearing to show some sort of favoritism to certain kids, and this is especially true where I have some history as a writer and covering the sports program(s), where I'm aware of all the politics and the workings of things at the ground level. The winning baseball team is in fact my high school alma mater - any shred of "homerism" or anything left or right of the middle that you can find?

    Thanks for your time, and for reading past the kind of goof that used to have my face red for 24 hours until the next edition came out. Then it was, well, yesterday's news :D
  4. Stitch

    Stitch Active Member

    Talk about why the kid swung? Just ask questions about a single situation and not the game as a whole. That way you can get more than "our team played well"-type of quote.
  5. Petrie

    Petrie Guest

    Agreed. If you ask about a single situation, then you can move from there into the grand scheme of things and get some good stuff. A couple situations I would have been curious about as a reader are the homer on the bunt signal and the walkoff sac fly. How did Narvaez' first homer affect his plate strategy for the next AB, and how did his newfound power affect the rest of the lineup? Was the last kid just looking for something to drive into the outfield, since anything of that nature would lock up the win?

    Sometimes, the players are total blockheads and won't give you anything, and others will be fantastic. The best player in our area also happens to be the best interview, very in-depth while not getting too complex for the reader. It's going to be hit or miss, but there's only one way to find out.

    Also, I've had several experiences where a kid was just a brutal interview last year or 2 years ago, but they're good now. After the first or second interview, the kid tends to not be as nervous/shy and just talks baseball.
  6. I don't have much to add in terms of the gamer itself, nothing that hasn't been said here. But when it comes to pulling quotes, I've found that two things work. First, if I've never talked to the player before, I start with something that lightens the mood ("Man, you guys are on a roll"). Second, speak his lingo: I.E. you jumped all over that pitch and it really looked like you were expecting something off-speed, did you know he was coming with a curveball. Perhaps not the best examples, but I think if the kid feels comfortable, he's more likely to open up and give you something worthwhile.
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