Monday, July 31, 2017

The busy, fun, wide world of sports

It's the last day of July. In the sports world, it's an interesting time of transition. The past couple weeks are some of the quietest around in the overall sports realm.

The NHL is pretty quiet after the draft and free agency opens, not much out of the NBA either. MLB is slugging around through the 162-game season after the All-Star Break. It's really the only mainstream sport in the spotlight. NFL teams just opened their training camps, signifying the unofficial/official starts to their seasons. Other than that, there's the WNBA, IndyCar, NASCAR, golf, tennis has a gap in between Slams after Wimbledon and before the U.S. Open.

But if there's an opposite of March Madness, these couple weeks in July are probably it.

If you want to throw high schools into the mix, there are probably various captain's practices being held for fall sports before (at least in Minnesota) official practices open up in two weeks. It's just another sign that summer is flying by and about over.

Summer is still busy, fun time for America's pastime
Of course, as I reference this as some sort of sports "down time," that's also not very true when it comes to baseball. It's grind time for that sport. Sure, there's the All-Star Break, but the Twins in particular have had a busy schedule leading up to that point. Something like 45 games in 45 days thanks to not many off days in June and a pile of doubleheaders after a soggy spring.

It's a busy, but fun, pastime for the summer. For my sports consumption, I try to take in what I can and get a variety. Still, there are sports everyone gravitates toward, even if they claim to follow everything. Me, I always say my three favorites are baseball, hockey and IndyCar racing. That's not necessarily in any particular order.

I also enjoy watching tennis. I'll even watch bowling once in a while when it's on during a bad-weather Saturday afternoon. I keep up with the NBA mostly on what I see through social media an news outlets. I'm not a die-hard when it comes to football by any means, but I like to keep up with the high school and college games locally. I'll tune in for some pro football; it's just not appointment viewing for me if I have other things going on.

Reasons behind the sports we love 
My sports coverage, particularly on the preps level, has grown over the years. Therefore, I've gotten the chance to watch and write about a variety of sports and athletes. Volleyball state tournaments are entertaining, I really enjoy covering swim meets and the only thing to complain about with a high school football game is the cold weather sometimes while I try to type in the press box.

So much of what we grow up with determines our interests and activities. I like IndyCar racing because my dad loves it. He also played tennis, got me started playing, and there you go. I understand swim meets and like that excitement since my brother took up the sport in high school.

If I have reasons and stories like that for my sports background, I know other people must have them, too. Maybe it's a family member or friend that got you hooked. It could be one game you went to that made you fall in love with a sport. Or maybe it's just that sports are so ingrained in our society that it's just natural to pay attention to them.

I'd love to hear other stories. Feel free to leave some thoughts in the comments.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

I still have thoughts

Someone recently mentioned they'd taken a look at my blog. That's always appreciated, of course, but it got me thinking about what I've written on this platform as of late. I say aloud something like: "It's turned into an IndyCar blog lately."

That was just off the top of my head. It's certainly true, though. My last seven blog posts here (except for the most recent one) have been related to IndyCar racing. The post before that - after I got done covering everything for March Madness - was written in early April. 

You know how sometimes you realize you say you're going to do something, mark an item on your to-do list or just make a note to get to it later? Then you realize months have gone by and you have no idea how? That's kind of what happens to me from time to time. 

Let me just say that I'm definitely still writing. For those that follow me on social media or know me personally, I would hope that doesn't come as a surprise. It's just that this isn't my only platform to share my work anymore. I also didn't make a format change to IndyCar-only for this blog.

I've shared my thoughts on the Minnesota Wild via stories and podcasts at There was a lot to cover this season with some success, a disappointing playoff run and then all the excitement with the Expansion Draft for the new NHL team in Las Vegas. With the only true part of the hockey offseason right now, there hasn't been much on that front for a while, but I hope to start back up again strong in the fall.

Baseball is still the main gig 
As for the Twins, I guess I really haven't written much about them lately - in more than 140 characters at a time. See, I still watch all the games and comment on what's happening. I just use Twitter as my platform.

After losing 103 games last season, this year has been a refreshing change of pace. They've been a winning ball club (this last week aside) and managed to stay in the division/wild card races.

It's weird how the Twins have fared the past few seasons. After reaching the postseason in 2010, the inaugural season at Target Field, the Twins had some losing seasons. It looked like they were going on the upswing in 2015 though, with a bit of a surprising season in which they were in contention for a division title until the last weekend of the regular season. Instead, the Kansas City Royals won it and the World Series. Still, no one expected the Twins to have that kind of success. They overachieved.

That was why the results of 2016 were so disappointing. It seemed going in  that the losing seasons were going to be behind the Twins as they looked to build on the 2015 surprise. A far cry from what happened. The Twins started out 0-9 - with a bad omen of multiple rain delays in Baltimore on Opening Day - never recovered and stumbled to the worst record in baseball at 59-103.

After that performance, and a similar roster, the expectations weren't too high for 2017. But again, the Twins have surprised everyone. They spent a bulk of time before the All-Star Break in first place, or in second just behind the AL Champion Cleveland Indians. Part of this can be attributed to the weak division and an overall weak American League.

The Twins have played better, too. Byron Buxton is outstanding in center field, Miguel Sano nearly won the Home Run Derby in his first All-Star Game selection, Jose Berrios has figured it out, Ervin Santana has pitched extremely well. The Twins have won games this year with much better defense and clutch hitting. When they get a lead, they know how to hang onto it.

Anyway, the Twins season keeps me pretty busy, but I'm still working as a freelance writer. I write high school and general human interest features for the local suburban papers under the Chicago Tribune/Chicago Pioneer Press umbrella. All my work is done over the phone talking to sources before I write my stories.

Plenty of other stuff, too 
Plus, there are other odds and ends projects that come up with various outlets. I'm still involved with the Minneapolis Star Tribune as a freelance reporter for high school sports, which mostly include section and state tournaments.

I'll still continue to use this platform for whatever I see fit to write about that's timely. I didn't intentionally turn it into an IndyCar blog, but that's just what I've wanted to write about. The Indy 500 is always a big deal, whether I'm there in person or not, and we took another family trip to Road America this June, too.

I started this blog to keep writing after I graduated college. I knew I could always have this forum as a place to put my thoughts. That's what I'll continue to do.

So, that's a little bit of catch-up with me and what I've worked on over the past few months. As always, thanks for reading, following, retweeting and sharing. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Despite ever-changing journalism world, writers are valuable

I graduated with a journalism degree when the recession hit. It was also a time when the future of print journalism was in question (not that it's necessarily any more secure today). As I job searched, it was always interesting to discuss the field with others. Will newspapers go away? Will everything just be online? How will it change the job market? Discussion often circled to this point:

"There will always need to be writers."

No matter the medium, right? Well, for the first time, I'm questioning whether that sentiment will still ring true as much as it used to even a few years ago. Or maybe it's that the value will continue to decrease. Nothing can stop someone from putting a pen to paper, words on a word document, or maybe in the future, stories written out in some kind of microchip form sent directly to our brains. But will people read it?

There's a lot of thing at play here, but some recent events got me thinking about writing and where it ranks in today's instant-gratification, digital, visual world. Let's put the print journalism sector on hold for a minute for the purposes of this blog post - the changes and setbacks within that domain have been obvious in past years as things shifted online.

ESPN hits the industry hard 
In April, sports media giant ESPN laid off 100 employees, including a lot of writers for the company's website. Jayson Stark covered baseball for 17 years with ESPN and was let go. Columnist Johnette Howard and a bunch of NHL columnists - in the middle of the Stanley Cup playoffs - were also let go. SportsCenter anchor Sara Walsh was set to return from maternity leave when she found out she was laid off.

It even hit the motorsports world, which is obviously something close to my heart. Dr. Jerry Punch, a reporter for 30 years with the network who covered plenty of IndyCar races and Indianapolis 500s in his time, was let go. So was Allen Bestwick, the most recent guy who called IndyCar races for ESPN/ABC. Both Punch and Bestwick finished out their time with this year's Indy 500 and dual IndyCar races at Detroit.

I remember reading the reactions on Twitter the day of the ESPN layoffs, from those let go and from media consumers. It's a tough part of the business that so many journalists (raises my own hand) have experienced.

Last week, I caught something on Twitter that I had to read over again to make sure I understood. is a website filled with video clips now. It looked a little odd when I initially scrolled through the page. So, more writers with a platform taken away in favor of a stronger focus on visuals.

Now, I'm not going to preach against videos. Compelling stories can be told through video images just as well as writing. I also know the value of social media and how much better engagement is with a post or Tweet that contains a GIF, video or photo rather than just text. GIFs are one of my favorite additions to the Twittersphere, in fact.

I'm also not here to crunch numbers about these layoffs and website shifts I mentioned. I'm not a business owner or manager for those entities who's starting at a bottom line within an always-changing market.

But what's happened here is significant enough for me as a journalist to take notice and write about it to share my thoughts. I am a writer in the sports side of things, after all. So, how are sports writers valued these days? Before, it was the writing for free or very little pay that was a concern of mine. But taking away the writing platform altogether seems to be going another step down the path.

Videos may be engaging and quick to view, but they certainly can't take the place of a good, well-written story. It's not about a debate between video or writing being better than the other. I still think there's room for both, especially for writers like me who thrive on the written word much better than verbalization. And Ken Rosenthal writing his thoughts in the form of Facebook posts is not the same thing as a story for a media outlet.

This whole topic is worth a conversation in the evolution of the world of journalism. It's likely a blip on the radar as the industry keeps adjusting to provide content and still make money. I hope so. Because I'd hate to think of a time when we don't need writers anymore.

A couple things for the road...
Writers always appreciate readers. So if there's a story you like or a writer you enjoy reading, then subscribe, share, comment, retweet and like. Good stories deserve to be told and shared.

My colleague Brandon Warne came up with an idea for writers to share some work they're particularly proud of over the past year. It's called Read It All day on Aug. 1. Check out the details below. I'd encourage writers to share their work.