Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The fall season of #HeathWrites

It's always a bit of an adjustment when a sports season ends. In my case, things go from 60-0 when the 162-game regular season ends for the Minnesota Twins. So begins the offseason, but just for baseball. I start picking up a bunch of different hats as a freelance sports writer throughout the fall and winter months (Freelancing is a year-round deal for me, but obviously baseball is the priority in-season.).

First, my schedule is anything but typical. Weekends aren't really a thing, although sometimes Mondays can offer a bit of a lighter load. Plus, my sleeping hours rival that of a college student, because I'm forever a night owl and work in sports which usually happen at night. As I like to say, I get my hours in, just not in a 9-5 time frame.

I cover a lot of different sports and write about a lot of different things, which is one of the cool aspects of my work that I mention to people. It's a variety of stuff from high school football to tennis to NHL games to college basketball.

Before I head out to cover a high school game, it's important to do a little homework. It's usually the first/only time all season I'll watch those teams, so I need to get the lay of the land. Depending on the game, I look up stats, highlight a couple of the best players, take a look at team history or tournament history. I want to have some background so I can be better informed on what to look for during the game, what to ask about afterward and what tidbits I could add to my story that go beyond just watching from the press box.

As much as you prepare though, the game has to play out, and often there's a totally new angle that gets written because of what happens on the field. I covered a football game between Cooper and Irondale to wrap up the regular season, and Cooper should have won on paper. Turned out, Irondale went on a huge second-half run of scores and Cooper couldn't get anything going. The Irondale coach gave me a quote afterward with a similar sentiment to the Herb Brooks line about his Team USA losing to the Russians 9-out-of-10 times. Not that this football game was the kinda of upset scale - it wasn't - but it was still a good line.

No press box? No problem.
Another football game before that took me on the outskirts of the northwest metro. The charter school's home field wasn't a stadium but more like what other teams might call a practice field. There wasn't a press box since no grandstand existed either. The athletic director said I could join the scoreboard operator on top of the concession stand building.

It was a misty, muddy Friday afternoon (no lights on the field either) for the game. With my bulky backpack strapped on my back, I climbed up a stair ladder, managed my way under a tarp that acted as a roof above the shingled roof of the concession stand and got set up on the roof. Thank goodness I always bring an extension cord and power strip with me to cover games; the folks there were nice enough to run my cord down the side of the building and into the stand to give my power for my laptop.

Other than some of the misty rain getting blown in our direction, covering the game went pretty well. The folks on the roof with me and the AD were all very nice, and let me tell you a little goes a long way in feeling welcomed or appreciated.

Just another unique experience covering a game, that's all. I've been to plenty of fields and arenas. The biggest thing is always trying to find a power outlet to plug in my computer and/or phone charger. Wifi can come through my phone, which helps check that box. A lot of logistics get cobbled together to make high school sports coverage work. It may not be the most glamorous, but it's enjoyable. Prep athletes can also be great interviews; sometimes the inexperience being interviewed yields better quotes or more frank takes on the game.

Back to ace the tennis beat
Once again this fall, I covered some of the girls' state high school tennis tournament. This is one of my favorite assignments because I really feel like I have a great grasp of the game. Yes, this is the sport I played in high school. Even though I wasn't that good, I know more about the game than I can claim with other sports.

The Class 1A championship, which I've covered for a few years now, has usually been a pair of Blake players. The team is dominant, and often one girl will coast to a fairly easy victory. This time, it was Blake against an opponent from another school. That made the match different in itself, and the play turned out to be very competitive and fun to watch. They took it to deuce eight times and had plenty of long rallies, including a long 35-shot point. There was tension and a third set wasn't out of the question, even though it did end in two sets, with Blake's Arlina Shen finally getting her championship after three years as a runner-up.

In a fun twist that I didn't learn until the medal ceremony, it was also Shen's 16th birthday. Like I couldn't have found a great lede anyway. It was nice to talk with Shen - who remembered speaking with me last year when her tears were for a much different reason than this year - after her victory to get her perspective on the match and finally winning.

What it's all about
Those are the types of stories I really enjoy telling when there is almost too much information or too many good angles to take. Had I not been restricted with a word count (which I could probably say all the time), I would have broken the match down even more because there were so many turning points and close games.

I also covered some state tournament soccer, including a couple semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium. I'm planning on the state volleyball tournament coming up next week and have another football game on the schedule in a couple days.

All this, and I didn't even touch on the features I'm writing as a Wild beat writer for Minnesota Hockey Magazine (Zach Parise and Jason Zucker profiles, plus something on Ryan Suter's 1,000 games so far), or the columns I'm still writing for Zone Coverage about the Wild, or even the things I'm working on with The Athletic to follow the Minnesota Whitecaps, the first professional women's hockey team in the state as they joined the NWHL this season.

Again, it's a variety. Different sports, different stories, different outlets. It's the freelancer life.

A reminder that you can always follow along with me on Twitter and Instagram @hlrule.