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TUESDAY MORNING MOUND VISIT: Where baseball goes, great stories follow

Feb. 20—I had a thought a few days ago. It was a passing, end-of-the-night thought, but it was one that stuck.

In two years covering sports professionally, and an additional year covering sports while in college, I've had a chance to write or edit stories centered around most sports that are commonplace in America.

And that led me to the thought: out of all those sports — baseball is the one that lends itself best to storytelling.

I'm not saying it's more entertaining or more important than any other sport. But in terms of going to an event, sitting down, jotting notes, opening up a laptop and writing however many words, baseball is usually the one that produces the best stories.

For many different articles, the actual sport itself is inconsequential. Features, enterprise stories, event coverage — stories usually achieve their level of quality by expanding on interesting tales and journeys of the subjects, and the ability of the writer to convey those stories.

For simple game stories, the sport does matter. If someone says a player ran an I-formation in a basketball game, that's not good.

But even in the case of features and enterprise stories, ones focusing on subjects involved directly or with ties to baseball have been some of my personal favorites.

Before going into the reasons other baseball-related stories are so fantastic, let's go over the game stories — or "gamers" in journalistic vernacular.

The first thing every sports journalist is taught, whether it's in college or in the newsroom, is to look for the "story behind the story." Some editors or instructors have different terms for it, but the message is always the same: when covering a game, look for stories beyond just the X's and O's.

Anyone can Google a boxscore or hear the results of a game through the grapevine. The best gamers are the ones that can add details or expand on something readers otherwise wouldn't know.

One of the gamers I received the most compliments on was LCSC's contest against Southeastern in the 2023 Avista NAIA World Series. The game finished around 12:15 a.m. — just 15 minutes until the Tribune's print deadline. I didn't have time for interviews or quotes, but I was able to provide details on a Southeastern player and the coach getting thrown out of the game, and was able to explain the "celebratory gesture" the player made to the Warriors' dugout after hitting a home run that led to the ejection. That detail specifically drew in compliments.

If a player got ejected or punished for celebrating a score that happened in a basketball or football game, I may not have been able to detail it as well, especially with where I was in my career by that time last year. There might not have been enough time for me to take note of the score, look up and see the gesture.

The natural pauses in baseball are excellent for those details.

Things like the reactions of the benches between pitches, the way a batter grips the bat a little tighter on an 0-2 count, the steady rise of the crowd as a hit ball looks to be heading past the right-center-field wall — all of that is available to be seen, digested and put to writing better than any other sport.

"I think it's the pacing of the sport," New York Times bestselling sportswriter Jeff Pearlman said. "It's a contemplative experience, so there's a lot of time to go beyond the action and delve into the sagas, the personalities. Football and basketball are TikTok. Baseball is a 300-page book."

It's a sport with pauses. It's a sport where you can observe better than any other (except for softball, which, for the sake of this column, is one-to-one with everything I'm saying about baseball). Soccer and basketball are in constant motion. Football and volleyball have intermissions between plays, but are very patterned and stop-and-go.

It's not impossible to find the "story behind the story" for those sports, but it is harder to process outside information aside from what's happening in the area of play.

Baseball is a sport that thrives on what happens outside the field. Traditions like the seventh-inning stretch, constant renditions of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" playing on the PA system, $1 hot dogs and especially the myths and superstitions.

A couple of the better stories the Tribune has written about LCSC baseball have been centered around myths and superstitions. "Then & Now: Cheff: Examining the legend, exposing the myths" was written for the Tribune by Jim Browitt in 2006. It's entirely about determining what myths about legendary late coach Ed Cheff were fact or fiction.

Another story, written by Dale Grummert in 2002, was about trying to dissect how far a home run went that was hit by then-Warrior Tory Haven. Haven and Grummert settled on about 550-600 feet (maybe jokingly, maybe not).

That doesn't happen in football — not in the way it does in baseball. If Uncle Rico tells you he can throw a pigskin over 'dem mountains, you roll your eyes. If someone tells you they saw a 500-foot homerun, your eyes go wide.

There are legends shrouded in myths in other sports, sure. But in baseball, the list of myths, superstitions and possible exaggerations are endless ... and yet, somehow, often believable.

All of these details help with features and enterprise articles, and with columns like this.

The structure of the sport is something unlike any other. Between all the different levels of collegiate baseball, top-tier high school prospects that get drafted barely after getting their diploma, long-time veterans working their way through the minor leagues, foreign players competing at the highest levels while adjusting to a completely unfamiliar country and culture, there is no shortage of amazing stories in baseball.

And again, I want to reiterate, I'm not saying baseball is better than football, basketball, wrestling, soccer or any other athletic contest. I'm also not saying that amazing stories of this nature can't be found in other sports.

Trevan Pixley and Stephan Wiebe's coverage of the Idaho and Washington State football beats this past season were some of my favorite reads — not only as a coworker and a peer, but as a fan of college sports. A good writer finds great stories no matter where they are or what sport they cover.

But, to me, baseball is just different.

There's been a debate in recent years about whether baseball is still America's pastime — a fair question considering the Super Bowl is an unofficial national holiday and the best basketball players are among the more recognizable figures in sports. But baseball is special.

There are so many games across multiple levels and leagues that baseball has become a year-round sport. Some of my earliest childhood memories are going to a minor league game on a random weekday with my dad (shoutout to the Boise Hawks). Maybe that's why I love baseball so much. Or maybe it's the type of personability that comes with baseball you don't get with many other sports.

"Baseball is the only sport that allows you the time to create genuine connections that allow you to get to know the players and the people who follow them," Chron.com Houston Astros beat writer Leah Vann said. " It's one thing to have a family of friends who gather around the television with a bowl of queso and some chips once a week, it's another to see the same faces at the ballpark multiple times a week — or to be in constant communication about the season, which seems so omnipresent when you're basically paying rent at the baseball stadium you cover games at from all the hot dogs you buy."

Vann, like many sports journalists who enter the profession, was convinced she wanted to cover football. She's covered the University of Texas, University of Iowa and Louisiana State football programs during her career.

But it was while covering baseball that Vann truly felt those personal connections with what and who she was covering.

"I fell into the job of becoming the LSU baseball beat writer," Vann said. "Four days a week, I parked my car and walked over to the same white pickup truck with a case full of water. Depending on the day, I'd have my pick at the food: gumbo, pastalaya, jambalaya, etc. And it was offensive if I didn't take a bowl. The truck belonged to the father of the former strength coach on the team, who just couldn't resist coming to the games. There was a core group of dads and moms that were there almost every day, while others from out of state maybe visited for the weekends. And no matter what town we were in, I'd get a text inviting me to that same tailgate.

"Sure, I got my scoops, team gossip, but I also was let into a family of people that considered me their own. Ones that valued my work ethic, even if I made a mistake, and believed me when I said I genuinely wanted to get to know what drove their sons to play this game at the highest level. In football, I maybe make a few calls, or meet the player once or twice before I write about them, but in baseball, I genuinely feel like I am writing about people I know."

Baseball is so beautifully unique. In sports and sports writing, it's almost impossible to do something or come up with a story idea that hasn't been done by someone somewhere. There's even a whole academic journal published in 2021 about the very topic of this column (which I didn't know until after I started writing it).

But baseball is unique in the stories that come from it, the games that are played, the people who watch and the memories it yields. Even something totally unrelated to what's happening within the games — like a feature I wrote last year about Giles the line-painting robot — can be some of the most fun a reporter has writing a story.

Whether it's the myths and rumors, the personability with people being covered, the spring days at the ballpark or the $1 hot dogs, baseball is embroidered in the fabric of this country, and in the fabric of sports journalism. And that fabric is continuously having more and more threads sewn into it.

Baseball season is upon us, folks. And it's a beautiful, beautiful thing.

Kowatsch can be contacted at 208-848-2268, tkowatsch@lmtribune.com or on Twitter @Teren_Kowatsch.