A Farewell to Purely For Sport

There’s this dime-sized indent of chipped paint 6 inches above the wall outlet in my family’s pale yellow dining room. I’m annoyed. Not at the chipped paint, but at myself. I know my friends and I created it, but I’ve long forgotten how and when. That makes me feel old.

I’m annoyed because I forgot about the chip until now.  I only noticed it because I’m looking around the room, anywhere but at the computer where the right words have been failing to materialize for some time. The small hole is a detail beyond my memory. I once wrote a speech about appreciating the details. It’s frustrating. It feels circular, like I’m giving myself advice that I won’t take.

I am writing this at my family’s dinner table, where I’ve written so many of these posts.

This is the first time I won’t think about what I’m writing next week. Today, 160 Mondays after I started this blog on Christmas Eve of 2012, I’m ending its weekly publication.

It’s overdue, really. The quality of posts during the fall semester dipped dramatically with the returns of The Daily Orange and school. Homework assignments became re-purposed posts and my pride in the blog decayed. You don’t want to read that; I don’t want to write it.

I missed a Monday. Sitting in a computer lab at Syracuse on an October Tuesday, I felt embarrassed and disappointed. It’s the only one I’ve ever missed. I threw up a hurried post. When my parents asked why it had come a day late, I fibbed and told them a scheduled post had failed. I didn’t want that enamel of consistency to erode. In anyone’s eyes. Especially my own.

Maybe I should choose to remember Purely For Sport like this: My first breakthrough was when an ESPN the Magazine columnist tweeted out a story I’d written. Then six months later a story about attending a Clemson-Syracuse football game got 12,000 reads. I worked on projects that interested me; about the fragility of baseball exemplified in Harlem, New Hampshire’s favorite son, a friend who might play too much fantasy baseball and a 7 foot 8.5 inch basketball player.  Drake shouted me out once (1:40).

As my writing grew, I increasingly looked for events to write about. Horse races, the Hot Dog Eating Contest, a famous street-ball court, the stadium of a New England Patriots division rival, anywhere.

Everything was a potential story. I just had to go and see. Was the writing at these events any good? Not often. But I like to think it was the effort and thought that counted. That maybe someday I’d go to similar events and write about it as more than a hobby.

The choice to remember it as the string of successes would make me feel better, but it glosses over the negatives. Some posts weren’t fully developed, not to mention I didn’t seek out edits. They had bloated word counts and unfocused angles. A national writer once called something I wrote “f*cking dumb.” To make things mortifyingly worse, I’d sent it to him hoping for praise. I deserved the comment. I seem to remember hard-learned lessons the best. The quality decline in recent months is perhaps the thing I’d most like to forget.

If the best thing about a tradition is simply the fact that the tradition exists, then doesn’t it make sense to stop doing it?

Yet the decline doesn’t diminish the lessons Purely For Sport taught me before I ever had any other place to write. Yes, it also conditioned a few poor habits, but it cemented a storytelling foundation. Purely For Sport fostered creativity and interest, sustaining them until The Daily Orange and Esquire.com taught me more about rules, angles, covering events, story selection, carefully curating content. It took the energy I had — which formerly manifested on this blog — and molded me into someone who hopes to be a professional. It started me on a path to finding my own voice; it taught me to Google deep-dive research, reach out to people and be curious.

No matter the mistakes I made as collateral to publishing this blog, they were outweighed by the progress. After all, I started PFS to practice. Upon re-reading the block paragraphs and grammatical errors in the first post, it’s evident I needed a lot of it. It’s improved my writing immeasurably.

I knew it’d never break news, be bought by some media conglomerate or win awards. It was for me. But I still annoyingly shared it on Facebook every week.

I didn’t gauge a story on clicks, but when a story was widely read (for me, “widely” means 50 people), WordPress sent a notification to my phone that traffic was abnormally high. I got this feeling, a thrill, when I saw that.

Over the last three-plus years, PFS has received 25,265 visitors. If you’re reading this, it’s too late you’re a part of that number. Every choice has an opportunity cost. You’re using minutes from your life to read some words I strung together.

I know the purpose of writing is to capture moments and feelings, but it’s difficult to articulate how appreciative I am for that.

Thanks also to my father, my first editor, and my mother. My sister as well, who let me write about her when we unexpectedly had a bonding moment over fantasy football.

In that way, Purely For Sport became more than just a blog, a bridge from a childhood interest to a lifelong passion whatever ends up happening to me. It helped me reflect on life and (I hope) appreciate it a little more.

Maybe it’s not about how I choose to remember Purely For Sport. It’s about where I go with what I learned.

I can’t go anywhere though until I stop thinking about that paint chip. Soon I go from the chip to the house to my hometown.

Not to get too #deep, but this blog feels representative of my life here. I am from Strafford, New Hampshire; I am from Purely For Sport. It’s where I spent formative years. But each time I come home or write a blog post, it feels less and less like home. I enjoy visiting when I have time, the nostalgia/relaxation it brings, but I know my life is now elsewhere.

The last two weeks I wanted to post this farewell, but wrote last-minute fillers instead. I kept editing, revising, searching for the *perfect* combination of words I would never find.

I hit publish. That’s all, folks. The only thing to do is move on, do something else productive. But before I move forward, there’s one thing left: Get up from the table.

Sam Fortier is a displaced New Englander living in New York. He likes baseball, crunchy peanut butter and the sound Kanye makes in his songs, which he thinks is spelled “HAAN.” He’s not a fan of grammatical error’s. You can read him here every Monday, follow him on Twitter @Sam4TR, or email him at sam.fortier7@gmail.com. 

 

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Year in Review: 2015’s Top Posts

Here’s a quick rundown of the top posts on Purely For Sport in 2015.

5. Bobby Bonilla, Bernie Madoff and the Happiest Day of the Year for Mets Fans (99 reads) – Every year the New York Mets pay a 52-year-old former baseball player $1.19 million, a.k.a more than half their entire roster.

4. Life After Simmons: What will become of Grantland? (117 reads): There used to be a sports newspaper called “The National.” Used to be. Now that Bill Simmons is gone from his boutique site, is Grantland doomed to a demise similar?

3. Mean Girls, Golf Clubs and Toga Times: The 18 Chances of Richie Incognito (135 reads): After a horrendous offseason for PR purposes, the NFL lifted a ban on one of its most serial offenders and baddest dudes. Read about Richie Incognito’s long, long history here.

2. Summer News (528 reads): I headed to New York City to work at Esquire. The job was largely symbolic for me because it’s the same magazine which profiled my grandfather when I was younger and inspired my love for journalism.

1. What It’s Like To Be The World’s Tallest Basketball Player (2,780 reads): Bobby Wegner, of Strafford, New Hampshire, is 7 feet 8.5 inches tall. He plays basketball.

The Democratization of Internet Sports Journalism

Perhaps the saddest moment in sports journalism came just weeks ago, on Oct. 30, when ESPN killed Grantland, its boutique sports-and-pop-culture site created to satiate megastar Bill Simmons (Sandomir, 2015). But, it was the not the most unforeseen plug-pull because, simply, Grantland wasn’t profitable because it employed around 50 people and brought in only $6 million in yearly revenue (Travis, 2015). Plus, personality conflicts between Simmons and ESPN management (Miller, 2015).

Still, Grantland’s shuttering is indicative of the upheaval of sports journalism — and journalism in general — at this moment. Money, right now, isn’t in the industry, Stone said, mostly because nearly all journalistic outlets are on an antiquated revenue model which relies heavily on advertising dollars, which rely heavily on page views (Van Meter, 2015). With social media (mostly Twitter), the democratization of the writing on the Internet (anyone can create MyHotTakes.com; I did in high school) and the new 24/7/365 news cycle, those page views spread out over the multitudes of landing sites offering news and opinion. The decrease in page views makes a site less valuable, which means the company earns less on ad sales, which makes the company less profitable, leading to downsizing then reduced production because of a smaller staff then a reduction in credibility because it can’t cover as much.
These major journalism issues (revenue generation, online vs. print, readers, staffs) may be doomsday scenarios but the fact remains: It’s nearly impossible to get whimsical readers to one site consistently (Mitchell, 2015). So how do magazines like Sports Illustrated, which formerly relied on circulation numbers, get people to realize it’s not just a magazine? “We don’t want people to be so caught up in delivery systems,” Stone said (Stone, 2015). “I understand why they would, but … it’s my job now to get people not thinking of Sports Illustrated as a weekly, but as a daily, hourly, up-to-the-minute experience through our Web site.” Stone focuses on bringing his readers, essentially, what they want. It doesn’t sound like a complicated task, but it is.

While adapting to the web, there’s a consumer base of three million subscribers (down from 3.2 million in 2009, he said, which isn’t bad, considering a recession was sandwiched in there) for which to account and provide stellar content. He does this by featuring his reader’s favorite writers online more, bringing the media ever-hungry “goat,” as S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications dean emeritus David Rubin puts it. That goat is always there, perpetually wanting new news and angles and stories. So Stone makes additional content available online for magazine subscribers, creates video and launches focused verticals to target specific readers. (SI just launched “Campus Rush,” a section of its Web site devoted to college sports.) He said a lot of what he does isn’t defined and involves constant thought — if it were easy he wouldn’t have a job. But he said they are issues I should consider. The job of sports journalists is to solve these problems, the largest of his right now being how to balance magazine production with online proficiency.
“You don’t just abandon (print),” Stone said. “But you find that right balance of, ‘OK, even as we’ve accepted the future of Sports Illustrated isn’t going to be built on the back of print … how do we develop a modern Sports Illustrated without compromising on what’s made us who we are?’”
Stone said that last part softly, at almost a whisper. He wasn’t asking me to answer.

Quick analysis of the Red Sox deal with the Mariners

Beyond David Price, a deal I didn’t like anyway, the Boston Red Sox traded away its most reliable source of innings Monday when it dealt lefty Wade Miley and righthanded reliever Jonathan Aro to Seattle. The Mariners sent back righthanded reliever Carson Smith and lefty starter/reliever Roenis Elias.

The trade is sensible for both teams. The Red Sox seemingly want to build a bullpen like the Kansas City Royals. It’s a fair model to build from, seeing as the Royals are the reigning world champions. So presumably the Sox will link the 26-year-old Smith with established setup man Junichi Tazawa and former closer Koji Uehara in a 6th-, 7th- and 8th-inning bridge to closer Craig Kimbrel, which the Sox added earlier in the offseason. Through 79 appearances in the past two seasons, Smith has a 2.07 ERA, 11.2 strikeouts and 2.8 walks per nine innings. Translation: He’s nasty. And the whole Sox bullpen is likely to be too.

If Boston can get five quality innings from its mostly-below-league-average starters (exception: Price), then Boston should have the pieces to string together shutout performances on a nightly basis.

Smith throws sidearm and delivers a two-seam fastball in the mid-90s and a devastating slider which he often used as an out pitch in 2015.

Elias, the second piece received, is 25 and a middling lefty. In two big league seasons, both with Seattle, he’s 15-20 with a 3.97 ERA. His 7.7 strikeouts and 3.5 walks per nine and more pedestrian. Still, Elias is relatively young and holds upside as a lefty with the potential to develop, as shown by his improving lefthanded hitter’s average against, just .227 last season. For the Sox, if Elias develops into a back-end spot starter on par with Brandon Workman, who filled the role last season, that should be enough.

Seattle’s angle in all this seems strange. Why trade a dominant reliever and possibly developing lefty for … Wade Miley? He of the 11-11 record and 4.46 ERA in 2015. However, something the 29-year-old gave Boston something it desperately needed: Innings. With a constantly-in-flux starting rotation of Clay Buchholz, Eduardo Rodriguez, Rick Porcello, Joe Kelly, Henry Owens, Brian Johnson, Steven Wright and Elias, Miley pitched 193 innings — his fourth straight season topping 190. He’s durable, all you can ask for from a No. 4 starter.

The last piece of the trade, Aro, 25, was a great story in Boston’s farm system. He started with a $10,000 international signing bonus and made an ascent to MLB. However, he allowed eight runs in 10.1 innings last season, his first in the bigs.

This trade, overall, was a huge win for Boston. The Red Sox have seemingly amassed talent which a club needs to make a deep postseason run while giving up minimal assets. Garin Cecchini, Deven Marrero and other high-profile prospects are still in the system while Manuel Margot is the only true top talent who left — and his young age of 20 made him a risky asset anyway.

Yes, the Sox lost Miley’s consistency, but an army of arms can fill its place and bridge of Tazawa to Uehara to Smith (in any order) is intimidating enough before considering Kimbrel is at the end of it.

And that’s worth more than Miley’s mediocre 190 innings could offer.

 

Updates from Ann Arbor

As I wrote in my last post, I was heading to Ann Arbor, Michigan to cover the Syracuse field hockey team’s quest to win a national championship. And SU did just that Sunday, becoming the first women’s team in school history to win an NCAA national championship.

Throughout the weekend my beat partner Liam Sullivan and I kept fans appraised of what was happening. We co-bylined a preview of the national championship game after SU avenged its 2014 national championship loss by beat Connecticut 3-1 in the semifinal.

In the national championship, I freelanced a game story for Syracuse.com, the local paper, and wrote some other things for The Daily Orange. Those other things included how senior goalkeeper Jess Jecko made big saves down the stretch to secure the title and how senior captain Emma Russell leaves the program as possibly its best ever.

Sam Fortier is a displaced New Englander living in New York. He likes baseball, crunchy peanut butter and the sound Kanye makes in his songs, which he thinks is spelled “HAAH.” He’s not a fan of grammatical error’s. You can read him here every Monday, follow him on Twitter @Sam4TR, or email him at sam.fortier@yahoo.com. 

Heading to Ann Arbor

We take a break from our regularly-scheduled series to bring you some news. 

I, Sam Fortier, will be driving to Ann Arbor, Michigan this coming Thursday to cover the Syracuse field hockey NCAA tournament. You can follow me on Twitter @Sam4TR for the coverage as I’ll be bringing you game updates and stories throughout the weekend. 

It’s my first trip ever where an organization, The Daily Orange, is sending me to an event to cover. I’m excited for the weekend and I hope you’ll follow along.