Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Threepeat


I forgot I had posted this last year, but I stumbled across the post while clearing out some spam comments. So I decided I'd post another facts column. I did quite well in fantasy sports this year, but will be the first to remind people: it's all a crapshoot.



Apparently I was in a bit of a confident mood at this time last year. I’m sort of pigeonholed into that format now, but I guess I don’t mind it.
I present these facts; if they are interpreted as bragging, so be it:

  • In the eight years I've competed in fantasy football (all the same league), I've been in five championships and won four.
  • The Commish is the only one who has ever beaten me in the finals (hat tip, Taylor).
    • Incidentally, I’ll be taking over for the Big Guy next year as commissioner of the league. He’ll do a pick ‘em league with the crew, but life’s demands have grabbed him by the wrist and politely tugged him from our fantasy community.
  • I'm the only person who has defended a title. 
  • When I won in 2010, my team name was Wet Socks.
  • Fantasy sports are a crapshoot.
  • I finished in last place in 2009.
  • Which means I also pulled off a (possibly unprecedented?) worst-to-first-to-first progression.
  • I’m the first to three-peat in this or any league I’ve been a part of or heard of.

    • (This from last year’s post: “I'll be back with the same group of guys next year, but don't talk about a three-peat yet. I'm just focused on winning next year's draft. (Read: take it one day at a time, etc.”)
    • Seems like I was saying all the right things.
  • I was nearly ready to stop watching NFL football in 2005 when my middle school friends approached me with the idea of starting the league. I was dead set against joining, but with some arm twisting and as a favor to a great group of friends I reluctantly obliged.
  • Two-hundred sixty points is by far and away the most points ever scored in this league. There is a small contingent in what we call the 200-point club. I believe I’m the only repeat jacket-wearer, and this was easily the most “clutch” points explosion in league history.
  • Posted by my opponent following the final whistle: “Fact: setting an ideal lineup with all other players in the league (both owned and [free agents]) against Derek's would have won you the game by 3 points.”
  • Here is my draft (points-per-reception league). Round (overall selection)
 Andy Dalton and CJ Spiller, at first blush, were my best value picks.

First day, Star Tribune

Yesterday was my last first day of classes as an undergrad at the University of Minnesota. 

Today was my first day at the Star Tribune. I’ll technically be a “student reporter working on assignment for the Star Tribune” each time my byline appears in the paper. I’ll be working in mostly prep (high school) sports, but a few editors said I could pitch them some ideas for enterprise and feature pieces. It’s unlikely I’ll get a lot of opportunities, but I’m determined to convert those opportunities I do get into successfully executed stories and turn some heads. 

We walked in as a class -- a dozen or more of us -- and got an introduction by several staffers to the servers and work protocol of the building. Then we each had our picture taken for an ID badge. Afterward we broke off with our editor or immediate supervisor. There are two sports staffers in the class, so we both met the prep sports editor, Paul Klauda. I'm excited to work with him this semester and he made it clear this morning that he expects us to be covering games, provided we can handle it. 

I was happy to see my longtime friend, Joe Christensen. He's completed the switch from traveling Twins beat reporter to Gophers football reporter. Considerably less travel on that job, which, for a family man, I’d imagine has to be wonderful. From a beat perspective, though, it means jumping from a team that’s hopelessly lost, with a visionary at the helm perhaps cable of righting the ship, to an also-lost team with a skipper I’m not sure is up to the task. Nor am I sure Jerry Kill will be given the opportunity to prove he’s the right guy. College football is a win-now business, as much as any new coach would like to convince the zealots otherwise (to artificially lower outward expectations of the coach’s performance). Anyway, it was great to see Joe there and he introduced me to a bunch of the staffers, as he’s always generously done. I also got to touch base with University editor, Dennis Brackin, whose work I’m fond of. And I sat down to chat with the overall sports editor, Glen Crevier, who has to be one of the sharpest guys in the business.

Standing in the room for pictures with the whole group, I recognized a face passing by in the hallway as one of the recruiters I’ve met at various job fairs throughout college, Duschene Drew. He works as a sort of talent scout for the Star Tribune. I nodded and mouthed a, hello, without any expectation that he’d remember my face or name among the hundreds of students and job applicants with which he speaks annually. But he stopped, doubled back, poked his head in the room and said quietly, “Hi, Derek, it’s good to see you again.”

Didn’t do any writing or reporter today – and in fact, won’t begin until Monday – but touring around the office and reconnecting with a few reporters and editors has me excited to start my work there.

Writing more, creatively



Winter has loosened its death grip. The biting wind is unrelenting, though. 

The thermometer hit twenty-two below zero the other day, with wind-chills plummeting even further. Despite the bitter cold, the winter scenery is pretty spectacular, considering it hasn’t snowed more than a dusting in a month. 

I wrote these first few lines in my head on my walk home from class and somewhere on the chilly trek decided to commit them to writing. See, I’ve found myself fascinated with the prose of MinnPost reporter Britt Robson and his covering of the Timberwolves. He’s at once a great basketball mind, a fair (if emotional) reporter and a phenomenal wordsmith. When reading his work, one begins to think, Could I ever produce something like this?  It’s a difficult question. Robson has such command of basketball that he can focus his effort on word choice for his column-length-or-longer stories. Or perhaps it’s the other way around? Maybe the writing comes so organically, so naturally and effortlessly that he can really take his time to contemplate which words to use in what order.

All of this is to say I’ve realized a need to write more often. My writing has improved from reading a wealth of books the last several months from a dozen authors of considerable talent. But I’d venture to guess Ernest didn’t become Hemingway by reading. My writing here won’t always be good. It will always ramble. And ideally it will improve from attention and consistency.

On that vein, I went to my first creative writing class this afternoon. I can’t say I’m looking forward to it – there are too many other things on my horizon to look forward to. But it will force my hand to write more than I have in the last year or so. It also fit in nicely with my schedule of classes and the Star Tribune internship.  It will complete my final graduation requirement and provide a more rigid schedule than Wet Socks could alone. 

I’ll be sure to post anything from that class that’s worthy. I can’t assure anything will be.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Updates, Jan. 2013

It's been a while since I've written on this site. It's been a while since I've written in bulk like I once used to. At times I regret that, but it's nice to be able to commit my time to other things like reading, exercise, networking, marketing and drawing up business ideas either in my head or on paper.

I had an itch to write tonight and so I'll update the masses on my future job outlook. I'd also like to start writing more regularly either on this site or at other platforms, but no promises.

Starting Jan. 23, I'll work alongside the Star Tribune's sports desk as a student reporter intern. I've been looking forward to it for quite some time now and I'm excited that the time has nearly come. I'll work with their prep sports editor, but they haven't told me yet what I'll be doing. That gig (which, technically, we can't call an internship) will last until I graduate from the U in mid-May.

[I don't know the exact date of my graduation yet, but I don't see the gravitas in such events as others do. I view it the same as I did my high school graduation: it's an event in a chain of events, albeit more important, but ultimately just a notch in the timeline of my life. I delight in others recognizing arbitrary endpoints (Joe Posnaski's great column on Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit comes to mind), but I also recognize this one isn't truly arbitrary. It's a moment, for sure. But then there will be another moment. And inevitably one to follow that. I guess some people define life as the sigma of these moments, but I think that's a trite way to look at the world and it oversimplifies things, as if they can be broken down into discrete segments. They can't, I believe. And, incidentally, it's a minor reason why capturing moments with staged photos of poses always struck me as forced at best and at worst inane.]

I was also recently offered a job with MLB.com as an Associate Reporter stationed in Baltimore. It's a step up from the job I had last year, primarily because I'll do much more writing than I did at my post in Minneapolis. It's a lateral step geographically, which I've wrapped my head around and am now excited for. A good friend and mentor worked for several years with the Baltimore Sun, so I'm trying to tap his knowledge of the area and the paper before I set foot in Maryland for the first time in my life.


That's where I'm at with jobs and school. A couple of notes:

  • I've resumed my non-fiction binge recently and have a couple of book recommendations: "Scorecasting" by Wertheim and Moskowitz; "Virus of the Mind" by Richard Brodie; and any edition of "The Best American Sportswriting" by series editor Glen Stout.

  • Next on my shelf are Nate Silver's "The Signal and the Noise" and Stephen Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People." If anyone has any suggestions on books that explore the brain science of using more of your mind or being more productive, I'd love to hear them.

  • I've recently read a lot of Britt Robson's work covering the Timberwolves for MinnPost.com (Joel Kremer) and find it at once informative and entertaining -- and a worthwhile practice in mental dexterity. If you follow the Wolves at all, or love basketball for it's purity, or, less likely, can appreciate well-written lengthy columns that tap a great deal of basketball IQ and sportswriting wherewithal, you owe it to yourself to regularly read Robson.

  • I've also found some good stuff on Grantland.com (Bill Simmons, named after sports writing legend Grantland Rice. (Although, by some accounts, Rice was a terrible detriment to sports writing for his probable embellishment, deification of sports figures as heroes and meandering story lines. But at this inch count, I'm clearly not in a position to take potshots at the latter shortcoming. The former shortcoming, however, is a deadly sin of journalism, but perhaps most notably sports journalism, as evinced today by the unearthing of the Manti Te'o's alleged fake girlfriend. It's in my mind merely a coincidence that Notre Dame plays motif that weaves the string of time and space attaching Rice's Four Horsemen and Te'o.))

  • And as always, I'll continue to implore every baseball fan to read Jeff Passan's work (Yahoo! sports, with Tim Brown).

Given the paucity of posts in this space in recent months, it feels insincere to say "that's it for now, see you next time!". So I guess a more apropos au revoir would be, I'll see ya when I see ya.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The end of an era, or the start of a new?



This article was written by Derek Wetmore for Keith Moyer's JOUR4990. It is a column in response to the New York Yankees 6-4 loss to the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the 2012 ALCS, a game in which Derek Jeter broke his left ankle and was lost for the remainder of the season.

 

Those are the games the Yankees are supposed to win.

Now, their World Series aspirations are shaken and an era may have ended prematurely.

Game 1 of the 2012 American League Championship Series belonged to the Yankees. Never mind that until the ninth inning, it was all Detroit before the Tigers’ closer coughed up a four-run lead, forcing extra innings.

The Bronx Bombers came storming all the way back to tie the score at 4-4 with another important, late-inning Raul Ibanez home run. With Detroit closer Jose Valverde’s shaky mental state and Ibanez’s continued brilliance, it seemed pre-ordained New York would win Saturday.

But in the 12th inning when Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter broke his ankle on a ground ball up the middle of the infield, the Yankees aura dissipated. Suddenly, they didn’t seem invincible. They seemed vulnerable. The Captain, apparently, is susceptible to injury, just like other humans.

Detroit stole they game back with a 6-4 win to take a 1-0 series lead.

How the Yankees respond to losing the Captain will define this year’s playoffs. It could also define the next generation of New York’s legacy.

When the Yankees rattled off World Championship after World Championship in the 1990s and carried success through the 2000s, they did it with a core of homegrown players adorned with big free-agent signings. Derek Jeter, as much as any player in history, defined those Yankees teams. They had players like Paul O’Neil, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera.

The two former have long since retired. Then the Yankees lost to Posada to futility and eventually retirement. Then Rivera tore his ACL early this season, possibly jeopardizing his career. Alex Rodriguez is 37 and has been ineffective this postseason. Jeter is 38.

So the question is: can they overcome this?

Can the Yankees overcome a heart-breaking loss and the loss of their emotional leader?

New York still has elite-level talent: Mark Tiexiera, CC Sabathia, Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano.

All are free-agent imports with the exception of Cano, a five-tool Yankees farm product from the Dominican with a silky smooth swing at the plate and all the range, arm and instincts required of a Gold Glove second baseman.

Even with a healthy Jeter or Rivera, Cano is the best player on the Yankees.

But now he has the added pressure of being the de facto face of the franchise for the rest of this year’s playoffs, and possibly for the rest of this decade.



As Jeter lay near second base helpless and hapless, his left ankle broken in the 12th inning, he screamed. He writhed in pain. He had fielded the ball, but he tripped, had his ankle crumble and fell to the dirt. He couldn’t get up to make the throw to first to record an out, much less cut the go-ahead run off before it crossed the plate.

But there was something poetic about what happened next, before he was carried off by team trainer Steve Donohue and manager Joe Girardi. As Jeter shouted in pain and knew he wouldn’t be able to make the play, he flipped the ball to the second baseman Cano.

Instincts? Sure. And un-planned? No doubt.

But it served as a perfect metaphor Saturday for the direction of the Yankees going forward.

Jeter’s left ankle may have unwittingly ushered in the Robinson Cano era Saturday. How he responds—and how the Yankees respond—will decide their fate this playoffs. It could also define the next generation of the Bombers.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Back at it

The last time I posted was sometime just before I went to France. There I studied for 26 days and wrote two 5-page papers on my remarkable experience. Since returning, life has settled into a comfortable groove.

But I've only touched WetSocks once since January. That's pretty indicative of the lifestyle I've adopted since junior year started, really. Often times I'm too busy to write. Other times, owing to the accumulation of small tasks, I'm too distracted. The last year I've done much more editing and critiquing than writing. But it's time to get back to writing more regularly. I often write these days just on word processor, even if I'm not posting stories or thoughts all the time. I'm writing. And I'm always reading.





For those who haven't heard, being sports editor at the Daily my junior year was a tremendous experience. I went through the summer with two reporters I knew and who had experience, so I just took that time to adjust to the job. In the fall we expanded to five sports reporters, one intern and one administrative reporter. I set out interviewing applicants and assembling my desk. After hiring, I had two reporters with any experience (about two semesters cumulatively) and five "rookies." Now, calling them rookies isn't quite fair, because all had a passion for sports and knew a thing or two about journalism or had even done some writing elsewhere. But none yet knew the daily grind of working at a newspaper as a beat reporter.

I'll spare the details of the next nine months, but by the end of my term I had: cultivated a winning atmosphere, supported a handful of rising journalists with not much less experience than myself, won consecutive "best desk" titles, groomed a successor (who is kicking ass, by all accounts), won a semester scholarship, picked up a broader perspective on the relative importance of sports in society, and sports journalism in sports culture and rediscovered my passion for leading and building something from the ground up.

Most of those rising journalists were underclassmen, so I laid the foundation for sports desk to keep rocking for at least the next few semesters. It goes without saying that I can't take credit for all of it. I was incredibly lucky to hire a desk as full of ambition as I did. I took a culture in a newsroom that can easily be soiled by criticism and turned criticism into our strongest weapon. It's not easy to do, but I wouldn't have stood a chance without the quality desk of people and journalists I had working under me.When I shut out self-deprecating humor, I can be pretty good at bragging about things I've accomplished or what great people I got to work with. But I'll spare further indulgence on those fronts.

Forget the distinctions. Forget the awards.

What was really significant about my time as sports editor went beyond the Xs and Os of grammar and sports editing. How do I edit this story so that readers get the most out of it?  That's a daily battle.

How do I take this young journalist with a clear passion and limited direction and get him or her to produce consistent quality content? That's a long-term approach.

That's the stuff I live for.

Put more metaphorically: How do I direct this ship with a strong motor and no rudder? Learning to lead is learning to guide. And then having the self-awareness to step back when you're no longer needed.

Once the training wheels were off the sports desk at the dawn of spring semester, it was a lot of fun for a while. Operating a well-oiled machine in which I was a once-critical now-superfluous leader and editor was truly fun. But it got old. Tasks grew monotonous. Everyday chores like editing small stories of little consequence became mundane. My reporters still had room to grow, but they all had solid foundations and were doing well discovering sports journalism on their own. I still took pride in helping them improve with weekly critiques and phone sessions to hash out problems, but the puzzles weren't new anymore. Solving equations to which you already have the answer is easy. It's cookie-cutter stuff. And that's cool for a while. But I don't spend time solving Rubik's cubes anymore. Just like you wouldn't redo a crossword, word search or su do ku. There's not as much of a charge as solving it the first time.


It was realizing this passion that in part led me to a new business idea--one I plan to launch in September. It's a sports writing tutoring service. I think of it like music lessons for journalists. In my time as editor, I had to turn down dozens of applicants because they just weren't qualified for the job, for one reason or another. And that sucks--it's like telling a kid he's been cut from a sports team. Some don't care that much, but others do. For others it stings. Not making the team can be damaging for a young sports writer. Worse yet, it's a vicious cycle: the student newspaper can't hire you because you don't have experience, you can't get experience because you don't have a job, and you get the same story next go-round in future job applications.

I also perceive a shortage of solid journalists in the market. That could be way off base; that's just my perception. It could likely be that it's daunting breaking into an industry in which you know you won't make any money, much less one that you can't guarantee will be around in 10 years. Well I'll tell you things: I guarantee sports journalism will be around in 10 years; and I also guarantee it will be different than it is now. So anyway, where is the disconnect? Why are there fewer journalists competing for entry-level jobs now? And how come the training institution can't efficiently recruit and build up green journalists?

Take those questions at face value because it's certainly not to insult the Minnesota Daily or the J-school at the University of Minnesota. I couldn't imagine a better combination for learning to be a sports journalist. Both have provided amazing opportunities and experiences and taught me invaluable lessons. But I started to sense that I'm one of the exceptions. Not that there's anything exceptional about me or the other reporters on staff, but rather that not everyone gets as lucky as I did when I first applied.

I got the job as Daily sports reporter one month after starting WetSocks. That was my only writing experience aside from some hack scribbles in word processors, never printed or shared.

I've turned down people with much more experience than that. And it sucks.

So why did I get lucky to land that awesome job? And why did I get to spend a semester or year, or college career building experience and an impressive resume when others just as capable couldn't break into the field? Is it fair for happenstance to play such a large role? These are existential questions that I won't bother to answer.

But it did lead me to the leap of thought that sparked the business idea. Without divulging too much of my plan, I'd like to take rookies in the field and build their abilities, confidence and clips portfolio to the point where they can get an entry-level job and start amassing their own experience. Once they get the job, what they do with it is on them. My goal is to get them there. I'd be happy to stick around as their tutor or mentor once they land the job, but I would imagine most won't need me anymore and I'll again become superfluous.

And that's OK, because then I'll take on a fresh batch of puzzles, ready to be solved, the following semester.