Do you ever find yourself thinking about something totally random and then try to back-track your thoughts to find out how you got there? Really, I'm the only one?...
In that case, let's just skip right into my post, which will be a digression built into a digression followed by another digression, Inception-style.
My focus? T.J. Freakin' Steele.
I have long (read: since last season) led a charge against overhyping Steele. It's a losing battle, as he's constantly mentioned as a top prospect because of his ridiculous gifts as a baseball player. The problem is, he rarely puts those gifts to good use.
Since being drafted out of the University of Arizona in 2008, Steele has played in 157 games. Total. The only season where he reasonably played a full season was in 2008 with Tri-City. And they don't call that "short season" ball for nothin'.
So, what does it matter if I have a problem with Steele getting injured and missing games? Well, I call him out occasionally when we talk about prospects at TCB. It's a fun way to joke around about a player who was compared to Cesar Cedeno by Tal Smith last spring. A player with a .281/.317/.419 career line in the minors should not be compared to the best center fielder in Astros history.
That set the expectations for Steele, though, and is just one of the pieces in the puzzle that gets him rated much higher than other center fielders in the Astros system. That's why I try to bring up the fact that he's a bit overrated whenever I can, or joke about his injuries. I want Houston fans to be well informed about the minor leagues and not just take the organization's word as gospel.
Unfortunately, my presence as a blogger may cut into that. See, I don't have to face Steele during spring training. I don't have to interview him after a game wondering if he read my latest, sarcastic quip. That's one of the fundamental ways that beat writers and bloggers are different. It's not just the access, but having to deal with what you write about the people you're covering.
I'm not saying it's good or bad, but it is a tough spot to be in, especially since the sports writing world is choosing sides because of the "cheering in the press box" debate going on after Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500. Sports writers are people. They like sports enough to write about it, either online or in print. The best of them bring insight to their writings because they've watched a ton of sports and can build on that experience. But, should that preclude them from being fans?
Whenever I'm in a press box or covering a game at the top of some high school bleachers, I try very hard to be non-reactive. Basically, I'm just trying to hang on for dear life, as I struggle to keep my own stats and play-by-play. Even with my scribbly handwriting, that's a tough chore that leaves me little time to emotionally react to each play.
But, I'm still a fan enough to let out a gasp when a big hit happens in a football game, or slam my pen down when a kid hits a halfcourt buzzer beater in this game. I just like sports and I've been conditioned for too many years now not to react for big plays.
At the same time, that non-reaction has affected how I watch games as a fan. When I'm at a game, I'm usually pretty subdued. I used to lose my voice yelling about stuff. Now, the wife asks me if I'm enjoying myself because I get so quiet. It's just what happens, i guess. I haven't crossed that line from being "a fan of a team to being a fan of a story." But, there are times when I'm a big fan of the story.
Take last night. I get called at the last minute to go cover a high school baseball game. Turns out, it's between Brenham, last year's Class 4A state champs, and Rudder. Basically last fall, I functioned as the high school beat reporter for the Rudder football team. I was out there a couple of times every week during the season, interviewing athletes, talking with the coaches. Most of the Rudder baseball team is made up of football players and most of those guys are ones I've done features on in the past.
Still, I was not a happy camper as it's getting colder and colder last night and the wind was picking up, yet the Rangers had just brought in their third pitcher of the seventh inning. Nor was I a fan when the first baserunner of the bottom of said inning reached because of a called strike. This is just delaying me going to write about how the Rangers came THIS close to beating the state champs, I thought.
And yet, as things unfolded, Rudder strung together a couple more plays, winning the game on a walkoff error. There's my story, and it's surprisingly upbeat from what it had been just 15 minutes earlier. I was never really cheering for Rudder, but I appreciated their nice hits just as much as a laser beam throw from Brenham's right fielder on a play at the plate. I don't know if Brenham fans thought I was biased, but I know I wasn't. I didn't care who won the game, so long as I got someplace warm and had time to write my story before deadline.
Of course, the kid who won the game with by beating out that throw was a really nice kid. I'd interviewed him for a couple of different stories and he was nice, funny and upbeat. That's not the usual find when you're interviewing high school kids, for sure. His dad was also the defensive coordinator for the football team and we often talked after practice. If there was any kid who I might be biased towards, it'd be this one. As much as I wanted to make that error a hit, not only for the kid but to make the story more compelling, I just couldn't justify it. The fielder gloved the ball and bobbled it. If he had fielded it cleanly, the throw would have beaten the batter. It had to be an error.
How does this relate to Steele? It's a myth that reporters are not biased. Talking with people, you develop relationships, even if they're of the fleeting 15-minute variety. Some people you just click with and others you don't. Sometimes, you're overtaken by how cool a story is, like a 20-year old winning Daytona. But, being objective doesn't mean you don't have bias. It just means you correct for it to find a happy medium. Assuming a reporter can be without bias is as ridiculous as assuming they can't also be objective.
Yes, I may be a little biased towards Steele because I think he's overrated. However, I also know he's got physical skills that someone like Brian Kemp may not. I know he's a prospect, but would rather people's expectations be tempered from the heights that they can be pushed to by Tal Smith. If Steele ever becomes underrated, be assured I'll be right there telling people he's legitimate.