Returning to my sportswriting roots

August 26, 2014

Before my escape into the academic bubble, or ivory towers as college campuses are sometimes called, I was a sportswriter. My dream job? Covering Double A baseball wall-to-wall, spring training to postseason. Double A cites are the best, and that level of baseball is so good, yet untainted by the spoils of the major leagues.

Anyhoo, this summer, on really a lark, I returned to sportswriting as something of a summertime hobby, to again become one of the “boys of summer.” Had a blast. Covering the Single A Rome Braves, I’ve got two games to go, including the season finale on Labor Day.

Here below is the last game I covered, Sunday’s bizarre 12-inning win over Charleston under storm clouds at State Mutual Stadium here in Rome:

ROME, Ga. — The Rome Braves and Charleston RiverDogs conspired this weekend to re-write the definition of one of baseball’s more unsavory statistics: the wild pitch.

A day after losing on three consecutive errant throws in the 11th inning, the Braves wrapped up a winning homestand by cashing in on a pair of wild pitches uncorked by Charleston’s Evan Rutckyj to win 5-4 Sunday afternoon in 12 frames.

“A wild pitch was the only way a game like this was going to end,” said Rome manager Jonathan Schuerholz, after seeing six pitches avoid catchers in two days. “That was crazy.”

Second baseman Reed Harper scampered home with the necessary fifth run on a ball in the dirt that squirted just far enough from the plate to ruin catcher Jackson Valera’s attempts to corral it. The opportunism made a winner out of reliever Andy Otero (4-4), who pitched two and two-thirds innings of no-hit ball, and it pushed Rome’s record during the homestand to 4-2.

The Braves (53-80) return Friday for the season’s last four games, all against Savannah.

Lost in Sunday’s madness, witnessed by about 2,100, was one of starter Steve Janas’s strongest outings of the season. In hurling seven innings of one-run, four-hit baseball, the Marietta native sat down 13 straight RiverDog hitters, six on routine groundball outs. He needed only five pitches in the sixth and but nine to buzz through the seventh.

The 6-foot-6 right-hander kept hitters behind in the count, his fastball low in the zone, and his defense actively involved in the action in front of them.

“I’m going to bribe the team with food to keep them playing good defense like this,” said Janas’s mother, Nancy Janas, who attended the game with a large group of friends and family. “The defense did a great job behind him today.”

Janas looked to be in good shape to pick up his third win, and first since June 2, but reliever Caleb Dirks couldn’t close out the ninth for his fourth save. In a nightmarish one-third of an inning, the lefthander served up three singles, unleashed a wild pitch of his own to allow Yeicok Calderon to score, then mishandled a slow dribbler to the mound to allow Valera to knot the score at three.

After Dirk’s fielding miscue, the Braves managed to catch trailing runner Claudio Custodio in no-man’s land between third and home. But the throw to catcher Carlos Sanchez, who was running toward Custodio, glanced off his shoulder. Charleston was in the driver’s seat, 4-3.

“That’s the one play that really bothered me,” Schuerholz said. “We pride ourselves on fundamentals, we practice that play, and we just screwed it up.”

But the Braves struck back.

In the bottom of the ninth, shortstop Codey McElroy led off with seemingly routine single to third, but after bare-handing the ball, RiverDog third baseman Kale Sumner airmailed his throw to first for a two-base error. McElroy trotted home a pitch later on Alejandro Pilato’s sacrifice fly to right, again evening the score, this time at four.

To set the table for the dramatic finish, Harper led off the bottom of the 12th by singling into shallow left field. Rutckyj’s 2-0 wild pitch to Connor Oliver allowed Harper to advance to second. He moved another 60 feet on Connor Lien’s hard grounder to short. From there it was a short dash to the plate when yet another errant throw pinballed off of Valera’s glove to end a nearly four-hour game threatened by storm clouds for much of the time. .

But the day belonged to Janas, who is “living his dream” pitching in Rome close to home, his Mom said. A sixth-round draft pick by the Braves, Janas is but one season removed from his junior year with Kennesaw State, a campaign in which he sparkled with a 1.14 ERA.

“Steve looked really good today,” Schuerholz said. “He worked ahead early, kept hitters off balance and worked quickly.”

In beating the RiverDogs, Rome won its second straight three-game series before heading to Kannapolis for a three-game set starting Tuesday.

In a pair of roster moves, right-handed reliever Daniel Cordero was sent to Danville, making room for lefthander Carlos Perez, who saw his first action Sunday after arriving from Rome. The right-handed reliever pitched the eighth, giving up no hits or runs and striking out one.


If you enjoyed that writeup, here’s the one previous, a win over Savannah’s Sand Gnats. Look for the ‘pesty’ metaphor.

Pre-rap poetry and lyricism: Reading the black press

July 26, 2014

In about a week, I will head off to Montreal to deliver a research paper on the poetry, rhyme and verse written by sportswriters in the pages of the big black newspapers of the first half of the 20th century. This is a grossly under-studied subject, with some really good poetry neglected really since it was written in some cases nearly a century ago.

My paper, “Sports, scribes and rhymes: Poetry in black newspapers, 1920-1950,” is an attempt to recover and contextualize some of this poetry, which was written and published as these writers crusaded for desegregation and equal opportunity for black athletes in
professional baseball.

It is also a timeframe that is coincident with the Harlem Renaissance.


Wendell Smith

Compounding the historical injustice is the amount of attention that has been paid poetry appearing in mainstream newspapers by the likes of Grantland Rice and Heywood Broun. Isn’t it time to recognize the black writers? I think so. In fact, read today, rhymes such as Wendell Smith’s well-known snatch about Jackie Robinson’s seat-filling first season in Brooklyn (“Jackie’s nimble, Jackie’s quick, Jackie’s making the turnstiles click”) can be seen or read as a precursor of art forms such as rap and hip hop.

Specifically, I’m looking at poetry by Smith, who you might have seen depicted in the Jackie Robinson movie that came out last year, “42,” as well Fay Young and Edward A. Neal of the Chicago Defender; and Dan Burley and Romeo Dougherty of the New York Amsterdam News.

I’d give you some of those poems now, but U.S. copyright law such as it is prevents me from publishing to this digital space anything after 1924. That leaves at least one, this poem by one of the more literary of sportswriters of the period, Romeo Dougherty (great byline!), a poem dedicated to the memory of black basketball great George Gilmore, a former standout center at Howard University. The poem is titled “Get Gilmore and the ball”:

And rushing down the court they came
Five husky men in all;
To stop his brilliant charge that night,
“Get Gilmore and the ball.”

His well-trained eye had gauged the time;
Wild cheering filled the hall;
He made his jump, they roared again,
“Get Gilmore and the ball.”

Again he stops and tricks the boys,
He’s pulled his famous stall;
In vain they tri to counter him,
“Get Gilmore and the ball.”

See! As he prances down the court,
No moments here that pall;
That same old cry is raised again;
“Get Gilmore and the ball.”

The famous Howard quint of yore
With him could never fail;
And thousands cheered when rivals said:
“Get Gilmore and the ball.”

With Alpha ‘twas the same old thing;
At Waldron’s famous hall;
While Spartan and St. C. agreed:
“Get Gilmore and the ball.”

With Pittsburg’s crack Loendi team
He answered his last call;
Unflinchingly he heard again,
“Get Gilmore and the ball.”

Farewell, good friend, a fond farewell,
From players, fans and all;
No more we’ll hear that well known cry,
“Get Gilmore and the ball.”

When he died very young in September of 1920, Gilmore was a star in his prime playing for Pittsburgh’s Loendi Big Five (Pittsburgh was also spelled Pittsburg in the early part of the century, so that isn’t a typo in the poem), and throughout the 1920s, “black five” basketball teams thrived in cities like New York and Chicago.

I am working to get permissions for more of this great poetry, so that readers today can see what they’ve been missing and so that perhaps some of these writers can get a bit more of their due. Wish me luck!

If the topic interests you, look for much more on it and on the black press and black baseball in general in a book I’m writing for Routledge that should come out late next year: A Devil’s Bargain: The Black Press and Black Baseball, 1915-1955. The poetry paper will become Chapter 2.


Reading Madrid as text: City’s spaces speak volumes about its people, culture

June 29, 2014
bear statue

A bear stretching to eat berries is a symbol of Madrid, found on its coat of arms, among other places.

Berry College multimedia journalism project finds “a society that lives in the streets”

I just returned from Madrid, where Kevin Kleine, Curt Hersey and I led a team of 10 student journalists to report, produce and publish a multimedia online magazine that reads Madrid’s spaces as texts. Some of the 25 or so stories use primarily text, others use video, still others deploy photo slideshows with narration to tell the story, but all of them combine media.

And all of the stories seek to read the public spaces of Madrid as texts in an effort to understand at least part of what makes Madrileños and their vibrant city tick. (We did a similar project in Florence in 2012.)

What we found is a dynamically democratic society that vibrantly, vitally expresses itself in myriad ways. From protests to street art to rallying cries at the city’s many, stadium-filled soccer matches, Madrileños live, work, play and express themselves in utterly, joyfully public spaces.

“Madrid is a city that lives in the public space,” said Javier Malo de Molina, an architect in Madrid and a lifelong resident of the city. “Everybody lives in the streets. We are a society that lives in the streets. We share a tradition of living in the public space.”

Victor Gonzalez, a native of Cuba but a resident of Madrid off and on for the past 17 years, warned our group that we wouldn’t be invited into the homes of Madrileños. The Madrileño home is an intensely private space, and what American would consider the purposes of the living room and family room, Madrileños believe should occur outside the home – in tapas bars, jazz clubs, public parks and plazas, cafes and restaurants, and above all in the city’s streets and sidewalks.

“Maybe, for example, you (Americans) probably have homes or dwellings that are bigger,” de Molina explained. “People here, though not the rich of course, live in pretty small apartments, and we accept that. If we have a public space, that is worth it, because most of the time the weather is very good here in the city. So we spend it in the public space.”

Our group witnessed a coronation (of new King Felipe), a World Cup (in which top-ranked Spain found itself humiliated a hemisphere away in Rio de Janeiro), a series of protests and rallies both against and in favor of the monarchy, and several Corpus Christi miracles. (Corpus Christi is an important Catholic holiday here, commemorated by the religious and non-religious alike.)

Vive la expresión

The common theme in these otherwise wildly disparate public events: First Amendment-style expression and democracy like America’s founding fathers perhaps envisioned them.

Ironic? To travel so far from America to find such vibrant, unfettered expression? And to find it in a Catholic church-dominated society still shaking the shadows of dictatorship and oppression? Yes, ironic, and eye-opening.

Our “Madrid as Text” online magazine will show you how street art has been legitimized in the colorful Lavapiés neighborhood in southern Madrid, how “protest culture” parades the people’s views through Madrid’s main arteries and plazas to the tune of 4,000 protests per year, how monuments and memorials have been removed to diminish the memories of the Franco era, and how Madrileños eat, drink, live and die for their favorite “futbol” club.

You will witness the transfer of the crown from Juan Carlos to his son Felipe; learn about how a nation grapples with an unemployment rate of 26%, an eye-popping number that includes as a subset a rate of more than 50% among those 25 and younger; and discover how Madrid buried a 10-lane superhighway to make room for a sprawling urban parkland.

The project would not have been possible without the invaluable help of several people in Madrid who were very generous with their time and expertise. Berry College, its Department of Communication, and the faculty and students of “Madrid as Text” thank Victor Gonzalez, director of ACCENT Madrid, our logistics provider, and his very capable staff; professors Jonathan Snyder and Francisco Seijo; Javier Malo de Molina, lead architect on the Rio parklands project; and the friendly bartenders at the various Museo de Jamon locations throughout central Madrid.

We’ll get to work on post-production this next week. When it’s up on Viking Fusion, I’ll circle back and add a link to the whole package.

futbol photo

Some of our student journos at a Real Madrid match.

Student journalists:

  • Natalie Allen
  • Sarah Carroll
  • Kelsey Dedels
  • Glenn Garrido-Olivar
  • Jason Huynh
  • Lizzy Jones
  • Taylor Patterson
  • Bailey Powers
  • Chris Scott
  • Brittany Strickland


Finish the sentence: “Photography is (most) like . . .”

April 14, 2014

To continue and extend our conversation, this blog entry asks you to finish the sentence in the headline, with a little elaboration and explanation. I’ll go first, to get us thinking and to model the kinds of thoughts I’m looking for.

I love poetry; I love playing with words, and poetry is essentially wordplay. In a similar way, I think, photography is ‘imageplay.’ Both poetry and photography “intensively see,” as Susan Sontag put it in her seminal work, On Photography. Much of poetry is concerned with the visual, getting us to really “see” a flower, a tree, pain, loss, love, the wrinkles in a woman’s face, a piece of driftwood washed upon the shore, and to see these otherwise ordinary artifacts as we have never seen them before.

  • Think of a photograph of a rotting, wrinkled, old pumpkin? A poem about aging and decomposition, and an eloquent poem at that.
  • A sutured eye socket? Vision, seeing, window to the soul? Abuse? Tragedy?
  • The South Korean soldier executing the Viet Cong member? Death, violence, the vagaries of war?
  • A tulip about to bloom? Life! Love! Potential and Spring!

Think about how photography turns living beings — like a water buffalo or a pumpkin or dead grass — into a thing, a thing to look at. (Is the photo a record of that water buffalo or leaf, or a record of how the photographer saw that water buffalo or leaf?) And how photography turns things into living beings —a dead leaf with veins running through it, or a water fountain. (Sontag talks about this photographic strategy on page 111, where she discusses photography’s ability to disclose “the thingness of human beings, the humanness of things.”)

Think of how many poems dignify the mundane — a flower, dead grass, a tree, an acorn, a sunset, a pretty girl, a rainy day. By calling attention to it, and describing it in such detail, the poem dignifies that object and makes a virtue of it. The mundane becomes — if for only the contemplated moment — something beautiful. This is true also in photography.

Can you think a poem that is “ugly”? A bad poem, sure, just like bad photography, but a poem or photo of something universally ugly? I don’t think so. Photography, like poetry, beautifies, dignifies, exalts, celebrates . . . even the ugly and the mundane.

The poem cannot explain that object, but it can acknowledge it. Photography does precisely the same thing. A photo of the World Trade Center cannot explain the devastation of 9-1-1, but it can and does acknowledge it. A photo of the sun deck and boat dock behind your grandmother’s house cannot explain the meaning of that place, but it can acknowledge it (and all of its sun-splashed beauty). Again, as Susan Sontag puts it, “photographed images do not seem to be statements about the world so much as pieces of it, miniatures of reality that anyone can make or acquire” (p. 4).

Ah, this is another possible answer: Photography is like beauty. Fleeting. Subjective. To quote Aquinas, beauty is “wholeness, harmony, radiance.” To quote James Joyce on Aquinas, “wholeness” is apprehending the object as separate from all else — as in apprehending a pair of shoes as separate from all else (editing, choosing, isolating). “Radiance” is the “whatness” of the object, the essence of that object that makes it distinctly what it is and nothing else — like the pumpkin-ness of the “ugly” pumpkins we viewed, or the “water buffalo-ness” of the water buffalo.

I could write about this all day long. But it’s your turn.

Photography is like . . . what?

Next safari: hunting down your favorite design era

April 2, 2014

Some instructions for your presentations.

deco car

1936 Delahaye coupe, from the Deco style

I’ve sent you primer on graphic design eras. You have the open web. You have the library. Your job is to first choose a graphic design era as a group (or be assigned one), then to put together a presentation for the class that gives us a sense of that era and style (or style family). You will have 5-8 minutes ONLY. Make those minutes count.

Mostly from the primer, your era choices:

  • Victorian
  • Arts & Crafts/Mission/Glasgow School
  • Art Nouveau/Beaux Arts
  • Art Deco/Moderne
  • Constructivism, de Stijl, Bauhaus
  • International Typographic Style/Swiss Style (Helvetica)
  • New York School
  • Contemporary/Modern

Please, let’s NOT do psychedelic or digital era.

Your presentation should help us understand the values of the era, the common or repeating elements (vocabulary), what the era was reacting to (i.e., WWII or the style that came before, etc.), how to distinguish or identify the style (genre), and a few of its leading minds, movers and shakers (Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Coco Chanel, etc.). Oh, Shaker is a style, by the way, in the Arts & Crafts era. Include a parade of images of disparate objects and typeface, furnishings and posters, cars and buildings – a selection that helps us zero in on the era.

Let’s plan on these presentations Wednesday, April 8.

Typeface Safari

March 25, 2014

ampersandFor this safari, I’ll divide you all up into three groups.

Group #1 — BOOK COVER: Imagine that you have been commissioned to choose or create a typeface for a 2014 update and adaptation of the Jane Austen novel, Emma. Alexander McCall Smith is re-writing the classic Austen novel as part of a larger effort to revise and refresh Austen’s many classics. It’s your job to choose the typeface for the new book’s cover.

Your graphic design problem: The typeface needs to be both modern and classic. Include with your choice a few paragraphs explaining and justifying your choice. Why that typeface rather than any other? If you can, include the title, “Emma,” in the typeface you choose, so we can see it.

Group #2 — POLITICAL CAMPAIGN: You are running for Emperor or Empress of Berryland, 27,000 acres of unspoiled and yet aggressively mown/blown/weed-eaten/seeded/blown again land in the foothills of northwest Georgia. Choose a typeface for your political campaign signage, bumper stickers, website, etc. This is the display type you will use, like Obama’s Gotham for “HOPE.”

Your graphic design problem: The typeface needs to reflect the essence of what you represent in your campaign and, if elected, as supreme ruler of all that is the Berry Bubble. It needs to communicate, if only implicitly, your core values, but at the same time, energy and vitality, as well. Include your campaign tagline in the typeface you choose, and include a couple of paragraphs about why that’s THE typeface for you as candidate.

Group #3 — TYPEFACE DISASTER: Find the biggest typeface trainwreck you can, but in the natural world, not online. You’re looking for a mismatch, an instance of type in which the typeface choice does not match at all the intended message, or its appropriate tone or visual impact. Extra points for creativity on this one. Include a photograph of the instance and a paragraph or two explaining why the typeface choice is in fact unfortunate.

These safari catches are due noon, Friday, March 28.

If you need places to experiment with typefaces online, there are several on the class page, in the block for this week. You can also visit: for resources.

The ethics of product placement

March 19, 2014

Nebenzahl and Jaffe (1998) called product placement “the least ethical form of advertising” because of its concealment and obtrusiveness. Other critics argue that the public will eventually be unable to distinguish advertising from news or entertainment. Because advertising largely supports media, traditional media outlets offer little, really no criticism of product placement.

Good Will Hunting
Dunkin’ Donuts in Good Will Hunting

For their part, consumers generally have positive attitude toward product placement because, they say, it adds realism. Maybe. Let’s also consider, however, that product placement threatens artists’ freedom in creating and in expressing their ideas.  So I’d like us to consider the moral experience that a film or narrative attempts to shape or provide. If we ask ourselves, does the work cultivate our capacity for moral thinking (think “Breaking Bad”), or does it deform them (think, again, “Breaking Bad”)? As we read, view, or listen to an artistic expression with an eye (or ear) toward its ethical dimension, what is the appropriate moral response? What is the moral value of the expression, and how has product placement or, more broadly, commercialization and commercial colonization undercut, eroded or even prevented that moral exercise? Are our very imaginations becoming commodified and commercialized? How branded have our worlds, even our imaginative or creative worlds, become?

Here’s a different way to look at it: Can you even imagine a world that is not branded, one where the values associated with brands are different than what the brand purveyors would like us to believe?

In terms of product placement, we need to ask ourselves are we better off, are we morally enriched, by such an unchallenged and increasingly supersaturated logic of commodity culture? Of pervasive, even ubiquitous product placement and “brand integration”? Have we confused freedom — real freedom — with merely “consumer choice”? Have we ratified an unbearable lightness of being — an existence so light, so insubstantial, so dependent on a branded view of social worth and “happiness? Are we first citizens, or consumers?

If these questions are a bit too heady, start with the more direct question of whether product placement be taken too far, or done in such a way that it is corrosive or cannibalistic of a greater good, perhaps an artistic or aesthetic good? For examples of this as a possibility, think of the Nascar-like advertising and product placement in TV shows like NBC’s Chuck and in movies like Herbie Reloaded, Dodgeball, Talladega Nights and Austin Powers. To think of this in terms of a spectrum, and with product placement increasing, does culture and artistic expression risk folding in on itself, or being completely hollowed out by commercial interests? Are distinctions between advertising and news blurring? Between advertising and entertainment? Between advertising and culture?

In light of these considerations, do you think there should there be an ethical code governing product placement?

For example, should disclosure should be required? (Should advertisers, marketers and brand “integrators” be required to disclose what’s been bought, traded or donated for “special considerations”?)

Give me your comments, and more than just a quick toss-away paragraph. I want considered thoughts and reflections on this. It’s our culture; what do we want it to say or be?

Your comment due by class-time Friday, March 21.


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