Learning life as a baseball reporter

Learning life as a baseball reporter

For the second time during my Chronicle internship, I had the opportunity to serve as the lead Oakland A’s writer for a day. And it was a strange day.

Before a May 24 game, a few players from the clubhouse converted a teammate’s locker into a “Zen garden.” They removed his game jerseys and clothes in favor of a vinyl backdrop of trees, real bamboo sticks, faux white lotus flowers and a cluster of Gothic black candles in the corner of the rectangular space. To complete the mood, they lit those candles and shut off the bombastic tones of “Hip-hop” for airy, flute meditation music, which fell over everyone via the clubhouse loudspeakers.

At one point players huddled around the display in silence and the media contingent, including myself, basically responded with something to the extent of “what in the world?”

But that’s baseball, right? In a 162-game season, players will do anything to break routine. One A’s team member referred to it as “The Chi Locker,” and it was stationed next to the space of the day’s starting pitcher, Sonny Gray.

I think everybody in that clubhouse wondered this: Would “The Chi Locker” have any impact on this game. Would we see it’s otherworldly influence play out on the diamond?

Privately, I wondered whether it would have any impact on me. The last time I covered an A’s game for the Chronicle (May 7), it was close to disastrous. The worst possible thing happened: a walk-off A’s win – great for the fans, horrible for somebody who has to cover the game. Nevertheless, I learned a very painful lesson, never commit to the narrative before it is time.

That first time, the A’s entered the 9th inning against the Detroit Tigers down 6-5. Despite winning in walk-off fashion the previous game, I doubted the A’s had it in them to pull off another miraculous comeback.

Miracles only happen for the greats, like Jesus, the 2004 Boston Red Sox in the ALCS and the 2012 version of Adrian Peterson, not for teams four games under .500, which the A’s were at that time.

After they scored a run to tie the game I figured I’d have more time to add whatever I needed to my game story and change my original narrative that the Tigers had won. But I learned what most of us learn at least once in this lifetime: I am not God.

With a man on, A’s slugger Ryon Healy smacked a towering fly ball over the left field fence and I had to furiously rewrite my top four paragraphs in 10 minutes. The other A’s beat reporters looked at me and giggled, but they also expressed sympathy.

“His first time covering the game and this happens? Poor guy!”

I did turn in a game story and met my deadline (I think), but the piece was too short. Chronicle beat writers covering games have a chance to add quotes from post-game interviews and rewrite the original gamer under a much more liberal deadline. I did that as well.

But the experience stayed with me.

So, in advance of my second game, I prayed and reread a Bible verse I scribbled in my journal a few days before in hopes of getting the nest outcome.

In effect, covering that game went much smoother. The A’s won again, but this time by a score of 4-1. The contest was pretty much decided by the 7th inning.

What’s more, Gray, who’s locker was next to the “Chi Locker,” had his best start in two years, striking out 11 over seven innings.

It made me wonder: did that locker have anything to do with the outcome of that contest and Gray’s performance?

I had and still have no earthly idea, but I wrote about it as a matter of record for the team and an anxious fanbase that hasn’t seen their team make the playoffs in three seasons.

Miracles, even small ones, happen to everyone.

Tacuma Roeback is spending the third quarter of his graduate journalism program in residency at the San Francisco Chronicle sports department.