Saturday, April 5, 2014

Pack hasn't backed its preseason hype

Coach Elliott Avent should get a Wolfpack Unlimited Award.

With his cocky preseason comments, he convinced the Triangle media that N.C. State was a contender for the national title. The reality is that the Pack may barely make one of the 10 spots in the ACC Tournament.

If you are a fan of a Triangle college baseball, you're all too familiar with the pattern of media coverage that has been repeated for years.

Student newspapers are the only media outlets that actually staff games until the area's college basketball season ends. It's understandable given the high interest in college basketball and the increasingly limited resources of the area newspapers.

That pattern changed this season. But only for the overhyped N.C. State team.

Despite the fact that Duke's program was on the upswing and Carolina was coming off a College World Series appearance just like the Wolfpack, only State got coverage in February. The News & Observer's Carolina Hurricanes beat writer, Chip Alexander, wrote an overall preview (image of the article is below) that had a few paragraphs on other schools. But it was clear that it was mostly about the Wolfpack.

Yes, the Wolfpack had more key players returning than the Tar Heels, who ended N.C. State's 2013 season. The gap between the two teams on the field isn't that great. The gap on early-season hype was incredible wide.

How early did it start? Try the Feb. 7 edition of The News & Observer with this story:

That story came out of N.C. State's preseason press conference. The Tar Heels also had a preseason press conference. But, as in most years, no reporter from The N&O filed a story from that press conference.

State ace Carlos Rodon, who is 2-5 after losing to Clemson on Saturday, declared during that press conference that the Wolfpack was a baseball school. Avent suggested that if the Wolfpack made it back to Omaha, "there could be a parade in Raleigh sometime in July."

I doubt that they give parades for teams that put together 10-game ACC losing streaks.

Here are some highlights from that press conference:

The N&O's N.C. State beat writer, Joe Giglio, covered the Wolfpack's home opener, a 3-0 loss to Canisius, even though he had covered the Pack's basketball loss at Syracuse the day before. That was the first time I can remember a February college baseball game being covered by a non-student paper.

The Tar Heels got no such coverage and neither did Duke. Both have better league records than the Wolfpack by a wide margin. After Saturday's play, Duke is 7-7, UNC is 6-8 and N.C. State is 3-10, last winning an ACC game March 9 against 1-12 Notre Dame.

Avent clearly seems to be hungry for coverage and has done all that he can do to get it. It's my understanding that it was Avent who wanted that press conference on Jan. 14 at the DBAP "announcing" the April 15 UNC-N.C. State baseball game in Durham. This press conference came nearly a month after the game originally was announced Dec. 20.

All of this prompts a few questions. Did Avent overvalue his team and did the media overvalue his opinion and the team? Was Avent right in his preseason assessment of his talent and he's just done a poor job of coaching?

This much is clear: If you do that much talking before the season, you look silly when you don't back it up.

Let's end this walk-off home run game

For years, “game-ending home run” or “game-ending hit” accurately and strongly described the feat that ends a baseball game with an at-bat rather than an out.

It still does.

But you rarely hear a game-winning hit described with that phrase. Every year, the irritating phrases “walk-off home run” or “walk-off hit” have become a more popular and hip way to describe how a last-at-bat victory ended.

Hip often is more popular than using a clear, accurate phrase.

In basketball, you might hear about a player getting the ball “in the paint to score the ball” rather than the more logical “in the lane to score.” You can’t find the word “paint” in the basketball rulebook that describes the 3-second rule. It’s also doubtful that you’ve ever seen anybody cut ridges or lines into a basketball.

If you never had heard either phrase, you’d have no idea what was meant by a “walk-off home run.” But you’d have no trouble understanding if you are told that it was a “game-ending hit.”

It also is a game-winning hit, which can occur in the first inning if gives a team a lead that it never relinquishes. There was a time when people correctly called a game-ending hit a game-winning hit often. While it’s correct, game-ending hit is a much more impressive way to describe it.

As much as I hated the growing popularity of “walk-off home run” in the late 1990s and early 2000s, at least the usage had some level of logic. The phrase is derived from when then-Oakland A’s pitcher Dennis Eckersley first called home runs in the last at-bat of a game “walk off pieces” in 1988.

He gave up one of the more famous such homers to Dodgers slugger Kirk Gibson in the 1988 World Series.

The phrase refers to what the pitcher does after giving up a game-ending hit: He walks off. It has nothing to do with what the winning team does in reaction to the hit.

This is where journalists are twisting the knife even more on a phrase that I hate. Already this season, I’ve heard and read about a team “walking off” with a win. If you insist on using this phrase, then it is accurate to say a team earned a “walk-off victory.”

To say that they “walked off” with a win is taking the silly phrase to another level of illogic. When a team gets a game-ending hit, I see a lot of players running up to the plate to greet the player who scores the game-winning run. I see a lot of celebrating. But you see very little, if any, walking.

The walking is being done by the poor pitcher who just got tagged with the loss and his teammates, who are walking from their fielding positions to their dugout.

ESPN clearly is the media outlet that really accelerated the popularity of the phrase “walk-off home run.” Most baseball journalists use it as if the phrase has been around as long as Babe Ruth.

There is an occasional glimmer of hope. I heard an ESPN announcer on SportsCenter the other day use the term “game-ending home run” during a highlight.

Could that be the start of a trend in the other direction? Probably not.

At least I can take comfort in the fact that nobody will say or write that a player “scores the baseball.”

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The lack of Tobacco Road Marathon coverage is sad

Obviously, the Tobacco Road Marathon is going about this all wrong.

It doesn't get a massive amount of money from a city's tourism agency. It isn't stirring up controversy by laying out a course that goes by churches on Palm Sunday. It isn't run by a national corporation based in San Diego. It doesn't have a race director who lives in Colorado.

The Raleigh Rock 'n’ Roll Marathon is doing all of the above and that has attracted a lot of press attention. When that race is run in April, the press coverage will likely be more than this area has ever seen for a marathon.

Meanwhile, the Tobacco Road Marathon, which is run by an all-volunteer staff and gets no government funding, just puts on excellent locally run races (it also has a half-marathon) every year and stirs up no controversy in the process. Runners come to Cary from around the country to run the race.

When a race is well-run, word spreads in the running community. That’s why there were a record 3,452 finishers for Sunday’s races. You would think that this would be worthy of at least a mention in a local newspaper? But you’d be wrong.

That was the combined turnout Sunday for the fifth annual Tobacco Road Marathon (1,102 finishers) and Tobacco Road Half-Marathon (2,350 finishers) in Cary. But you didn't read anything about it in The News & Observer. It didn't even run results, something that we routinely did when I was in newspapers, even for small 5K races.

I've run the Tobacco Road Marathon all five years, but The News &
only covered the first three runnings of the race.

There was a nice preview article in one of The N&O’s local papers, The Cary News, that was put on its website the Tuesday of race week and ran in Sunday’s print edition. But that was it.

I followed up Tuesday on Twitter with the writer of that preview story to ask if there would be a follow-up story in Wednesday’s print edition:

I didn't get a second reply and there was nothing about the marathon or half-marathon in Wednesday's print edition. Note that The Cary News did have an action shot from a local table-tennis tournament in Wednesday’s edition, though! I highly doubt that this event featured thousands of players.

There were two other marathons Sunday in North Carolina. Both races had fewer finishers, but each got better newspaper coverage.

The fifth annual Wrightsville Beach Marathon attracted 477 marathon finishers and 1,816 finishers for its half-marathon, 1,159 fewer total finishers than at Tobacco Road.

The Wilmington Star-News had a story about the race on Thursday, a short blurb on Friday and a story on Saturday as well as a nice story the day after the race. In addition, it put a photo gallery from the races on its website.

The second annual Asheville Marathon at Biltmore Estates had 328 marathon finishers and 732 finishers in its inaugural half-marathon, 2,390 fewer total finishers than Tobacco Road.

The Asheville Citizen-Times only ran a picture in its print edition the next day, but had a post about the race on its website.

The News & Observer covered the Tobacco Road Marathon the first three years (here are the stories for 2012, 2011 and 2010), always with a correspondent. But The N&O has largely ignored the race the past two years. The Wilmington Star-News hasn't missed a year covering the Wrightsville Beach Marathon.

As far as I can tell, this nice story from WNCN (although the headline incorrectly says she ran the marathon) was the full extent of race-day coverage of TRM.

I've written about my frustration with road race coverage before, or simply the lack of any coverage. I understand that races don't always merit blowout coverage. But, at a minimum, the results at least should make the newspaper.

Luckily for the Raleigh City of Oaks Marathon, another locally run race, it will get coverage from the N&O since the newspaper is a race sponsor.

The Tobacco Road Marathon is not only well-run, it raises money for charities. It donates money to JDRF, the Triangle Rails to Trails Conservancy, the Wounded Warrior Project and the American Red Cross from race proceeds. TRM expects to donate $100,000 to beneficiaries this year.

All of the above sounds newsworthy to me!