Spring Training is a little more than halfway over and soon the brutally dark reality of the Padres’ 2018 regular season will descend upon us like a fever dream. The spring, with all its clichéd promises of hope and renewal, really has offered Padre fans a small glimpse of what could be a bright future. The obvious mentions are the top tier players breaking camp with the minor-league affiliates like Tatis and Urias and, of course, the newly acquired star Eric Hosmer.
The news out of Peoria this spring, as it is nearly every spring, has been optimistic even if it is spiked with caution. The way we get that cautiously optimistic news has changed this year. If you’re reading this you likely get your Padres news from a few different places. At least I hope you do; if The Kept Faith is your ONLY place to get Padres news than I can’t help you. (although thanks for reading, become a patron) One place many fans turn to is the old fashioned beat writer. The Padres beat writer for the San Diego UT changed this offseason from Dennis Lin to Kevin Acee. Let’s look at what those changes have meant so far.
Dennis Lin has started a new chapter of his career with The Athletic SD. I like the idea of supporting a commercial-free space where I can get sports news from baseball writers that know what they’re doing, so in the interest of full disclosure, I’m an Athletic subscriber and an Athletic supporter. I also got a shirt. (still waiting on the shirt though Dennis, I’m holding you personally accountable for giveaway fulfillment). Dennis has done a fine job. He posts nearly every day, his information seems to be reliable, fact-driven not narrative driven, and he seems to find enough engaging material to keep readers interested (which is basically what people want out of a beat reporter). Check out this excerpt from a recent post of his on The Athletic:
Shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. never drew legitimate consideration for the opening-day roster. He could land at Petco Park by September, but his immense talent makes it easy to forget he turned 19 in January. Until Tatis forces his way up, veteran Freddy Galvis is expected to provide stability at short. Luis Urías’ reassignment, meanwhile, reinforced the fact that second base is a two-man competition. Urías, 20, could debut in the majors well before the final month of the season. Until then, Carlos Asuaje and Cory Spangenberg are embroiled in an either-or proposition. Room for both left-handed hitters does not exist.
Here, in brief, is what I think is a good example of the kind of beat coverage Lin provides on the Athletic. What’s remarkable here is…how unremarkable it is. It’s kind of boring, it’s solid information, presented in a way to make it extremely understandable. There’s no story, at least no imposed narrative, no agenda. It’s essentially bullet points formatted like an article. You know what? I like it. He’s presenting facts, developing conclusions based on those facts, and churning them out like a machine. Readers can put their own spin on it, develop their own takes, and decide whether to love or loathe the front office on their own. To put it another way, it’s beat writing. I wouldn’t mind the occasional quirky tidbit from time to time, like who’s got who in the NCAA Basketball tourney, or what Carlos Asuaje thought about Drake, Ninja, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Travis Scott teaming up to play Fortnite, but what Lin is providing is a point of departure for baseball fans to form their own opinions on the team. Is it boring? Maybe. Is it annoying? No.
Contrast this with the new/old beat writer for the SDUT. Kevin Acee has made a name for himself around the San Diego sports media as a columnist writing mainly Chargers related material. Compare the excerpt below from a recent Acee report on basically the same topic as the Lin quote above:
There likely isn’t much time for either to be the Padres’ regular at second. Besides figuratively stealing glances at each other, Asuaje and Spangenberg are looking over their shoulders at Luis Urias. Once the season begins, it could be just a matter of weeks, maybe a month or so, before the Padres relent and decide it’s time for Urias to be in the big leagues…
Between their alternating turns taking grounders, Spangenberg and Asuaje will often talk and laugh.
These moments shared between the two combatants for one job is as striking as any at Padres camp this spring.
It’s an illustration of how competition is not only good for a team, it is good for a player. And it doesn’t have to be antagonistic.
Here, the writing is still fact-based but it weaves more of a story, Kevin is highlighting the relationship between the two infielders. They’re friends, apparently, but they also both hear Urias’ footsteps behind them. Acee isn’t inserting an agenda, he’s allowing the reader to form opinions based on the quotes he’s gathered and narrative he’s presenting. There’s no arguing with Acee because there’s no point of view. But Acee writes with flair. Sometimes the reader might be in the mood for it, sometimes not.
Compounding the issue here is the aversion many San Diego sports fans have for Acee’s past work. Although he’s said baseball is his favorite sport, many local sports fans don’t see him as a “baseball guy.” Locals also didn’t like his close relationship with former Chargers head coach and current advertisement for heart burn medication Norv turner. People also objected to his criticisms of Tony Gwynn during Tony’s time as Head coach at SDSU. Kevin Acee might someday wield the journalistic talents of Jack Murphy but his reputation as a smug bore colors everything he authors for the local paper. The UT might see this as a plus. Notoriety does, in some cases, lead to eyeballs and if you’re a print outlet anything that helps sell ad space is welcome. We will have to see if the UT is going to lean in on having a provocateur beat writer. We will also have to see how his writing evolves over the course of a full baseball season. His job will get harder when the bigger stories dry up and he must cover the day-to-day on what will be a bad team.
Take your pick, either steady unobjectionable coverage without a lot of flash or more exciting writing that may at times push your buttons. Remember though that it’s spring training for the players and the writers. Sometimes things are great and sometimes you forget how a 40-man roster works, or how to make a readable sentence. The impressions these writers make in February and March might not translate to how they’re going to perform in June and July.
Follow Nicholas Burmeister on Twitter @PadresHaiku