Story-telling might not quite be dead in coverage of sports, but it's at least on the endangered-species list. How can anyone dig into telling a story or offering real glimpses of people in sports if they are focused on tweeting every few minutes, or, for that matter, reading tweets?
Sports figures, meanwhile, besieged by the hungry eyes of a sleepless media beast, make sure to offer fewer and fewer glimpses of genuine self-revelation. As Tim Lincecum explained it to me a while back, of course any high-profile player of his era would rather eat a room-service pizza in his hotel suite on the road rather than going out and be subjected to hordes of smart-phone wielding people ready to snap a candid shot and post it on the Internet.
Back in the '90s when I covered the Oakland A's for the San Francisco Chronicle, we often ran into ballplayers out and about on the road and had actual conversations. The young Jason Giambi, for example, regaled me and a few others with his entire philosophy of hitting, one night in a Chicago bar, and it boiled down to "You gotta feel sexy up there."
So is it time to despair? Not at all -- where old forms close down, new ones open up, and that's why I'm thrilled to have discovered a radio program called "Country Fastball" that does more to bring alive baseball players as real people than weeks' worth of most blogs.
Ball players often get tired of answering the same old questions, especially about themselves. But get them talking about a passion of theirs like music, especially if their musical tastes run to "We got both kinds of music here -- country and western," and they open up in a way that's a joy to behold.
"I'm not sure how many players have unsolicitedly started singing in the middle of interviews, but I can include Jeff Francoeur and Mike Sweeney as two that have done so with me," said the show's host, Robert Buan, who was well regarded in the San Francisco Bay Area for his work doing the A's postgame show for years.
"Jim Leyland not only confessed to rumors of legendary karaoke nights with his team, he volunteered the info that he used to sing weddings with a band and at one point he could sing 'from a low baritone up to a second tenor."
Buan used to do a regular feature in his days as A's postgame host called "Country Roads With Nick Swisher," and expanded that into "Country Fastball," a two-hour weekly show currently carried on 20 stations nationwide.
To get an idea of the show, youtube has a number of clips, including this interview with Barry Zito, whose father Joe Zito worked with such legends of music as Nat King Cole, talking about how important music is to him.
It all reminds me of one of the best talks I ever had with anyone in baseball, Dusty Baker back in his days as Giants manager, telling about driving his father's station wagon to Monterey in June 1967 for one of the great rock concerts ever. Dusty's smile when he talked about catching Jimi Hendrix at Monterey was timeless.