Column: Enjoying the climb

LIVEMIKE

Sports Editor Mike Smith, center, and his teammates celebrate at the New York City Metro Baseball League Awards Dinner on Nov. 20. While watching others receive their awards, Smith was reminded that the final results aren’t the only important thing in sports. The stories behind the numbers are much more compelling. Contributed photo

One of the most important parts of being a sports reporter—or even being a sports fan—is learning to look beyond the numbers. Sure, game stories, stats and results tell some sides of the story. But, more often than not, a deeper look into a team’s construction or the psyche of individual players helps one to paint a much more intricate—and compelling look—at how a season plays out.

I was unintentionally reminded of this last week, although not in my official capacity as the sports editor for your newspaper.

As I’ve noted in this space before, I spend a large portion of my free time—perhaps too much time, if you ask some of my ex-girlfriends—trying to recapture some of the glories of my youth, playing in an amateur men’s baseball league in New York City. At the league’s end-of-the year awards banquet on Nov. 20, I found myself once again floored by how much drama sports can provide—even when the stakes, as they are in our case, are low.

In my first few years of playing in this league, I—despite my journalism background—never gave too much thought to the results of our season beyond whether team won or lost. But, over the years, as I’ve gotten to better know the opponents I play against on a weekly basis over the summer, I realized that, even in a weekend beer league, the narratives of triumph can be simply astounding.

On Wednesday night, when I saw veteran slugger George Collazo take home his first-ever league MVP award, it wasn’t his gaudy offensive statistics that jumped out at me. It was the story of a talented ballplayer who spent hours at the gym—if his Facebook posts are to be believed—to transform his body, losing more than 100 pounds to get to a point where he, by his own admission, is playing the best baseball of his 26 years on this planet.

I saw longtime Express skipper Dan Trotta—himself a first time winner—beam while accepting his Manager of the Year award and realized the win wasn’t just validation for his team’s unlikely run to the Bronx-Manhattan division series, but for a man who has toiled over the last seven years to create not just a recreational baseball team, but a family, a unit that can be counted upon to show up for the milestones in each other’s lives, be it the celebration of a wedding, a birth, or—in the case of his phenomenal shortstop Randy Moya—a scholarship to play baseball at a Division I university.

I even saw the triumph of my own teammate and friend, Chris Liegel, who was named the league’s Cy Young award winner this year, as less of a byproduct of his great location and some wicked off-speed stuff, but as vindication for a talented former collegiate star who had been told most of his life that he couldn’t measure up to the countless hurlers who had the size—and plus fastballs—that  usually denote a dominant pitcher.

So yes, the endgame is important, but not nearly as important as the climb. Perhaps there is no better example of this in our area than the Rye Neck Panthers, who are getting set to play in the school’s first-ever Class C state title game on Dec. 1. Sure, a state title is a wonderful accomplishment in its own right, but, having covered this team for the last four years, seeing their mighty struggles in 2010 and 2011, the chance to watch them flourish this year has been an especially rewarding experience for a sportswriter.

And if it’s been that special for me, I can only imagine what it’s been like for the Black Hats, who are heading up to Syracuse this weekend to write the final chapter.

No matter how it ends up, I’m sure that this has been a thrilling, unbelievable ride.

After all, isn’t that what sports are all about?

Follow Mike on Twitter,
@LiveMike_Sports

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About Mike Smith

Mike Smith has been with Hometown Media Group since 2007, serving as the company’s Sports Editor. Mike has been commended for his work by the New York Press Association, winning awards in 2008 for “Best Sports Feature” and again in 2009 as part of a team that put together “The Game,” a breakdown of the Harrison-Rye football rivalry, which won for “Best Special Section.” His weekly column, “Live Mike,” offers his unique insights into a broad range of topics in the sports world. He resides in Eastchester, N.Y. and spends most of his free time serving as the player-manager for a competitive men’s baseball team in New York City. Reach Mike at 914-653-1000 x22 or sports@hometwn.com; follow him on Twitter @LiveMike_Sports.