Telling tale of ballgames with NBC spin to it

August 03, 1996|By Rob Kasper

NBC'S COVERAGE of the Olympic Games has changed the way I view life. I used to be a results oriented kind of guy. I wanted to get information as events unfolded, not packaged in dramatic, this-could-be-a-movie motif. But after experiencing two weeks of the network's sentimental coverage and after seeing the big-ratings it has drawn, I have been converted to the NBC style.

The other day, for instance, when thinking about the recently completed season of my kid's baseball travel team, the Roland Park team of 11- and 12-year-olds coached by Brent Hoffman, I tried to figure out how NBC would tell the tale. Travel teams are clubs that journey through-out the metropolitan area to play opponents. A travel team season, like the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics, seems to go on forever.

When applying the NBC treatment to the travel team story, I would stress our feminine side. One of the reasons that Olympic coverage has such high ratings is that it has attracted large numbers of women. Not only did our mostly male travel team have its cast of supportive moms, and dutiful if bored little sisters, we also had, Amy, a female left-handed catcher. This, it seems to me, is the stuff an NBC miniseries could be made of.

When I was trying to whip up the travel team story, I had trouble with narrative momentum. This is the dramatic, soap-opera style technique that NBC has been using to tell the story of an athlete's pathos-filled life.

The only experience in the pathos department that I could recall was the night some of the dads took the travel team out for pizza. We were driving back to Baltimore from Winfield. (The Winfield sluggers clobbered us, but dwelling on the score of the game would get in the way of the narrative momentum). We decided to comfort ourselves by stopping at a joint that served beer to the parents and pizza to the kids. The first joint we pulled into was jammed. The second joint, about five miles down the road, didn't have beer or a telephone. But we ate there anyway. It was late. By the time we got everybody home, somewhere around 10 o'clock, our home phone lines had been crackling, with parents wanting to know where in the blue blazes their kids were. Our team had lost. We got yelled at. And we didn't even get any beer. That, if you ask me, is major pathos.

Another of NBC's story-telling approaches, the "anything can happen" angle, works well with my story of the team. When your team scores three runs without getting a single hit (a loss to Gardenville), when your team gets beat by a club that scores 9 runs but only has four hits (a loss to Kent Island), then you realize that events are not scripted.

Similarly, when one of your pitchers, Dylan, picks a runner off first base, when one of your batters, Jordi, socks a home run over the tall right field fence at the Linthicum-Ferndale field, and when two of your outfielders, Elijah and Ethan, make perfect pegs to Luke, your catcher, who holds on to the ball, then you believe all things are possible.

I might have to alter a few facts to make the travel team tale fit perfectly in the NBC format. Instead of losing to Harundale in the finals of the Linthicum-Ferndale tournament, I could have us win. It would make a better story and would go with the upbeat, "Lassie Comes Home" theme music I hear as I tell this story.

I would have to change a few names. There are two Michaels, two Andys, and two players wearing number 13 on the team. This is too messy. I would have to re-arrange things, as NBC does when it delays live coverage. In my telling, the multiple Michaels and dual Andys would be given new, "plausibly true" names. Names other than Stuart, Will, or Scott, which are already taken. Sacrifices must be made to keep the narrative flowing.

Finally, I would have a big problem coming up with the "sense of loss" theme that NBC repeatedly uses to explain how sad events in athletes' pasts have inspired them to Olympic greatness.

During the April to August season, the baseball team did lose Chase, Justin, Ben and Sean. But most of them simply left town to go on summer vacations. Moreover, their spots were filled by replacement players like Sam and Whitney. Maybe that "ebb and flow" angle can stir some emotion.

I can't seem to find a big, inspirational tragedy. But I am working on one. I figure most of these kids had fish as pets. And fish die, at least the fish my kids owned. So if pressed on the tragic motivation front, I think I could say with a reasonably straight face, that the travel team "won one for the guppy."

Pub Date: 8/03/96

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