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The Net Takeaway: Bill Littlefield's talk in Needham


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Bill Littlefield's talk in Needham · 04/10/2004 11:50 AM, Personal

Who is Bill Littlefield? You may know him from commentary on NPR’s Morning Edition. He also has his own syndicated NPR show called Only A Game. He talks of sports and the players, sometimes opinion pieces, sometimes journalism.

I find that when I hear him, I stop and listen. Sometimes on NPR, more often when I’m scanning the dial looking for Car Talk. Big deal, you say, lots of sports fans listen to him.

Only, I am not a sports fan. I get bored to tears trying to watch sports. Ignoring the ungodly costs of a ticket, I just find sports to be a waste of time. (Yes, I have the classic correlation of not being good at any of them, so of course I don’t enjoy watching them). I don’t care about the stats (one of the few datasets I find it easy to ignore), I don’t enjoy the celebrity, and I don’t appreciate the skills of the players.

But I find that when I start to listen to Mr. Littlefield, I understand what sports fans like. Mr. Littlefield brings out the adventure and the joy of competitng, not necessarily winning, and connects to the human aspects of these athletes who are often just caricatures in the media, or as flat as the card with their picture on it.

Last week, April 4, he gave a talk at the Needham, MA library. It was a full house (40 or so people, including kids).

When he reads, he sounds like he does on the radio: somewhat of a sing-song, a measured tempo reminiscent of a sportscaster who is no longer trying to prove that the sidelines media are as important as the game itself. When he’s just talking, he sounds less engaging, but still powerful. He’s a tall, thin fellow. He came very casually, in a sweater and pants. He knew folks in town, in part b/c he coaches a girl’s soccer team in the area. And folks came in from miles away, some an hour’s drive, to hear and see him.

He chatted about the first game of the Red Sox this year, the joy of seeing college ball and minor league ball, the high prices of tickets, the high pay of athletes, and whether Boston should get a National League team to join our American League Red Sox (I had to look it up).

My question stuck out like a sore thumb. I asked if there was ever any conflict between his writing/reporting about a game or event, and his obvious love for the game. He mentioned that it does happen, most notably in the ‘86 World Series. It appears that the Red Sox were close to winning, and had things well in hand. The fan in him was rooting for the Red Sox to finally break their curse, but the journalist in him loved the story of the innovative new way the Sox would have to find to lose the series.

As he put it:
On one hand, I wanted ths Sox to win. To finally break the curse, to finally get what they perhaps deserve and certainly earned. And if they won, the next day’s story would be so easy to write: Red Sox Won! But if they lost, I could point out all the ways they’ve come close and lost before, how they somehow managed to pull defeat out of victory. Which would you rather write?

Lots of folks nodded… Of course the more interesting story is if they lost. And they did. And it was a great story. And the folks who were nodding suddenly stopped; they were too deep into being fans to see the value of the story.

Afterwards, I talked to him for thirty seconds, but I got out of the way quickly. There were real fans who wanted to talk to him, and though I appreciated the fact that he could turn a non-fan into a fan for an hour or so, its even better to keep real fans glued for that hour when they could, well, be watching sports.

When I left, a line of 10 or so people were patiently waiting to buy a book, chat for a moment, get an autograph. Yes, like people would for an athlete.

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