Have you checked out Grantland yet? If not, you really should. No, this isn't some sort of paid advertisement. Rather, this is an endorsement from one writer that some of you enjoy from time to time. Grantland is, or at least can be, revolutionary. It's a step forward while taking a step backward. It's reviving the essay, the long-winded look into a particular story, that has been dying in the sports world over the last few years. It's also making footnotes a prominent part of it's pages, which I think is wonderful because I'm tired of using parenthesis all the time (Really tired of it, as a matter of fact).
Normally I don't talk about sports sites outside of the SB Nation family. This is partly because they are essentially my employer, but also because I think the staff they've assembled and the style of writing that has become associated with SBN is wonderful. I almost always look for ways to avoid promoting the larger sports sites that always seem to miss the point (this includes PFT, ESPN, Fox Sports, etc.) Grantland is owned by ESPN and is the brainchild of Bill Simmons (who was not only a sports-blogging pioneer, but made my life 5 times better by creating ESPN's 30 For 30 series of sports documentaries). The writing style seen from the different writers on Grantland's staff are their own, but everyone on there is influenced by Simmons. This means there will be lots of footnotes, pop cultural references and emphasis put on knowing sports (and sports history) inside and out. Sounds cool, right? It is. Go check it out later on.
Here's where it gets shitty: The reason it's a-okay for me to be linking to Grantland and talking about it here on GLB is because they are not competition. They are not competition because there is about a 0.05% chance that they will actually ever write a story about the San Diego Padres or San Diego sports at all. We'll get a sentence here or there that references Adrian Gonzalez's time here before becoming a big star in Boston, Philip Rivers being the best NFL QB without a Super Bowl ring (or appearance), or how the Los Angeles Clippers were originally the San Diego Clippers....you get the idea.
The fact of the matter is, if you're not a a fan of a sports team in a very big city, the major sports writers will only talk about the team that interests you most if you have a star that forces them to notice. Well, you could also go to the World Series, but then they'll only talk about you for a year or so before your tiny town drops off the list of "interesting topics". Seriously, check the major national sports radio shows, websites and newspapers, and check how many times they write stories about the Rays, or the Diamondbacks, or the Marlins, or even the Astros. I bet there are more stories about the Rockies, and that's because of the star power of Troy Tulowitzki.
What I'm talking about is a world of "sports bliss" for San Diego sports fans that hasn't existed since the days of Ken Caminiti. Boston fans have it all: national sports coverage nearly around-the-clock, topped off by the biggest sports blogger on the planet being a giant Boston sports nut. This is because they're a big city with a big population, tons of history, lots of recent championships, giant payrolls and stars out the wazoo (Ortiz, Brady, Garnett, Jesus Shuttlesworth make up about a third of the list of recognizable names). It's not all about the money. The money is secondary, and will come through the building of a fanbase ("Red Sox Nation"). How do you build a fanbase? Star-power.
Think back for a minute on bad teams around the country. When have they gotten coverage? When they win, or when they have a star that's so entertaining everyone wants to see him. Stephen Strasburg comes to mind. Johan Santana and Torii Hunter do as well. Joel Zumaya, Josh Beckett, Hanley Ramirez, the three-headed pitching monster the Oakland A's had. They've all had stories written about them, and have boosted the ratings of nationally-televised games, at one point or another because they're exciting. When Nationals fans go to a site like Grantland and see that the country's best sports writers have put together a thousand or two thousand words about Strasburg, or Bryce Harper, or the potential of the Nationals in a year or two....they get to live in that blissful world where a their interest in good baseball articles and their interesting in their favorite team cross paths.
This is what Anthony Rizzo represents to me (so does Mat Latos in a sense). Adrian Gonzalez was here and he put up big numbers, but he also acted like the most boring human in all of sports (this includes tennis and golf). The writers wanted to write stories but had nothing to go on. We saw a few pop up when Latos was dominant last year, but they disappeared when his struggles appeared. Also, those stories focused more on his demeanor and attitude than his fantastic talent, and they never seemed to leave out the fact that the best hitter in the 2010 lineup would be gone by 2011.
Anthony Rizzo showing up and being a cool, calm, collected left-handed power bat that immediately takes over as the first-baseman for the next 5-10 years is not just the key to turning this bad Padres season into a good one (and brightening the future). It is the key to becoming relevant. Suddenly we'll see baseball writers from around the country talking about how Lincecum/Cain/Posey/Sandoval/Belt, Latos/Richard/Rizzo/Headley/Maybin and Jimenez/Gonzalez/Tulowitzki/Smith make up a heck of a NL West for years to come. We'll hear about the new ownership wanting to sign Latos and Rizzo and Maybin long-term, and develop stars that play their best years in San Diego instead of elsewhere.
I'm excited for today's game and the start of the Anthony Rizzo era. I'm excited for the possibilities of the next two months and the rest of this season. More than anything, though, I am excited for the possibility of the Padres becoming so relevant that the world's best baseball writers are interested in them and writing about them for the simple reason of seeing the ceiling of young and talented players. That would be bliss.