Episode 16 — Chapter 18
“Good afternoon, writers,” he started with a gregarious tone and smile. “The 100th Anniversary of Sport Report will be here before we know it. To commemorate this historic occasion, we want to create a special edition that will celebrate the timeless legacy for our great magazine. Most of this double-edition, online as well as print, will be filled with excerpts of the greatest sports stories we’ve published during the past century. It’s going to be an amazing production! The key to making it a great success, however, will be our feature story. There has been a lot of discussion about this among the division editors, but we’re still searching for the perfect fit. I’ve invited each you here to pitch me your idea for the cover story. I hope you’ve all come prepared to share some great ideas. Let’s get started.”
Shields looked around the room. Several hands were raised. He pointed first to senior staff writer Blaine Jenkins.
“Afternoon, Chief. I think we should conduct a poll of the greatest players in every major sport during the past hundred years. We could report the top five or ten finalists and then do a short sketch on the greatest player in each sport and the defining moment of his or her career, complete with photographs.”
“Not bad, Jenkins.”
More hands raised. Shields pointed at newcomer Mitch Perkins.
“Let’s focus on the growth of sports during the past century. Highlight sports’ role in the world today, not just in the States, but throughout the world. Feature the most popular sports across the world. Educate the reader about games in some third-world countries that are unknown to the world at large. Celebrate the passion and influence sports have had on the human race, commerce and life in general.”
Shields gave an approving nod and continued to field ideas around the room.
Despite her commitment to resign, Savannah had reflected on the topic since receiving the memo. She listened to several more pitches from the writers. None of them generated much more than a polite nod of the head from Shields.
Finally, there were no more hands raised.
“All good ideas, but I haven’t quite heard what I’m looking for yet. We need a story that will gain national traction with the media and inspire a new generation of readers to pick up our publication. Something truly brilliant! Are there no brilliant journalists among this august group of writers? Come on, people!” Shields scanned the group. He saw some tentative looks, but no one seemed willing to step up to the challenge. “Okay. Let’s go back to the drawing board. Think outside the box. Use your imagination. This could be a career piece for whoever’s idea is selected. It only comes around just once every hundred years. Let’s meet again in forty-eight hours. Okay? Get to work!”
As journalists begin to rise from their chairs, Shields spied an uplifted hand from one of the reporters standing in the rear.
“Miss Cain, please.” He held his hand out toward her. “Tell me you have something brilliant to share.”
The writers returned to their seats and Savannah confidently stepped forward. With her decision already made to resign, she had nothing to lose and she threw caution to the wind.
“What sport ruled the world a hundred years ago?” Savannah asked rhetorically. “Baseball! Not only was it the national pastime, it towered over all the other sports. Every youth in America dreamed of becoming a major league player. Yet, in a hundred years time, so much has changed. Baseball is no longer the king of sports and a lot of that has to do with how the game has evolved during the past century. The feature article I propose would chronicle baseball’s fall from its pinnacle and how and why it now exists under the shadow of football and even basketball. It would compare and contrast yesterday’s game with today’s.
“A hundred years ago, no one ever called baseball boring! It was a game played at the speed of light compared to today’s version, full of guile, stealth, expert batsmanship and even psychology. There was an infinite level of leagues and every small village in America had its own team competing against rival towns. Sadly, today’s game is a bloated imitation of the early game—it’s now all or nothing. Strikeout or home run. Nothing else seems to matter as games drag on forever. A lot of that has to do with the influx of statistical analysis; while metrics have helped football and basketball surge in popularity with faster-paced games and wide-open offenses, sabermetrics has done the reverse to baseball, slowing it down to a snail’s pace compared to the ancient game.
“The article would also compare stadiums of yesteryear with today’s shrines and would contrast playing conditions, differences in gloves, bats, balls and even rules. To all that, we add photographs from the early game juxtaposed with today’s action, trying to re-discover how to capture the same fascination that baseball held for Americans entering the twentieth century. After all, St. Louis is the bastion of baseball; considered by most the greatest baseball town in the country. Baseball gave birth to Sport Report and we should honor our birthright and celebrate, as well as mourn, today’s game.”
Shields was jarred by Savannah’s boldness, and hesitated a moment before responding. “Wow! You packed a lot of information in your presentation. You’re absolutely right, our inception edition was dedicated almost exclusively to baseball. And there is something fitting about coming full circle to our roots. I would like to see some creative thinking about if and how baseball could return to its former glory—and I don’t mean a piece on a pitch clock! We compare and contrast today’s players with yesteryear’s stars; speculate how the past greats would fare in today’s game and vice versa. There are some great caricatures of players from the dead ball area. I can see a cover photo of the greatest player today with the greatest player from a hundred years ago, side-by-side. And, its release should coincide, naturally, with the beginning of the baseball season.”
Shields continued the discussion, opening up the forum to the other writers. Twenty minutes later, he summed things up. “Okay, I think we’ve got what I’ve been looking for! It feels right. A good fit. Well done, Miss Cain.” Savannah had been silent since her opening remarks.
With his eyes, Shields slowly scanned the thirty journalists in the room, finally fixing his stare on the attractive blonde standing in the rear.
“Miss Cain. This is your baby.”
Savannah couldn’t believe her ears. She had expected the story to be assigned to one of the tenured journalists, as had occurred in the past—especially since this was the most important story for the magazine in decades. She noticed some barely perceptible rumblings from the seated writers.
“Well, Miss Cain. Are you up to the task?”
Savannah swallowed hard and displayed a confident smile. “I’ve already started, Mr. Shields.”
“Good. That’s what I wanted to hear. I’ll confer with my editors and get you a deadline for the initial draft.”
“Yes sir. Thank you, sir.” Savannah tried not to look too eager.
The meeting was adjourned and Savannah glided back to her office, still in shock. She had been delighted when the editor had favored her idea, but she had never expected to be assigned the story. The 100th Anniversary edition, under her byline. Truly, an opportunity of a lifetime—writing the feature story for the most important edition of the world’s most prestigious sports publication. This was beyond her wildest dreams!
Savannah sat down behind her desk, blinked her eyes hard and took several deep breaths. A large smile formed on her face and she spontaneously threw her arms into the air and gave a muted shout for joy.
All thoughts of resigning had vanished.