When I ran indoor track (we’re talking way back in the day–1996 to be exact,) I preferred meets at New York Chiropractic College over those at the University of Rochester (U of R). It wasn’t that U of R had sub-par facilities–they had adequate facilities, if not a little on the older side, but still a whole lot better than running in the hallways of my high school, which is what we had to do for practice–but it was that U of R was right around the corner. From school, it was turn right, go straight for a little bit, another right, straight for a bit again, and bam–you were on campus. In fact, my high school was the original campus for the university–that’s how close by we were.
Those weekends that we had to go out to New York Chiropractic, which is located in Seneca Falls, were quite involved. We would report at school early, pack up in the school bus, and travel for about an hour to get there. We would listen to the radio, eat bagels, do homework together, talk about boys we liked…and when the meet was over, we would trudge from the field house through the freshly fallen lake effect snow to the parking lot, pack in the bus, wait till the bus warmed up enough, and then travel back home, exhausted. Not as talkative on the way back, we would either fall asleep or, my personal choice, look out the frostbitten window.
It wasn’t just that the trip out to Seneca Falls was more fun for 14-year-old me, but I ran (or in some cases, walked–one of my events was the racewalk) better at those meets. In all reality, that’s not saying much–it meant I finished third to last instead of last– but I was in an entirely different mindset. I wasn’t thinking of schoolwork, I wasn’t thinking about my family, I wasn’t thinking about Rochester–I was only thinking about my team and running (or walking.)
The reason I reminisce above is that the more I follow sports, especially college sports, the more I think that some athletes and teams are effected by what I’m calling “The Departure Factor.” The team or athlete performs better at an away venue than a home venue. This isn’t limited to teams that compete on fields and arenas, but also individual athletes like figure skaters. The actual traveling to the game, meet or championship is a cathartic experience–that time spent traveling releases the athlete of any outside issues and gets the athlete in the zone. Alternatively, when the team or athlete plays at a home venue, they have no travel time–they step onto the field right from their everyday lives. Every issue that they are dealing with in their non-athletic life comes with them onto the field–no matter how insignificant–because there has been no detachment from the two lives.
“The Departure Factor” is not to be used as an excuse–there exist thousands of sports psychologists to prepare athletes at all levels to “get in the zone”–but I think, especially for younger athletes, it is a legitimate reasoning for poor or unfocused performance. The best athletes and teams will always be those who can focus on the task at hand without letting anything distract them for the amount of time their program, match or game lasts. In fact, I think the absolute best athletes (or even anyone in any given field) are those who can focus as such and never lose their enjoyment for that intensive submersion in the given activity.
Speaking of a person who may have lost that enjoyment for what they do…there is a sportswriter in Boston who elicits intense hatred and a high level of respect concurrently. That writer is Dan Shaughnessy. He is so hated that multiple websites exist whose sole purpose is to loathe him, but so respected that all media types and middle-of-the-road fans defer to his vast knowledge. I knew of him even as a teenager in Lake Effect Snow Land, but did not have a definitive opinion on the guy–I didn’t know enough of his work. However, even now as someone who reads a majority of his columns in the Boston Globe and who has lived in this sports town for nearly three years, I can’t bring myself to despise him. He may be grossly incorrect at times, he may have some very strong biases (which, as a columnist, is permitable,) but I do believe his honors and respect are deserved.
I think the problem with Shaughnessy is that he stopped enjoying being passionate about his profession a while back. Pure speculation, mind you, but I have reasons that I say what I do. For one, I met him last year while taking a class at the College of Communications. He came to visit a sports media course I was taking along with Kevin Paul Dupont, the Globe’s lead hockey writer. While Dupont’s interest, enthusiasm and gratefulness for his profession was glaringly obvious, Shaughnessy seemed to question what he has gotten caught up in. I almost wanted to ask him if he could go back to being a beat reporter, would he? He was courteous and answered everyone’s questions, and a part of his preoccupation may have been because he was about to break the Theo-is-coming-back story later that evening, but he seemed to miss the travel of being a beat reporter and the anonymity that it provided.
Secondly, his columns seem to be mailed in. Take his column regarding the first round of the Beanpot — it was so uninvolved it was almost offensive. He was intentionally using repetition as a means to show that the Beanpot is always the same in that Boston University always makes it to the finals, but he could have used it a lot better than using the example of a number of players coming from St. Sebastian’s. In fact, he was flippant to the importance of the tournament, which is a premier sports event on the Boston sports scene (since it takes place in the dark ages of the sports calendar–after the Super Bowl but before spring training and March Madness.) But Shaughnessy is, at his core, a baseball beat writer. I don’t think, if left completely to his own devices, he would ever write about hockey. He is passionate about baseball, and I think that’s why any football, hockey or basketball articles he writes come across as incomplete, inaccurate, or in the case of the Beanpot article, flippant. When he writes about baseball, his columns are longer, his descriptions more vivid, and he breaks news. It may be that his editor needs not to pressure him to write columns regarding sports he is not interested or qualified to.
In the end, I think it may boil down to the following: Boston sports fans, with their incorrect belief that they are more intelligent than any other American sports fans, are overly critical. They tear down, build up, and devour athletes, managers, coaches, front offices, and their journalists like a five-year-old who just traded in Duplos for Legos. When I first moved here, I thought it was over exaggerated how thick-skinned those in Boston sports had to be in order not to lose their minds. Unfortunately, it’s not. And I think Dan Shaughnessy, once he became successful and prolific, began to be consistently torn down by Boston sports fan. Twenty years of criticism later, he has finally become jaded. And, all things considered, who could blame him?