If Janie McCauley were telling this story, she wouldn’t bury the lead. She’d say right away that she is the Associated Press’s 2006 Sports Writer of the Year.
Add a little color, some solid quotes like, “I was surprised to get the award. There are so many good writers doing good stories all around the country,” and a few action words like “dwell,” “delve,” and “dive,” and that’s where many writers would stop.
But Janie looks for the story beneath the story. She dwells on details, delves into players’ personal interests, dives into their lives outside of the stadiums and ball parks.
As far back as high school in Leavenworth, Janie knew she wanted to write about sports. She and her brother would cherish their family trips over the Cascades to watch the Sonics play in Seattle. She would go to great lengths to be close to the players, shake their hands, get their autographs, and even reach out and touch their heads as they walked by the stands.
Throughout her years at Washington State University, she worked as a stringer for the local papers. Every Friday night she was out at a high school game in Garfield, or Troy, or Potlatch. Hard work and hard networking landed her at Spokane’s Spokesman-Review in 1998. Her fresh perspective and energy made her a darling of the sports department.
In late 2000, McCauley was hired away by the Associated Press in Seattle. It was there, covering the Mariners, that she caught the attention of the AP’s national editors. She credits Ichiro Suzuki. When the star player arrived in 2001, he was mobbed by Japanese reporters. Janie kept her distance, made respectful requests for interviews, and inquired about his personal habits. “I tried to understand some of his unique rituals like stretching and massaging his feet before and after the game,” she says. He trusted her and gave her access, which led to some unusual stories about a high-profile player.
In 2002, the AP editors asked her to move to California. She didn’t have to think long. “I love baseball. And they have two teams here.” She also covers college basketball, the Oakland Raiders, some NBA, and some college football. If she wanted, she could go to a game every night.
On July 7, Janie starts her day with a workout at a gym just a few miles from the old house in Alameda that she shares with her husband, Josh. It is the eve of her 72nd baseball game of the year. When Barry Bonds was chasing Babe Ruth’s home run record this spring, she didn’t take a day off. “I didn’t want to miss it,” she says.
She aims her Honda CRV at McAfee Coliseum four hours before the first pitch, which gives her time to set up her computer, check her messages, and relish the peace of the empty stadium. After about an hour of e-mails and a phone press conference with the Giants, she heads down to the dugout for the take on the day. Standing in the midst of a dozen other reporters, all men, she leans in and listens, taking notes and occasionally biting her nail. Later, when team manager Ken Macha heads to the water cooler, she steps close for a private word.
Taking advantage of her time on the field, Janie also stops to joke in Spanish with Antonia Perez, a 26-year-old member of the Athetics. “My Spanish isn’t really that great, but it gets me access to players that the other reporters don’t get,” she says. In a story last year, Janie wrote about the language barriers for Spanish-speaking and Japanese players. She noted that the two groups are treated differently by the major leagues. The Hispanic players often hang together for help communicating. The Japanese have full-time interpreters. Still, both types of players are disconnected from their teammates. That piece won her an AP award for enterprise reporting.
In another story, she went to the home of Venezuela-born Omar Vizquel, a Giants’ shortstop who escapes the pressures of baseball through painting. One of her strengths as a reporter is an ability to look for the details that transform the players into people.
But tonight Janie is simply wondering about the game. The stands come to life, as the crowd of 20,700 arrives. There’s a hot rivalry between the A’s and the Angels.
As the bright afternoon cools, Janie is typing, calling out stats to the other reporters, and keeping an eye on the field where the story will unfold. And it certainly does. By the seventh inning, and as her deadline creeps closer, she focuses in. She notes that Angels pitcher John Lackey is having a very good night. When he’s on the mound, no one gets on base. Eighth inning, ninth, and the game is over, with the Angels beating the A’s 3 to 0. “That pitching performance was unheard of,” says Janie. “I can’t believe what I just saw.”
The game may be over, but work isn’t. Janie grabs a notebook and dashes down to the clubhouse. She’s one of the few women allowed inside. “I wait until the guys are dressed to interview them,” she says. “The players notice and appreciate that.”
A half-hour later, she returns to the press box with quotes from the managers and the players, including Lackey, who had no idea he was pitching so well.
Her fingers fly over her keyboard as she writes and then rewrites her lead: John Lackey’s special night. At the end, after 10 p.m., she files her story, calls her editors, and starts packing up. It was a great day and a great game, she says, as she heads out to her car.