On a night around this time in 2006, I went to a Kansas City Royals game. The Royals were abysmal, of course, and had been for a decade. The team the Royals were putting on the field featured a guy named Joey Gathright, who had created minor celebrity for himself by jumping over a car on YouTube. The Royals’ lone All-Star that year was starting the game, though unfortunately the Royals’ lone All-Star was the rather forgettable Mark Redman.
There was nothing about this game that made it strikingly different from any other August Royals game. But for some reason, just as the game was about to begin, I looked around the stadium. The infielders were warming up. The outfielders were throwing the ball around. A guy was writing down the last names in his scorecard (you don’t often see people keeping score anymore). The crowd was fairly active -- the Royals were playing the Red Sox. The public-address announcer was saying something, music was playing, vendors were peddling beer and cotton candy and frozen lemonade.
And I thought: Isn’t that incredible? Even here, even now, even in a meaningless game in a meaningless season -- there’s still electricity when the game begins.
In some ways, that charge at first pitch, at tipoff, at kickoff, at tee-off, faceoff, at the goosebumps that rise when someone yells “Gentlemen, start your engines,” when the starter fires the gun, when the bell rings and the gates open and umpire says simply, “Play” … all of that is what I love most about sports. That start is the instant when the hype ends, when the experts cease to matter, when the critics leave the arena, when the endless possibilities begin to take shape. Anything can still happen. Most of the time, you won’t see Rulon Gardner beat the unbeatable Russian or Kobe Bryant score 81 or Bo Jackson turn the corner or King Felix throw a perfect game.
But sometimes, you will. And that’s enough.
Today, we start up here at Sports on Earth, and we feel that electricity of the opening bell. The idea here is to build a sports website around great writing. That’s not exactly a new idea. There is a lot of great sports writing out there and has been pretty much since people carved sports figures on cave walls. But we think it’s a timeless idea. There are so many ways to enjoy sports in today’s high-definition, fantasy-sports, Twitter-saturated, 3-D-glasses world. And reading a great story, laughing at a fun analysis, getting angry at an opposing opinion, picking up a small insight that helps you enjoy the game more, joining in with the community of sports believers and storytellers and jokers -- we believe these are all a big part of the fun.
But there’s no real point in telling you what you will see on the site. That’s the stuff of the pregame shows. We have launched. You can read Tommy Tomlinson’s thoughts about the stories to watch in college football, and you can read Mike Tanier begin to break down this NFL season. You can see what Gwen Knapp thinks about the latest news on Lance Armstrong, and Shaun Powell dive into the crazy adventure of Peyton Manning in Denver. You can read my great friend Chuck Culpepper -- back from a long time abroad -- on the U.S. Open. You can listen as one of my heroes, Leigh Montville, sizes up the Red Sox-Dodgers megadeal.
We all have the obvious hopes and ambitions about Sports on Earth, that it will be piercing and surprising and thoughtful and moving and ecstatic and a hundred other adjectives. But those hopes and ambitions are pregame talk, too. You know how at the beginning of sporting events they crank up "Let's Get It Started" or "Start Me Up?" I cannot stand those songs. But at the beginning of games, I like them. Let's get it started. Start me up.
That Royals game, by the way -- it went about as you might expect. Boston’s MannyBManny Ramirez hit a home run in the first, Josh Beckett more or less mowed through the Royals’ rather sickly lineup, the Red Sox led 4-0 in the fourth and, even when the Royals stunned everyone by scoring three thanks to a wild pitch on strike three and a passed ball, the game was still going as you might expect.
That is, until the ninth inning. In the ninth, Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon came out, and he gave up a triple to the estimable Esteban German, who Royals fans called “Little Papi” for a brief time when he hit surprisingly well. Car-jumping Joey Gathright struck out, but then a sac fly by David DeJesus tied the game.
And then, Mark Grudzielanek doubled, and Mike Sweeney singled him home, and the Royals won, and for a very short while all was joy with Kansas City baseball. The next night, the Royals and Red Sox played again, and it was just as meaningless. But when the game began, the place was buzzing. There's nothing quite like that buzz when it's just about to begin. And a beautiful thing about sports is that buzz is always there when the games begin.