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A Week of Favorites

Since last week’s column threatened to get a bit too meta, at the end of it I promised to spend the week collecting Mets stories and blog posts that stood out from the commoditized tide.

The Mets constantly generate soap operas, most of them cringeworthy. But even if they didn’t do that (as I wish they wouldn’t), they’re an information junkie’s dream. A horde of New York-area newspapers follows their every move, as does a large spectrum of talented bloggers. The former is true of the Yankees as well – in fact, it seems safe to say that the Bronx Bombers get substantially more mainstream-media attention. But while I’ve never tried to quantify this, it seems like there are more Mets bloggers than Yankees bloggers. Why? I suspect it’s some variant of the observation that happy families are all alike, to quote that noted baseball scribe Tolstoy.

All that attention means each day brings a steady flow of Mets stories – and a great deal of aggregation and conversation. Depending on how busy I am, I either dig deep and look for neglected angles and nuances everywhere, drop by my favorite destinations for a quick overview of the day’s events, or get on with my life knowing that anything really substantive will soon light up my Twitter and Facebook feeds.

Here’s a rundown of what stood out to me from a week of Mets reading:

Mets 5, Braves 4; Mets 7, Michigan 1

ESPN New York is the mainstream-media destination I never miss as a Mets fan – which in large part is true because I’m a longtime fan of Adam Rubin, formerly of the Daily News. Even a cursory look at Rubin’s stories tell you he’s a tireless reporter with an enviable Rolodex – there are always nuggets no one else seems to have. In the above roundup, Rubin dispenses quickly with what passes for the game story and gets to the information that matters — Chris Young’s velocity — and a bit of interesting news that I hadn’t read elsewhere, namely that Young has been working on his splitter with Mike Pelfrey. Rubin also won points with me because he had a roundup published hours before most of his competitors weighed in on the game. Too many of his competitors from print papers still seem shackled to print rhythms and deadlines, even though they’re writing blog posts.

Mets Morning Briefing 2.26.11

Rubin also has become a very good aggregator, offering terrific rundowns of what’s making the news from the other beat writers. Old-school journos may balk at referring readers to competitors, but this actually makes readers trust writers and news organizations more. Because I know Rubin will send me to a story or angle he doesn’t have, I’m more likely to make him my first read — and my last, if I’m busy. My only wish is that he’d broaden his rounds to include destinations outside the print world – my other daily stop as a Mets fan is Mets Blog, which ranges farther afield aggregation-wise, in addition to offering a steady diet of its own news and features.

'Rookie' second baseman Luis Castillo makes smooth spring debut as he battles for job with Mets

Andy Martino stepped into Rubin’s big shoes at the Daily News, and has done an impressive job filling them. Every beat writer and blogger wrote about embattled Met Luis Castillo last week, but Martino’s stories stood out. This story had a larger sense of narrative, instead of just dropping me into a postgame setting for paint-by-numbers quotes. Through some small details, Martino makes me feel like I can see the players talking. And he does a nice job drawing the contrast between Castillo in his final years and pitcher Jenrry Mejia in his first campaigns.

Beltran, Reyes defend Luis Castillo, confused by public’s perception of Mets teammate

(Aside: What editor at the Daily News keeps sticking Martino with these horrible bag-of-rocks headlines?)

Martino is at his best when he gets good and bloggy, digging into fan perceptions of players or team officials and challenging the conventional wisdom – he constructs solid arguments but keeps them grounded. Last year, he was superb in questioning why the Mets were offering up players for sacrifice on the altar of public opinion, as discussed in this column; here, he uses Twitter as a stand-in for fans’ sniping at Castillo, and offers a side of the player fans either don’t see or choose not to see. The brain-dead comments from Daily News readers, while painful to look at, only prove his point.

Some brief thoughts on Mets second baseman Luis Castillo and lineup construction

The Newark Star-Ledger’s Andy McCullough is curious about advanced stats, and works them into his stories – an evangelical role that I’m thrilled to see a mainstream beat writer embracing. But that approach wouldn’t mean anything without McCullough’s bright, accessible style. My only complaint about this piece was I thought it deserved two or three times the length and explanation. But it’s a great start.

Mets’ Castillo keeps paying for past sins

The New York Post’s Mike Vaccaro is a must-read columnist about the Mets, ferocious but well-informed. And he writes beautifully – his Castillo column begins like this: “This is nothing new, really, simply a lesson of law and leniency at least as old as the Codes of Hammurabi.” That’s nicely done – and Vaccaro backs up the wordsmithing with solid reporting and keen character studies, instead of turning in columns that could have been written from the couch. He kept getting saved to my Instapaper during the week, scoring with this column about the Wilpons’ struggles, this one about Met-killer turned Met Willie Harris, and this one about the similarities between Wally Backman and the man who got the job he wanted.

Luis Castillo: History’s Greatest Monster

Amazin’ Avenue – which is part of SB Nation’s blog network — is one of my favorite Mets blogs, mixing deep dives into advanced stats with consistently solid writing and occasional lampshade-on-the-head goofiness. (Disclosures: I’ve written for two Amazin’ Avenue Annuals and recruited AA jefe Eric Simon to write for me elsewhere.) This piece, by Matthew Callan, drew me in with a great headline and kept me with a thoughtful argument and sharp writing.

R.A. Dickey’s Knuckleball Family Tree

AA also includes “FanPosts,” such as this one by an author identified only as Brooklyn Dodgers Mets Fan. It traces R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball back to the pitcher who taught it to him, then to the pitcher who taught that pitcher, and so on until we’re a century back and discussing how there are different lineages for different knuckleballers. Fascinating stuff that deepens my appreciation for both the pitcher in question and the game.

So what grabbed me from a week’s Mets reading? There isn’t one single lesson – rather, the stories and blog posts that worked did so for different reasons. That gives weight to my contention that there are a lot of niches that can be filled and techniques that can let a sportswriter stand out. Rubin won me over with superb reporting and smart aggregation. Martino drew me in with elegant story construction and bold arguments. I appreciated that McCullough was trying something new. Vaccaro got me through terrific writing and sure-handed character studies. Callan caught my eye with wit and then backed that up. And Brooklyn Dodgers Mets Fan brought historical knowledge to the table.

There’s a lot to choose from there – and many ways to win readers.

Jason Fry is a freelance writer and media consultant in Brooklyn, N.Y. He spent more than 12 years at The Wall Street Journal Online, serving as a writer, columnist, editor and projects guy. While at WSJ.com he edited and co-wrote The Daily Fix, a daily roundup of the best sportswriting online. He blogs about the Mets at Faith and Fear in Flushing, and about the newspaper industry at Reinventing the Newsroom. Write to him at  jason.fry@gmail.com, visit him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter.
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